Cynthia Zamora, 57, from California learned she had tongue cancer in early 2017. Apart from chemotherapy and radiation, doctors would have to remove the majority of her tongue - leaving her unable to talk or eat. But surgeons at University of California San Diego Health said they would be able to fashion her a new tongue using a small piece of her thigh. Just over a year after her surgery, Zamora has a new tongue and recently the first meal she was fully able to savour was KFC, she told Daily Mail Online.
In early 2017, Zamora bit her tongue in the middle of the night, but she wasn't worried. She told Daily Mail Online, "I wasn't too concerned because it's one of the fastest healing organs you have." After visiting a doctor, her tongue did start to heal but the wound split back open. After sometime, her mouth started feeling sore and Zamora had difficulty bot chewing and speaking due to the pain. After visiting Dr Joseph Califano, a head and neck cancer specialist, Zamora was told that she had a tumour through the middle of her tongue that was about 5.4 centimeters. She was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.
Zamora underwent the 12-hour procedure to receive her new organ. Dr Ahmed Suliman, a plastc surgeon who specialises in reconstruction after cancer treatment, built Zamora's new tongue. Using a method known as anterolateral thigh perforator flap, Dr Suliman cut a six-by-eight centimeter patch of skin and fat from Zamora's left thigh. Inserting a new tongue was just a beginning. Zamora was faced with a lot of challenges.
Zamora worked with speech pathologist to learn to exaggerate her sounds, slow down her speech and make sounds with her new tongue that she was unable to make anymore with her vocal cords. Within three months, she was speaking well. But relearning to eat took much longer. Her feeding tube wasn't removed until early 2018. Just two months ago, she was able to eat and taste Kentucky Fried Chicken. "It was amazing. I wanted to bury my face in the KFC, I was so hungry," she said.
Despite her taste buds being more limited, Zamora says she feels lucky to be alive and that she hopes her story can inspire others. "I'm in bondage to my new tongue, but I'm still going to survive," Zamora said. "Inside all of us is a survivor. I can have an attitude of I can't, know that I can. So don't give up hope. There is life after this."