The patients’ perspective in oral cancer – part II

Around 370.000 people worldwide are diagnosed with oral cavity cancer each year.[1]  Although this is a significant amount, there is little awareness of the symptoms and treatment of oral cancer. The primary, and most effective treatment is surgery. To raise awareness, SurGuide is issuing a trilogy of interviews to show how oral cavity cancer is affecting all age groups. This article contains the second interview, in the category of 40-60 years.

The fact that a healthy life and a lot of exercise help with recovery after treatment of oral cavity cancer is made clear in the case of Jos van Giersbergen (60). The former football player and goalkeeper of VV-Papendrecht does not shy away from sports-related challenges. After his time in the first team, Jos has effortlessly competed in marathons and regularly cycled routes of more than 100km. Even during his treatment for oral cavity cancer in 2017-2018.

‘It was two and a half years ago when I felt a lump in my neck. This lump turned out to not go away, even after a long time. My doctor referred me to the hospital and after a lymph node biopsy I was immediately referred to the ENT doctor in Dordrecht. This is where I also heard my diagnosis for the first time: cancer.’

After receiving his diagnosis, Jos was sent to the Erasmus MC for further treatment. When asked if he was shocked by the diagnosis, Jos responded calmly: ‘I let it come over me. As opposed to biking, where you still have control over steering, I could only surrender myself.’ The treatment was familiar to Jos. A football-acquaintance had had the same disease in the past. ‘Because of this, I knew what to expect. After all, he had come out in good health.’ Jos was advised to undergo treatment by a specific doctor from the Erasmus MC, Dr. Sewnaik, whom he will not forget anytime soon. ‘Dr. Sewnaik made it clear which treatment would be needed and that everything would be okay. The advice was to keep exercising a lot, which helped me get through it.’

Jos van Giersbergen (left) at VV Papendrecht.

‘In addition to my lymph nodes, my tonsils were also removed. When I woke up, I was told that the surgery was successful.’ The surgery was followed by radiation treatments (28). The radiation treatments had a lot of impact. ‘My mouth became damaged on the inside. Because of this I could no longer eat well and since then I always have a dry mouth.’

‘In hindsight, it all went quite fast. After three days I was discharged from the hospital, but at that moment it was tough. I was in a lot of pain, could not sleep well and I was very tired. Around that same time, one of my sons got twins. I thought: “for this I would like to fight this disease.”’ Jos has run enough marathons to know that there will always be a tough part in life. Upon seeing his grandchildren, he was determined to get through the last part of his cancer treatment.

“After seeing my grandchildren, I was determined to get through the last part of the treatment” – Jos van Giersbergen

After the treatment, Jos quickly picked up his life again. He had to sit home from work for a while, which gave him time to baby-sit his grandchildren. He also went for a ride on his racing bike almost every day, and could enjoy sports and the environment. ‘There were times that I had done too much, but that was more due to the extra kilometres that I wanted to cycle. The fact that I was healthy and fit was why it all went so fast and so well.”

Want to know more about how SurGuide aims to improve the surgical care for oncology patients? Please reach out to

For more information, take a look at the Dutch patient organisation to learn more about symptoms and treatment of oral cancer.