Head and Neck Cancer

George Eliades – My hope came from my wife

April 1, 2024 Word for Word Media 0Comment

George Eliades shares how the taste of his favourite treat led to a diagnosis of tongue cancer and how his wife’s support gave him hope throughout treatment.

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George Eliades (52) lives in Parys, Free State with his wife, Wilna. They have two daughters.

George loved eating chocolate every night before bed until, in October 2022, the chocolate burnt his tongue. He thought it was weird so went to a dentist. It was treated as an ulcer with salt water and an oral spray. A week went by with no change, so George was referred to a maxillofacial surgeon and a biopsy was done, which confirmed tongue cancer. “The natural reaction is to think you’re going to die. I calmed down and asked the doctor, what’s next?” George explains.

George was referred to an ENT the same day and while waiting for him, he phoned his wife to share the news. “We cried like two kids which we hadn’t done for years.” George also phoned his boss and other family members.

The ENT explained that a part of the tongue would have to be removed and surgery was booked for the next week. In the meantime, George was referred to an oncologist who he also saw on the same day.

The oncologist ordered a CT and MRI scan and explained it was Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma which had spread to the neck lymph nodes.

“Everything moved so fast that I didn’t really have time to process anything. I didn’t even worry about whether my hospital plan covered everything as this was my life,” George says.


“The surgery took four and a half hours where about one third of my tongue was removed. He cut open my neck area where he found another four big tumours and assured me he cleaned up everything he could. It was difficult to talk after surgery and when I did, I slurred.”

Concurrent radiation and chemotherapy were the next steps. However, the oncologist told George to see the maxillofacial surgeon before treatment commences, as radiation to the mouth had severe side effects.

17 teeth removed

The maxillofacial surgeon advised that 17 teeth needed to be removed as a precaution. Infection was likely in these not-so-stable teeth during radiation. A week later the teeth were removed (which George has kept) and chemoradiation commenced two weeks later.

A face mask was moulded from George’s face that he had to wear during radiation to keep his neck in place (George still has it and wants to put a pot plant in it). He adds that the moulding process wasn’t claustrophobic; to him the MRI was far worse.

Speech therapy

At the first radiation session, George was introduced to a speech therapist. “I didn’t understand why but once we got into it and I heard how I sounded, I realised I wasn’t speaking clearly,” George explains.

“An assessment was done and I was warned of the expected dry mouth, a side effect from treatment. Exercises were also given to stretch my mouth (it had shrunk already) and to work on certain letters (L,T,S) where my tongue touched the top of my palate.”

Every second week during treatment George met with the speech therapist. In the third week, she noticed he was losing too much weight and referred him to a nutritionist.

Managing side effects

“At this time, my throat was getting sore. I had no appetite and it was too painful to swallow,” George explains. “From week three to six, I had to take pain medication just to have a sip of water due to my mouth being riddled with canker sores. The nutritionist advised me to get more protein in my diet and suggested meal replacements. I forced myself to drink four shakes a day.”

When the oncologist saw how much weight George was losing, she gave him a week to gain more weight or else a feeding tube would need to be inserted in his stomach. George then increased his intake to six shakes a day while he was on a schedule seven painkiller to ease the discomfort of drinking the shakes. “This was honestly the worst time of my time. Eventually I couldn’t talk and I became very hostile.”

On a positive note, the chemotherapy environment was immensely comforting to George as he was with people who knew what he was going through and he says they were like a family.

During treatment, George was working part-time but thankfully got paid his full salary and adds the support from his employer was superb. Since George has to travel most days for work, a driver was arranged for six weeks to drive him around to his work appointments. This was an extra cost for George.

After treatment ended in December 2022, George was put on cortisone to get the swelling down and continued to see the speech therapist.


George wanted to get dentures as soon as possible but had to wait a certain period for all the swelling to go down. He was offered implants but since one implant cost R7000 and he needed 17, he rather opted for dentures which cost R14 000. This was not covered by his hospital plan.

Once the dentures were fitted, in February 2023, he had to go for another assessment with the speech therapist and new exercises were given to him. Thankfully, he could start to eat properly again.

Current living

George says his salvia is non-existent and he still suffers with fatigue a year after treatment. Though since completing treatment, he started exercising, walking first and now he cycles three to four times a week. “I don’t think I have been this fit or active in my life,” he says laughing. He also went to a physiotherapist for two months as he had extreme stiffness in his neck. Unfortunately, chocolate is still not enjoyable for George. He adds that his father passed away from pancreatic cancer, and that he smoked and drank 20 years ago and said those risk factors may have caused his tongue cancer. George feels that there isn’t enough knowledge on head and neck cancer, with very few head and neck cancer survivors. “It’s not like breast cancer; we need more support.”

Since George’s hospital plan only covered certain procedures, excluding the maxillofacial surgeon, George says funding treatment was a financial burden. He jokes, “Thank goodness for credit cards!”

George says his wife and daughters were unbelievable during treatment. “You don’t realise how you’re affecting your spouse and family. Only once I finished treatment, did I see the toll it took on them,” George says tearfully. “I fell in love with my wife again after treatment and our relationship is better. The same as with my kids. My advice to men is, cry with your family, the more you cry with them, the more relief you have.”

Photos by Mandy Steenkamp Photography | Follow @mandysteenkampphotography

Editor Laurelle Williams

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write me: [email protected]

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