Cancer survivor and patient advocate Millie McConnell survived cancer 16 years ago, only to find her teeth disintegrating. She’s seeking funding for dentures. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Fraser Valley woman scrambles for dental surgery funding after chemo destroys her teeth

Millie McConnell survived cancer, but the after effects are proving costly and difficult

A Fraser Valley woman who beat a lethal bout of cancer years ago is now facing the loss of her teeth thanks to the treatments that saved her life.

Millie McConnell was given three months to live after a diagnosis of stomach cancer 16 years ago.

“I reached that point where it was out of my hands, and I just put it up to the powers that be,” McConnell said.

She was diagnosed late, because she believed the symptoms of the cancer were irritable bowel syndrome, she said.

Once she was in the hands of oncologists, she received aggressive treatment. That included simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy, which caused her to drop from 160 pounds down to 80 pounds.

She also had her stomach surgically removed, and part of her intestine turned into a pouch to replace it.

Her survival was unlikely, but since then, McConnell has made a substantial recovery. Although she was too weakened and impacted by her cancer and its treatment to return to work, she has spent time working with advocacy groups like the Debbie’s Dream Foundation, which lobbied for more funding for stomach cancer research.

She also spent time as a motivational speaker and regularly reaches out to other cancer patients and survivors, as well as speaking to physicians about the success of the surgery that removed her stomach.

But the chemotherapy that saved her had long-term side effects.

“Over all this time, my teeth were breaking down,” she said. “I was getting fillings on fillings on fillings.”

Her teeth are riddled with cavities and one is essentially hollow.

“They’re breaking down,” McConnell said. “ALmost everything I eat, I end up with pieces of teeth in it.”

She’s had to be extremely cautious about her dental hygiene to avoid a serious infection.

When she was told the best option was to simply have all of them pulled out, McConnell wasn’t even upset.

“I was already at that stage, I wanted them out,” she said. “Because it was a losing battle.”

The problem was how to pay for the dental surgery and any replacements, including dentures.

McConnell has been on disability for years, unable to hold down a regular job due to the after effects of her cancer and treatment. Among other issues, she still gets confused easily, a side effect known as “chemo brain.” She also has to eat high-protein meals every two to three hours to accommodate her altered digestive system.

McConnell’s husband works from home buying and selling truck parts, but the couple has essentially been living on a low income for years, and doens’t have the savings for dentures, much less dental implants.

Her friend Lorinda Ramsay was the one who set up a GoFundMe campaign to try to help out.

“Millie spends all her time at home on her computer, mentoring people with stomach cancer who have only a few months to live,” said Ramsay. “She does it because she cares.”

Ramsay wanted to help out, and she’s hoping other people who have known someone with cancer will be able to help as well.

A first GoFundMe attempted to raise $60,000 for dental implants for all of McConnell’s teeth, but fell well short of the goal.

The current GoFundMeCampaign is much more modest in scope – McConnell is hoping to receive a mere $1,700 for a full set of dentures.

If she raises about $2,500, she might be able to afford two dental implants for the bottom of her jaw to help anchor the lower dentures.

Anyone who wishes to donate or learn more can visit the GoFundMe campaign through this link.

READ MORE: Conquering cancer and learning to be a public speaker

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