Margo's Story

Margo’s weeklong European vacation included peaks and valleys. She had fun and got engaged, but the Texas resident also caught a nasty intestinal virus.  While the virus passed, the accompanying swelling in her neck didn’t. That sent Margo to the doctor once she got home. 

Several appointments later, tongue cancer was confirmed. She was told it had been resident for months and likely activated by that stressful virus. “The virus woke up the sleeping giant of cancer, and my doctor said it was aggressive. He told me it was stage 4 because of the number of lymph nodes involved.”

Margo required surgery to remove 54 lymph nodes on both sides of her neck, six of which were malignant. A follow up procedure fitted her with a feeding tube and port for the ensuing seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, the latter to eradicate a tumor at the base of her tongue which couldn’t be surgically removed. 


Post-surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Margo was so weak she wasn’t even able to blow out a candle or smile, not because she wasn’t thankful, but rather because she couldn’t physically do it. However, Margo said those were minor issues compared to others she had to tackle, including: 

  • Lymphedema 
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Lack of sleep
  • Jaw pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Spasms in neck, upper chest, and jaw
  • Skin fibrosis, a scarring and tightness of the skin
  • Limited arm, neck and head movement/muscle atrophy

Coming from a family that included 21 clinicians and having taken care of her late father who was paralyzed from a stroke, Margo knew the road ahead would be grueling. Fortunately, her radiation oncologist was a former cancer patient himself and his wife, a cancer rehabilitation therapist. During an appointment with him, she asked for help with her biggest issues: jaw pain, the swelling in her neck, difficulty with breathing and swallowing and sleep issues caused by these symptoms. She was exhausted from the pain. She asked, “Can anything be done about my neck, my lymphedema is the Hoover Dam – a stone wall stopping the flow of drainage.” Her doctor immediately sent her to cancer rehabilitation therapy.

The Routine

Margo’s treatment progressed to include other exercises – stretching, peddling a hand bike, walking her fingers up a wall – which she vigorously pursued at home, in the car, during lunch or while watching TV.

How ReVital Helped Me

During her first appointment at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation, physical, occupational and speech language therapists did a complete assessment of her functional issues and mapped out a 12-month treatment plan to overcome her impairments. In addition to her treatment goals, Margo let the team know she was determined to meet her one overarching objective, being center stage at her wedding. It helped fuel her adherence to therapy.

Therapy began with soft tissue work, an advanced form of massage targeting muscles, tendons, ligaments or other connective tissue. Margo’s soft tissue massage tackled her jaw pain, neck swelling and the spasms that radiated through her shoulder, chest, neck, jaw and head. In addition to the soft tissue massage regimen, occupational therapists applied tape during therapy sessions – a tool that Margo used at home as well. Affixed to Margo’s neck, the tape would tug each time she moved her head and shoulders, providing constant massage relief. “My therapists are the most caring people,” said Margo.

Margo’s treatment progressed to include other exercises – stretching, peddling a hand bike, walking her fingers up a wall – which she vigorously pursued at home, in the car, during lunch or while watching TV.

The Outcome

“Lots of people don’t take therapy seriously, I did the opposite,” said Margo. “I did everything my therapy team told me to do and also researched at home to see what else I could do. Because I stuck with the program, I saw progress and was motivated to keep going. I’d see it by my increased flexibility. I could see it in my shoulder – the stiffness was getting better. Plus I regained the flexibility in my neck – turning my head left to right.”

Margo’s head and neck spasms have relented as well, and her skin has softened thanks to massage treatments using aloe vera. Additionally, at 5’11” she can once again tilt her head back in the shower to wash her hair, something she couldn’t do after surgery as it sparked breathing problems.

Margo’s formal therapy ended just before her wedding in August 2017. “I had a Catholic wedding in a church and the whole shebang and I wanted to look pretty.” Margo knocked that goal out of the park and many members of her therapy team were there to celebrate alongside the new couple.

Next Steps

Call us to find out more about our multidisciplinary post-cancer rehabilitation program.

More Stories

Kelly Cochrane

A Profile in Fortitude
A roll up your sleeves CEO with a young son, Kelly endured three punishing rounds of breast cancer that sidelined her. Cancer and its treatment resulted in crushing migraines, overwhelming fatigue and weakness, nausea and substantial weight loss. Kelly’s resilience guided her to the right doctors and cancer rehabilitation. That combination was a salve for her issues and led her back to full-time work and motherhood.

Sean Flaherty

A Profile in Living Life Before, During and After Cancer
Radiation for stage 4 tonsil and throat cancer left Sean with muscle pain and weakness as well as nerve damage. A combination of physical therapy, ultrasound and Botox got him back to life, family and his favorite activity, surfing.