LAURINBURG — For Dennis Dial, Christmas Eve 2013 was a day to remember — for all the wrong reasons.
“He found a small place in his gum the size of a pea,” Tabatha Dial, his wife of 21 years, said. “So he knew what it was.”
But Dial, who had used smokeless tobacco, didn’t tell anyone about the lump until he was diagnosed with an aggressive case of oral cancer in June of 2014.
Until then, his wife and their kids Brett, 12, and Bryce, 16, were unaware of the discovery Dial had made.
“I knew something was going on, but he didn’t tell me because he’s into natural medicine,” she said. “He tried to handle it himself.”
On April 30, during a 22-hour long surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, doctors rebuilt Dial’s jaw completely. His jaw bone was replaced, skin was grafted from three places on his body and muscle was added around his neck.
The doctors kept Tabatha and her brother-in-law, who stayed with her for the entire process, updated throughout the surgery.
“They’d say ‘Mrs. Dial, we’re still working on him, he’s doing all right,’” she said.
The surgery left Dial bandaged and barely able to speak. The family was told that, if anything bad were to happen, it would occur within the first 72 hours — but 11 days later, Tabatha was speeding down the interstate in the middle of the night, trying to get her husband to Charlotte for emergency surgery.
“He was spitting out blood clots the size of tennis balls, and they were also coming from his nose,” she said.
The Dials were stopped by the police, who let them go after realizing the urgency of the situation. They arrived in Charlotte — a 94-mile drive — within an hour and a half.
Today, Dial is long from being out of the woods. Tabatha thinks the doctors will want him to pursue back-up chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But the treatments and surgeries he has already undergone have taken their toll on the family’s life.
“Upside down,” Dial said through his bandages, struggling to speak.
“Our lives have been turned upside down,” Tabatha added. “We’re both out of work, but we are trying to get it back to somewhat normal.”
Since his diagnosis, the couple have made several trips to different hospitals and treatment centers, across North Carolina and even to Florida. Their children have been staying with another family member.
“It’s just hard times,” Dial said. “They spend a lot of time at their granny’s house.”
When asked what kept him going, Dial didn’t speak, but pointed towards the sky. His wife elaborated.
“God put him in the path of excellent doctors,” she said. “Our community has been good, and the people that you thought would never rise to the occasion — they did.”
Since his surgeries, a GoFundMe page has been started by Dial’s brother, Steve Cole. So far, 49 people have donated $3,750 to help the Dials with their medical and residential bills.
In addition to the GoFundMe page, Mike and Doris White, friends of the Dials, have started a jewelry raffle to benefit the family.
Another friend, Tammy Jacobs, is spearheading a benefit ride and car show for the Dials, set for June 13 at the McDonald Brothers Building on South Main Street in Laurinburg. Registration for both the ride and the car show begin at 10 a.m. and the cost to enter each event is $10. There will be Food, door prizes, 50/50 drawings and awards for car show participants. More information can be found on Facebook by searching for “Dennis Dial.”
“The lights are still on,” Dial’s wife said. “People’s been good to us.”