Young tongue cancer survivor and five-time PMC rider is now “Living Proof”

In late July 2022, two weeks before Sam Gold geared up for his fourth Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), he got the unthinkable news that, at just 29 years old, he had stage II tongue cancer. This year, he will be back on the bike for the two-day, 211-mile ride on August 5 and 6—this time as a cancer survivor and part of the PMC’s Living Proof community, more than 950 riders and volunteers who are cancer survivors or current patients.  

After about two years of an on-and-off wound on his tongue, Sam finally had a biopsy at the recommendation of a dentist friend. He started his treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute the day after finishing PMC 2022 with his dad and brother as part of Team Boston Bruins.

“We were riding for my girlfriend’s uncle who had just passed away,” Sam recalls. “Finding out I had cancer right before the ride, it became a lot more emotional for me. It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life and it prepared me for what I was going to go through emotionally in treatment.”

As a young person with cancer, Sam experienced some guilt for the stress and fear the experience brought to his family as he went through a partial tongue dissection, radiation therapy, and the many associated side effects. “I tried to not break down in front of my family and to be positive the whole time, but it was hard to keep that smile and just power through,” he says.

Sam found support through Dana-Farber’s Young Adult Program (YAP), which provides psychosocial services and community to people aged 18-39 who are facing a cancer diagnosis. He is a part of the YAP support group, has attended social gatherings, and recently shared his experience and challenges as part of a virtual roundtable for other patients. His care team also connected him with another young tongue cancer survivor, who became a positive guide and reassuring voice during his treatment.

As a tongue cancer patient, Sam’s biggest challenges from treatment were eating, drinking, and talking—everyday things most people take for granted. After his dissection, he started speech therapy, which he still attends, and he’s working hard to get back to eating solid foods.

“I’m doing a lot better now, but there are so many little things you don’t realize you use your tongue for; I had to completely relearn how to eat,” he says. “I’d love to be able to lick an ice cream cone one day, but I know I probably won’t be able to, which is fine. Today I’m in a great place and able to enjoy food again and eat socially.”

“When I taste something and it tastes like it used to, it brings me completely new emotions,” Sam continues. “I appreciate these small accomplishments and I hope that makes me a happier person and that I’ll continue to appreciate these small moments.”

Sam completed radiation in November 2022 and as of February 2023, was declared cancer free. His family is celebrating with a trip to Istanbul and Dubai this summer, a vacation originally planned for the day Sam had surgery, now to celebrate his one-year dissection anniversary.

“Cancer has definitely taught me to be there for my friends and family, because of how much they were there for me,” he reflects. “I used to get so busy with work and travel before this, I never had a minute to call my friends and family to see how they were, and now I’m a lot closer with them and always look on the bright side. I’m fortunate to have learned that early in life.”

While the family trip is exciting, Sam is most looking forward to—and anxious about—riding from Wellesley to Provincetown Inn during this year’s PMC, now as a Living Proof rider.

“I know a lot of survivors are nervous about their scans, but I’m probably more nervous about the ride,” Sam jokes. “I lost 50 pounds during treatment and haven’t gotten my muscle back. Being back to work full time and training has been a lot, but I know I’m going to push through. It’s something I want to personally prove to myself, that cancer didn’t take my life away.”

While he considers himself a cancer survivor, Sam also recognizes many patients have longer, tougher roads through treatment. But whatever the path, he is confident things do get better and that “everyone is stronger than cancer.”

Join Sam this summer at the Pan-Mass Challenge co-presented by M&T Bank and the Red Sox Foundation, Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund’s largest single contributor. Register to ride or volunteer on August 5-6, 2023 to get Dana-Farber closer by the mile to defying cancer by contributing to the PMC’s $70 million fundraising goal. 100% of every rider-raised dollar supports Dana-Farber’s mission.