Mick's story

My Mick's Story

Before you start to read this you may be wondering why I have written this and not Mick? The reason is that like most wives, I always think I can do things better than my husband! It is now just over 5 years now since his mouth cancer and Mick is in good health and doing fine. Thanks to all who helped and cared for him at this time.

In November 2002, Mick started having pain just behind his nose. At first we thought it was just blocked sinuses and he asked me to get him a decongestant. Not one to complain, he didn't really say anything else until a couple of weeks later when he asked me to make an appointment at the doctors. Mick hadn't been to the doctors for years! His pain had got worse.

I made an appointment with our local GP who examined Mick and gave him antibiotics. He told us it was probably a sinus infection. After about 10 days, the pain was still there and getting worse! We went back to our GP who said he would try some different antibiotics because the first ones may not have been the right one for this infection. But during all December, Mick suffered horrendous pain. He couldn't sleep nor eat and began to lose weight.

Thinking it might be a gum infection, we went to a local dentist in January 2003. By now, the pain was also in Mick's upper jaw and a swelling had appeared in the roof of his mouth. The dentist examined Mick and sent us to the Bradford Royal Infirmary to get an x-ray done. We took it back to the dentist who, after looking at it, said he would refer Mick to the Maxillo-Facial Unit at St Luke's Hospital, Bradford as he wasn't sure what the swelling was.

In February, we went to the MFU and saw Miss Keshani who is the Associate Specialist there. She told us it was probably a cyst and told us to come back later that afternoon so that she could remove it. It was a great relief to find out what it was and know it could be treated. The 'cyst' was removed and a biopsy was sent for examination. This is routinely done after surgery of any lesion. After a week we went back to the unit where Miss Keshani said the wound was healing fine and we made an appointment to go back in two weeks. But after about a week Mick started to get pain again. So I rang St Luke's and asked for an earlier appointment. Later that week, we arrived back at the hospital thinking that Mick probably had an infection. But Dr Keshani told us that the results of the biopsy had come back and showed that Mick had cancer! We were devastated. We heard "CANCER" and felt our world collapse.

Miss Keshani said she would make arrangements for Mick to see Mr Worrall, one of the Consultants at the Maxillo-Facial Unit. But before Mick saw Mr Worrall, she arranged for Mick to have more x-rays and blood tests that afternoon.

That weekend was the worst weekend of our lives. We had no idea what was going to happen to Mick or if he could be treated successfully. All we knew was that part of Mick's upper jaw would have to be removed! There were so many questions in our minds. The main ones being, could all the cancer be removed? Would Mick be able to eat? Or talk?

The following Monday we saw Mr Worrall. He told us that he would be able to treat Mick with a view to curing him. But there were no guarantees. As for eating and talking he told us he would attach a false part to replace the missing part of the jaw and roof of his mouth and he would be able to talk and eat soft foods. After seeing Mr Worrall, for the first time I can say we were very relieved that something could be done.

Before the operation Mick had a scan to check that the cancer hadn't spread to his neck or sinuses. Mr Worrall also took a biopsy from Mick's sinuses. Thankfully the cancer hadn't spread.

On the 7th April 2003 Mick had the operation to remove the tumour. He came back on to the ward looking more or less the same. I was amazed by the way Mick looked, although I don't think Mick felt amazing, only relieved and very weak. We were told that everything had gone well and that all of the tumour had been removed. During the operation Mr Worrall had also taken a skin graft from Mick's upper thigh to repair the defect left by cutting the cancer out. So, in addition to a nasogastric tube and an intravenous drip of morphine, there was also a dressing on his leg,.

Later that day Mick tried his first sip of water. He nearly choked. His mouth felt so strange and it was difficult for him to swallow from a glass. So we tried using a syringe instead of a glass; it seemed a little better if it was 'injected' into the mouth slowly. Over the next few days we realised Mick would have to be fed through the nasogastric tune with a special mixture of fluids formulated by the Dieticians at the hospital. Any medication Mick needed was dissolved and syringed into the tube.

Five days later Mick came home. We had been shown how to use the machine, which pumped the food and fluids into Mick. Feeding took about 8 hours a day. The next stage of Mick's treatment was radiotherapy at Cookridge Hospital. We had earlier met Dr Coyle, a radiation oncologist, at St Luke's. She had explained the treatment.

Mick had to have a facemask made of plastic. It was marked to show where he would need the radiotherapy. He had 32 treatments (one session every weekday) over 6 weeks. Weekends were rest days. During this time Mick also needed one or two operations to remove the false part to clean the upper part of his mouth to avoid infections.

After about 6 weeks of being fed through the nasogastric tube we began to realise that it was going to be a long time before Mick would be able to eat normally. It was suggested by his dietician that it was possible to feed through a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) tube into his stomach. Although this involved another operation it seemed better than a tube in his nose. So in May, we met Dr Reynolds, Consultant Gastroenterologist, at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. He operated to insert the PEG tube. Although Mick felt a bit sore and spent a few days back in hospital, the PEG was much better.

Mick was fed via the PEG for the next 6 months. It wasn't until November that Mick was able to eat normally again after Dr Joshi fitted a new denture plate. It replaced all the teeth in the upper jaw and plugged up the hole in the roof of the mouth. It was stuck in with denture adhesive strips. Mick's first meal was scrambled egg. But it wasn't long before he could manage fish and other soft foods. There was one problem. After Mick's first operation (the one to remove the tumour), he was left with a small scar under his nose. But because of all the radiotherapy, the scar had broken down creating a hole. And now that Mick was eating again fluids leaked out.

In February 2004 Dr Joshi arranged for Mick to see Mr Carroll, another Consultant at the Maxillo-Facial Unit. We discussed the possibility of something more secure to hold the denture in Mick's mouth. Mr Carroll told us that it was possible to put zygomatic implants into the bone that was left. But because of all the radiotherapy Mick had, he would need hyperbaric oxygen treatment in Hull. (The same treatment given to deep-sea divers if they suffer the bends). Without this the bone would not heal around the implants. We spoke to Mr Worrall about the hole under Mick's nose during one of his check ups. He explained that if he tried to repair it at this time it may make things worse and it was better to wait until the implants and final denture were finished.

Mick started hyperbaric treatment a few weeks later. He had to travel to Hull every weekday for a month before Mr Carroll performed the surgery to put in the implants. Then, he had to go to Hull for more treatment for another 2 weeks after the surgery. I know Mick found the travelling exhausting especially after the operation which had left him bruised, swollen and in pain.

A few months later Mr Carroll told us the bone around the implants had healed and that Mick could now see Dr Joshi for a new denture to be made and fitted. First, Dr Joshi took impressions and measurements for an upper and lower complete denture. Then a couple of weeks later, Mick had the dentures fitted. After such a long time it seemed strange for him to have a full set of teeth again but the difference in his appearance was remarkable. The denture clicked onto the implants perfectly. But because there wasn't any bone at the front of his mouth to stop the denture tipping up and down, Mick had to adopt a different method of chewing. In January 2006, three years since Mick's first operation, Mr Worrall finally operated to close the hole under Mick's nose. It healed well.

It is now May 2009, six years later. The implants and denture have made a tremendous difference to Mick's life. He can now eat almost everything. The only thing he has to be careful about is cleaning the implants in his mouth using a syringe and mouthwash three times a day to avoid infections. Mick still sees Dr Joshi on a regular basis for adjustments to the denture but no longer needs to see Mr Worrall for check ups.

During the last six years family and friends have given us so much support and have complimented Mick on his bravery for going through so much. But Mick says it wasn't a question of being brave for "There was no choice." So, to everybody reading this "Who have no choice," remember it is possible to survive mouth cancer.

Vicky and Mick

May 2009