Nancy’s Promise to Smile

It was 1959. Nancy Carroll, then 2 years old, posed for the camera. Smiles were few. The photo shoot had commenced because her parents feared she was going to die.

A specialist in Des Moines, Iowa, had examined a lump on her left jaw and diagnosed it as cancerous. Before they opted for surgery, Nancy’s parents requested a second opinion from Mayo Clinic. The doctors in Rochester, Minnesota, approached things differently and more conservatively when they determined the lump was not cancerous. After examination, they decided to monitor the lump rather than operate.

By the time Nancy turned 3, the noncancerous tumor — a fluid-filled sac that results from the blockage of the lymphatic system — dissolved on its own, without surgery.

In 1969, just before Nancy started junior high school, the lump on her left jaw returned and began affecting the way she opened her mouth.

“My parents immediately took me back to Mayo Clinic,” Nancy says.

At first, physicians again tried a conservative approach to see if the tumor would disappear on its own, but this time, there was no change.

Because of the tumor’s effect on Nancy’s ability to open her mouth, Hugh B. Lynn, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatric surgeon, recommended removal of the tumor. He also told Nancy there were risks involved with the surgery. The tumor was dangerously close to a facial nerve that, if damaged, would take away Nancy’s ability to smile.

Nancy prayed in bed the night before her surgery, "I remember telling God that if he allowed the surgery to go well, I'd smile every day for the rest of my life," she says.

When Nancy woke up post-surgery, she immediately tried to smile — and was successful. Dr. Lynn’s skillful hands had removed the tumor without permanently damaging her facial nerve.

During the years that followed, several new tumors grew on the left side of her jaw, one of which required a second surgery. Throughout each encounter, Mayo Clinic physicians worked together to help Nancy navigate a path forward.

By 2015 one growth had reached the size of a pingpong ball, and continued to grow. “It was very cosmetically distracting,” Nancy says.

She heard about a nonsurgical removal procedure that vascular and interventional radiologist David A.

Woodrum, M.D., Ph.D., was offering and decided to inquire. After a quick meeting, they decided to try the procedure, called magnetic resonance image-guided percutaneous laser ablation, on Nancy’s tumor.

The procedure began with Nancy being placed in an MRI machine. Dr. Woodrum used the imaging to pinpoint exactly where he needed to insert a thin laser fiber into the growth to destroy it. The procedure was a success.

“The whole thing was painless,” Nancy says.

Nancy credits Mayo Clinic’s dedication to their core values with her successful, patient-focused care during the past 60 years.

“Thanks to Mayo Clinic, I’m no longer self-conscious,” Nancy says. “And I’m still smiling at 60.” ■

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Hope & Healing, Stories of Hope
Hope & Healing
Hope & Healing