Interview by Eva Grayzel with Jill Meyer-Lippert, RDH, Founder and CEO of Side Effect Support LLC, and Co-Chair of the Milwaukee Oral Cancer Foundation Walk for Awareness.

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With Eva Grayzel

EVA: Did you learn about oral cancer screenings in dental hygiene school?

JILL:  Yes, but it wasn’t stressed. We had hours with patients in school and always had time to take a good look around their mouths. However, squeezing everything into a 45-60 minute appointment was challenging once I became a working hygienist. Since oral cancer screenings were never emphasized in school, it was the first thing to fall by the wayside. I feel horrible about that.

EVA: What experience changed the way you view the importance of screenings?

It wasn’t until years later the lightbulb went on for me. My patient suffered from so many long-term complications of treatment for oral cancer. I was on a never-ending quest to find answers for him. His side effects were similar to those my Mom experienced when she went through treatments for breast cancer. They both suffered from unbearable dry mouths. Oral mucositis (painful ulcers) was abundant. The oncology team explained these complications in the mouth were an average side effect of treatment, but solutions were not offered. Cancer patients need education on coping with the oral side effects of cancer treatment

and steps to take to resolve the issues. My patient would have significantly benefitted from The Oral Cancer Foundation Patient Forum.

EVA: What motivated you to get involved with The Oral Cancer Foundation?

JILL:  The lack of collaborative care between the oncology team and dentistry caused needless suffering. I cannot solve the many problems cancer survivors experience in the mouth, but I was going to try! I got involved with The Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF).

With the support of the vast amount of information on the OCF website, I began to make oral cancer screenings part of my routine at every hygiene appointment. While performing the screening, I educated patients about their signs and symptoms. As my passion for oral cancer awareness grew, I opted to co-chair the Wisconsin Oral Cancer Foundation Walk for Awareness.

Eva:  The Oral Cancer Foundation provides all the tools and supplies to start a walk. I, too, chaired a walk in Pennsylvania for many years. Tell us, what was the most memorable or impactful experience at the walks you chaired?

That’s an easy question. It was the survivors and their stories. There is nothing more valuable than learning from survivors.

They have such valuable insight that impacted me both professionally and personally.

It was striking how misguided many survivors were in dealing with dry mouth.

Many were instructed to suck on Jolly Ranchers or Lemon Drops. Ugh! Their challenges in the oncology world were transferred into the dental world. With proper education, they would not only avoid costly and painful side effects but find some solutions that work. This has become a passion for me.

EVA:  Why do you continue to support OCF?

JILL: As a dental professional, the most current and accurate information about oral cancer can be found on the OCF website. Each time I visit the website, I’m newly inspired to discover oral cancer in the early stages. Also, I encourage my patients to do self-exams through the OCF initiative, Check Your Mouth.