• By Dana Sparks

Helping Others Heal: Nancy’s promise to smile

January 16, 2019

patient Nancy Carroll outside in a garden, smiling and holding her dog

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. Read the rest of Nancy's story.