Feature Story Health

A Fil-Am cop in Saipan is battling the “Big C” for his life, warns about the dangers of chewing betel nut and tobacco

By Lori Lyn Lirio

Israel Mendiola de Leon while about to undergo medical scanning in the Philippines. Image © Facebook

POLICE Officer Israel Mendiola De Leon, 32, quit chewing betel nut in 2015, in a bid to avoid the “Big C” but to no avail.

In 2017, he was diagnosed with stage 1 squamous cell carcinoma on his right buccal area.

“I stopped chewing because my kids ask me to. I wanted also to stop because I was thinking that cancer might hit me,”De Leon said, adding “I just decided to stop early to prevent the cancer, but it still came and hit me.”

De Leon said he started chewing when he was about 14 or 15 and became a heavy chewer since he was 16 years old.

“I chewed Redman tobacco mix with cigarette and a little of the leaves,” De Leon, who is currently assigned at the Homeland Security, said.

De Leon, who lost two members of his family – his sister from cervical cancer and his father gall bladder cancer, said his ordeal started in January 2017.

“It started back when I ate the shrimp tempura and the tail poked on my inner cheek. Weeks later, a sore started and didn’t go away. I told myself that I will just take antibiotics, hoping that it would go away,” De Leon said.

He went to the Philippines to visit his ailing father on March 15, 2017.

“I was able to spend three days with him until he breathed his last on March 18, 2017.”

During his father’s funeral, De Leon said the swelling on his lower facial area started. He consulted his doctor cousin and was given antibiotic prescription.

“He said that it was just a bacterial infection. He told me to buy antibiotics and gave me Bactidol for mouth wash,” he recounted.

After taking the medicine for seven days, De Leon said the swelling went away but the sore was still there and the tissue on his inner cheek was harder. He then decided to have his cheek X-rayed as soon as he got back to Saipan. He arrived home in April last year.

“I went to a dental clinic and I was X-rayed. We saw the tip of the tail was there. I was referred to have a biopsy sample taken at Seventh-Day Adventist dental clinic,” he said.

De Leon then proceeded to the SDA dental clinic and met Dr. Kenneth Pierson whose initial findings says “it looks like a cancer.”

“I was in shock. He said he had a patient who had almost the same sore/tumor but results of that patient came out negative,” he said.

After three weeks, the result of the biopsy came out. He was asked to meet with Dr. Pierson, who broke the news to him that he has stage 1 squamous cell carcinoma on his right buccal area.

“My wife was crying. I told myself not to cry and be strong for my two kids and for my sister, who at that time was diagnosed with stage 3 cervical cancer,” he said, adding his sister died in December last year.

In June 2017, his first cancer treatment started at St. Luke’s Medical Hospital in the Philippines.

“The cancer is stationary, they said. My doctor wants to monitor me every three months for two years and every six months for the following three years,” he said.

Early this year, his wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. They had to go back to the Philippines for her operation and biopsy. He said it went well and his wife is now negative of thyroid cancer.

De Leon’s second and third treatment were done in November 2017 and March 2018.

“So far, so good. It remained stationary. No spread of cancer cell was noted,” he told the audience, who witnessed the proclamation signing of Oral Cancer Awareness Month at the Multi-Purpose Center on Wednesday.

As of present, De Leon was getting treatment and on 100 days of medication.

“Cancer is curable. Early detection is the key. It is better to detect early than later when it is too late for therapy, not even chemotherapy can help,” he said.

He advised people to get medical checkup when they feel something.

“At least, get check every six months or do the teeth cleaning.”

De Leon encouraged everyone to watch their diet and incorporate exercise in their lifestyle. He also thanked the Commonwealth Cancer Association for educating the community about cancer, especially the oral cancer.

Lori Lyn Lirio
Lori Lyn C. Lirio is a veteran newshen having worked for the People's Journal Tonight for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications degree from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. She currently writes for the Marianas Variety, Saipan's number one community paper. .

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