Raven certainly didn’t have much to smile about in the past seven years. Her mother, diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004, died in 2005. Then she separated from her husband. To top it off, her truck was stolen. Looking for a better life and a job, Raven and her son Stran moved to Las Vegas in 2006 to start anew with her son and four suitcases.
But even a move to Vegas couldn’t change her luck. Her son started kindergarten but had trouble in school. A year of observation and testing led to a diagnosis of Asperberger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder within the autism spectrum. Raven felt like this was a “silver lining to my dark cloud.” At least she was able to find treatment for him.
The bad luck wasn’t finished doling out its hand. In April 2008, she noticed a lump in her left breast. A needle biopsy confirmed she had an aggressive form of breast cancer, stage 3A, at age 30 that had already spread to her lymph nodes. By early June, she started chemotherapy. “I was bald, in constant pain, sick and couldn’t even taste the food I ate,” Raven recalled.
That October, she was laid off. Yet Raven saw it as a way to prepare for her upcoming double mastectomy. During the surgery, doctors also discovered lumps in her left armpit that turned out to be a staph infection. Her doctor inserted a tissue expander in place of her right breast and left her left side flat. Raven underwent another surgery to close an incision that wasn’t healing. Just weeks before she started her radiation treatment, her 29-year-old brother died from a blood clot in his lungs. “The entire experience was horribly painful.”
Three months after she completed radiation, her remaining bottom teeth started to fall apart, turn sponge-like and break off at the gums. “The pain was almost constant and extreme,” Raven said. “It made it tough to eat, smile and talk to people.”
Raven’s dental problems started in 2001, just after giving birth. Unemployed and with a mouth full of teeth in need of root canals, crowns and other dental work, she chose the cheapest alternative. “I had my upper teeth pulled and gat a denture.” Shortly after moving to Las Vegas, a roommate’s dog ate her dentures.
Again, Raven found herself unemployed, and in need of dental treatment. But now, she had exhausted all of her financial resources months before and had no way to pay for the much-needed extractions or dentures. Dentists declined to see her because she was a cancer and radiation patient. “I had given up all hope of getting my teeth fixed and relieving the pain I was in.”
Now Raven’s luck is changing. In April 2011 she found a job. One of her new co-workers nominated her as a candidate for Smiles for Survivors Foundation’s Make her Smile program, which underwrites a breast cancer patient’s oral health treatment. Raven received two visits with Dr. Mark Degen and Dr. Olya Banchik, founder of Smiles for Survivors Foundation. The dentists were able to relieve her pain and return her mouth to a healthy state. “The Smiles for Survivors Foundation has given me a new lease on life and helped me overcome one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through,” Raven said. “All I can say is thank you! I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I’d be a cancer survivor at age 33, but I am. And I owe my smile to the Smiles for Survivors Foundation.”
Raven now leads not only a pain-free life, but also her confidence rebounded. “Without these procedures, I never could have enjoying life as much as I do now,” Raven said.
Even her co-workers have noticed the change in her self-esteem. “Her self-confidence had suffered tremendously, though her great sense of humor remained,” said Suzanne Bobbitt, a co-worker and friend who nominated her for the procedure. “Her new smile helps her outside match her inside and her wonderful personality.”
Raven B. is a Smiles for Survivors ™ “Make Her Smile” Recipient. For more information about “Make Her Smile” program, contact us here.