I can't remember exactly when it all started. It was towards the end of September or early October 2004 when I developed a sore mouth. Then I thought it was due to the steroid inhaler I was using. I had started using one earlier in the year. The information that came with it had said that it could do so. So I tried over-the counter remedies like Bonjela and Rinstead pastilles for a few weeks but the soreness didn't get any better but not a lot worse either.
Now, I am a person who doesn't like to go and bother the doctor unless I am really ill. So, for a sore mouth, no way. By the end of October I had an ulcer on my tongue. Then one day I was looking in a shop window and saw a poster about Mouth Cancer Awareness Week. Looking at the pictures, I realised that my tongue ulcer looked similar!
I made an appointment to see the doctor, but she wasn’t impressed - there wasn't much to see only one little sore spot o the tongue in my mouth. She thought it might be thrush and gave me some medicine for it. I took the medicine for a week; it felt better but not cured. So I went back again after another week and got some more medicine. But it still didn’t get any better or worse, so I went back again.
Finally, the doctor said she would send me to the hospital to have a biopsy. However, I was booked to go to Gran Canaria for Christmas to see my son; I would come home on the 4th January 2005. So she arranged for it for after I came back.
My appointment was for 7th January 2005 with Mr Worrall the Consultant at the Maxillo-Facial Unit at St Luke's, Bradford. I had a cigarette at 9.00am before the appointment. I didn't know it then but it was MY LAST CIGARETTE! Mr Worrall told me, as soon as he saw it, what it was - a mouth cancer; I had a biopsy done the same day.
My next appointment was 26th January. This time it was with a team of doctors, which included Mr. Sutton, another Consultant, a really nice man. They all gave me great confidence. My son Karl, who came from Gran Canaria, my two daughters and Tommy accompanied me to the hospital. We asked all the questions we could think of and got honest answers from the team.
Karl took me to check into hospital on Monday 31st January 2005 afternoon. I asked the cancer nurse there if there was anyone who had had cancer of the tongue that I could talk to but she couldn't find anyone in time before my operation. All the staff at Bradford Royal Infirmary were very good, reassuring me that everything would be okay. The operation was on Tuesday 1st February 2005. I don't remember much, just waking up with pipes and tubes all over. I had a tracheostomy tube in my neck so I couldn't talk or eat or drink, all that was done by the tubes. During the next few days I got better and better. By the fifth day, all the tubes and pipes were gone. I gradually started drinking and eating and talking (that was my biggest fear, not being able to speak) there was a few words I found difficult to say. My small grandson found this speech defect hilarious. When he came to visit he looked forward to ask his grandma to amuse his friends when gibberish came out instead of words that even he could say! But my speech is much better now.
I stayed in hospital for 2 weeks. I had all my stitches out and clips before I went home. The surgery to my left forearm (where the flap was taken from) was a bit painful but the painkillers worked well. The district nurse came to see me every day after I got home. They really did look after me well as I had to have my arm dressed.
I then started a course of radiotherapy at Cookridge Hospital on the 31st March. I went every day for a month. Towards the end, my mouth was very sore and the skin on my face started weeping. Once again the district nurses came to my rescue. It got worse over the next two weeks but then it started getting better.
One morning I woke up and felt so much better and from that day I have been feeling better and better until now nearly five years later. I think a positive attitude helps. I have got new teeth (thanks to Dr. Joshi), had the bags from under my eyes and the loose skin from above my eyes removed (thanks to Mr. McCaul at Airedale Hospital who I visit every 6 months now). I actually feel ten years younger! I can't thank doctors, nurses, family and good friends for all their help and support over the years.
Unfortunately, my husband died within 6 months of finding out that he had kidney cancer. Having lost my husband and then a good friend (both to cancer), I now do what I want to do when I want to do it. I don't say I'll do it later because it may be too late, like it was for my husband. So, I have travelled all over the world (Penang, Egypt, Grand Canyon) in the last 3 years and look forward to enjoying whatever I can of my life. Live Strong!