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First of its kind cancer surgery in Southwest Florida involves removing tongue

Posted at 2:48 AM, Apr 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-24 09:15:49-04

When Lance Berlovich was diagnosed with cancer last fall, he told his wife he would do everything he could to survive.

"I was proud of him because he was ready to do whatever he needed to do," Linda Berlovich says.

What he did was choose to undergo a first of its kind surgery in Southwest Florida to remove his tongue.

Lance's journey to that decision began nearly two years earlier. He started complaining of a sore throat that wouldn't go away. As the pain got progressively worse, doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. They didn't realize he had a tumor on his tongue.

"It got so big that it affected his speech and he sounded like he was drunk all the time," Linda says.

For a year and a half, no one could figure out what was wrong. 

But during a routine cleaning, his dentist saw the tumor and suggested he go back to the doctor. That's when things started to move quickly. Lance had tongue cancer and he had to make a decision fast. Try to treat it with chemo first and hope that worked. Or be more aggressive and try a surgery no one in Southwest Florida has ever had. 

"And Lance said, 'do whatever you have to do because I want to live,'" Linda says.

His best shot was a surgery to remove his tongue and replace it with a transplanted piece of muscle from his leg. The 18-hour surgery was a success. But it's difficult for Lance to talk and right now he can't swallow, so he has to use a feeding tube.

"Our goal is to get him to be able to swallow liquids," Linda says. "So he can at least have some quality of life, where he can golf with his friends and then go into the pub and have a beer."

Where there's a goal, there's hope. And Lance just started physical therapy to get him there.

"He knows it's up to him now. He has to do the work. And if he does the work, he's going to get better."

His surgery and hospital stay cost more than $400,000. Thankfully, Lance's insurance covered it, but not everyone is so lucky. Saturday, April 28th is the sixth annual 5k and 2-mile walk to support head and neck cancer patients. Every cent raised will help local people fighting this type of cancer get some financial assistance. It will also pay for head and neck cancer screenings. Click here for more information, and a link to sign up for the race.