Profile of Hilma Maitland’s Work to Improve Oral Cancer Survivors’ Quality of Life

Our CHOICE Study patient advisory board includes an oral cancer survivor. Mrs. Hilma Maitland is a two time survivor of oral cancer. Born and raised in Trinidad, West Indies, and the eldest of six children, Hilma migrated to the US in 1968. She and her husband, Garvis, have been married 46 years, and have two grown children and one grandchild. Hilma enjoys traveling, attending tai chi classes, reading motivational books and helping others.

Oral cancers are considered part of the head and neck cancer category (brain cancer is a separate category). Oral cancers make up 85% of head and neck cancers. The 5 year oral cancer survival rate is only 57%, and this hasn’t improved much in the last decades.(1) This could be due to late discovery, as oral cancers can remain asymptomatic for months, are discovered later in the disease process, and are more likely to grow secondary tumors. Risk factors for oral cancers include tobacco use in all its forms: cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco; alcohol use; types of HPV viruses; excessive sun exposure (lip cancers); and some genetic factors still being studied.

Oral cancer screening is performed at dental checkups, but in few other clinical settings. This makes it difficult to detect oral cancers in early stages. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center researchers have invented and are testing an oral cancer diagnostic mouthwash that could detect oral cancers in dentists’ offices and during oral surgery. This trial is currently in Phase1/2 and is classified as a technology available for licensing.(2) It is research like this that will boost detection during screening. As for the need to provide widespread screening, the Oral Cancer Foundation holds screening and awareness events nationwide. In the regions served by the CHOICE Study, the nearest such event is April 22, 2017, at Camden Community College in South Jersey.

Hilma Maitland has undergone many surgeries and procedures during her cancer journey. After discovering how difficult it is for an oral cancer survivor to eat out or travel while maintaining oral hygiene, Hilma developed the Post Oral Cancer Care kit, or POCC-Kit.(3) This zippered case contains a compact folding mirror, dental picks, travel toothbrush, collapsible cup with built in pill case, and a refillable toothpaste container. You can watch a short YouTube video about the POCC-Kit here. In Hilma’s words, “Surviving cancer requires paradigm shifts in terms of my eating habits, food, and oral hygiene. That’s why I developed the POCC-Kit - to adapt to my life after cancer. I’m traveling once more, eating healthy, and enjoying time with my family. Most importantly, I'm alive!”

Hilma has used the integrative therapies like acupuncture, is active in her local branch of the Oral Cancer Foundation, and is beloved by all who know her. As patient advisor to the CHOICE Study, she gives valuable input from her unique patient perspective. Hilma has already shaped a better quality of life for future oral cancer survivors. Her strength, kindness and perseverance give us all a great example to follow.


1.Oral Cancer Foundation, available from URL

2.Oral Cancer Detection with a Diagnostic Mouthwash. Office of Technology Development, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Available through URL

3.Post Oral Cancer Care-Kit, available from URL http://pocckit.comType your paragraph here.