As the World Turns Colleen Zenk Pinter Plays Out Real Life Story

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Surviving oral cancer, Zenk Pinter, is a beacon of hope and education


Colleen Zenk Pinter (Barbara, As the World Turns)As Barbara Ryan on As The World Turns, Colleen Zenk Pinter has been involved in every diabolical plot, twist, and turn imaginable, but now she is faced with probably the most difficult role ever. Having to play out her own life’s story.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine this, but I feel I have a story to tell. A story that needs to be told, with a message that the public needs to be made aware of.”

A few weeks ago, her character of Barbara Ryan, was diagnosed with having oral cancer. Something all to close to home for Pinter. “This story will be played out with dignity and reality. I only hope they let Barbara live. I still have kids in college,” Pinter laughs, showing her great sense of humor.

Last Spring, Pinter in real life was diagnosed with oral cancer. Admitting that this was a real shocker to her. “I thought I had a canker sore. It would go away and come back,” Pinter explains. “In reality it never really went away. Then one day it just became bigger and more painful. I knew something was wrong.”

Pinter went to her doctor, who immediately sent her to an Oral Surgeon. At first the Oral Surgeon began anti-fungal treatment, which seemed to help, but the canker sore came back. A biopsy was ordered, and the startling results came back that it was squamous cell carcinoma.

“This news just blew me away completely. I’ve always been so healthy. I have no risk factors. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. It just was devasting news,” Pinter said. “Also, the fact that I’ve always had oral cancer screenings. I was screened and they missed it. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through.”

Oral cancer, which can affect non-smokers through the transmission of the HPV16 virus, is often painless in early stages and without screenings and early detection, becomes a cancer which kills someone in the US every hour of every day.

Luckily, when Pinter received the news her daughter, Kelsey, was with her. Her husband, Mark, happened to be out of town in California, only to receive the bad news, but he was aware of the procedure.

“The day of the diagnosis was also the birthday of my daughter, Georgia. I had company coming over that evening and we were having a celebration,” Pinter said. “My daughter, Kelsey said, ‘Mom what are we going to do?’ I said, pick up the cake and lets have our party.”

“I really love my doctors. I have great ones. I’m being treated at the Yale University Cancer Center. They have been wonderful to me.” Pinter said. “Also, the fact that they have taken my life and career into consideration.”

Pinter has undergone three operations. She had a partial glossectomy, in which the right side of her tongue was removed.

She subsequently had reconstructive surgery, and twice underwent the implantation of radioactive rods in her tongue, which is called Brachytherapy.

Pinter joyfully said that she is proud to report being cancer free, but this is an aggressive cancer that has a fifty percent chance on returning within two years. Upon her diagnosis, she was in stage II, so it was caught in the early stages. She has regular follow-up doctor visits, and is monitored.

Soapdom wants to know how you are handling this? And your thoughts, and why do you want this played out on TV?

“Well! First, I’m scared as hell. It’s very frightening. I look at life differently. I have six children. My family comes first. I also have learned to slow down, and not take on so much . It’s something my mother still tells me until today. I also have learned to take life on a daily basis. And as for the show, this is an education. I need to make people aware that they need to request a thorough oral cancer screening. It takes only three minutes. Heck you don’t even have to take your clothes off.”

Pinter admits that she thought about writing this in the show, and went to see As The World Turns Executive Producer, Christopher Goutman, about pitching the idea. And before you know it, he was one up. He pitched the idea to me.

“Serious illness always provides great drama in soap opera, especially when family members are involved. Barbara Ryan’s cancer has impacted not only her own life, but those of her children, Will and Paul,” said Christopher Goutman, executive producer of As The World Turns. “When Colleen told me of her real life illness, I was reluctant to incorporate it into story for fear that it might appear exploitive. I also wanted to protect Colleen’s privacy. However, Colleen was willing to allow us to use her own illness in the story, not only for dramatic purposes, but also to educate our audience about oral cancer and its early detection. I commend Colleen for her bravery.”

When Pinter was diagnosed with oral cancer, she did research and found the Oral Cancer Foundation Web Site. She has now partnered with them and has her own page on their site.

She also has shot several Public Service Announcements for CBS, part of “CBS Cares.”

“I’m so grateful to CBS for all of their support, and to Chris Goutman, who is not only my friend, but a great boss.”

Remaining very upbeat and positive, Pinter said that she is learning to cope. The mornings are still hard and a challenge.

“I get up and my tongue is swollen, and my voice is not that great. But I will get through this, “Pinter said. “You have to remember that there is no road map to this, and every individual deals with the healing process differently.”

Any message to your many fans? “Just Thank You. I’ve received so many letters from fans, and I can’t Thank You enough. And I do read the message boards, and am grateful for all the support and prayers during this very difficult time in my life. And again….please get an oral screening.”

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