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.”
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 2014.
Until then, his wife and their kids, Brett, 12, and Bryce, 16, were unaware of what Dial was facing.
“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.”
Since the diagnosis, the family has struggled to pay Dial’s medical and residential bills, getting help from family, friends and strangers. A charity ride and car show is planned for next week to raise money to pay the mounting bills.
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 using bone from his leg, 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 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 far from being out of the woods. Tabatha thinks the doctors will want him to pursue chemotherapy and radiation treatments as a precaution. But the treatments and surgeries he has already undergone have taken their toll on the family’s life, including putting Dial and his wife out of work from their jobs at Moore Brick & Stone in Aberdeen.
“Upside down,” Dial said through his bandages, struggling to speak.
“We’re both out of work, but we are trying to get it back to somewhat normal,” Tabatha said.
Since his diagnosis, the Dials have made several trips to hospitals and treatment centers across North Carolina and even to Florida. Their children have been staying with a relative.
“It’s just hard times,” Dial said. “They spend a lot of time at their granny’s house.”
When asked what keeps 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. As of Friday, 49 people have donated $3,750 to help the Dials with their 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,” Tabatha said. “People’s been good to us.”