In June 2010, at the age of 47, I was diagnosed with advanced Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my right tonsil. The cancer had spread to the lymph nodes on both sides of my neck.
Throughout my life, I frequently dealt with tonsillitis and had glandular fever during my teens. In September 2009, I began experiencing illness again, including an enlarged gland and tonsil. I was off work for a week, which was unusual for me, and suffered from extreme exhaustion like I’d never known before. Similar symptoms reappeared in February, leading me to take another week off work.
One morning, I woke up so weak I was unable to raise my arms. I visited multiple doctors who prescribed antibiotics, but the issue persisted. Eventually, I saw the initial doctor who referred me to a specialist at John Radcliffe Hospital. A biopsy on my tonsil yielded inconclusive results, so I underwent another biopsy under general anaesthesia. This alarmed me.
During a meeting with multiple specialists, they explained the surgery's details and its invasiveness. The 14.5hour operation involved splitting my jaw, a full neck dissection on both sides, and using my arm as a transplant site for reconstructing the back of the roof of my mouth. The cancer had also spread to my lymph nodes. They emphasized the life-changing nature of the situation and the necessity of treatment for my survival.
Supported by my parents, children, friends and a positive mindset, I faced the challenges ahead. After two weeks, I left the hospital and surprisingly healed quickly. Radiation treatment followed, causing painful mouth and throat ulcers and the need for a peg to assist with eating and drinking. I also received two doses of chemotherapy to further prevent recurrence.
Though I have lost a lot of my teeth due to radiation, implants are replacing the missing teeth. Thankfully a permanent obturator helps me to speak clearly (An Obturator is a prosthesis that can be used to close defects such as an opening in the roof of the mouth. They are similar to dental retainers). Before the obturator, the nasal escape I experienced when speaking caused me to be constantly light-headed and I was unable to speak clearly or sound like me.
Despite the weight loss and physical changes, my friends provided tremendous support. They rallied around me, offering help and displaying unwavering love. Inspired by their kindness, I've been raising funds annually since my diagnosis.
Exactly one year after my surgery, I embarked on a cycling challenge from Carterton to the Eiffel Tower, covering 410 miles in four and a half days. Despite the physical limitations caused by my condition, the experience contributed significantly to my recovery and raised 8.5k with the support of friends and family. I’ve done many long distance cycle rides including the London Ride 100 and I organise a Charity Spring Ball annually, all to support Head and Neck Cancer Research/Oracle Cancer Trust.
Reflecting on my journey, I would advise myself to be patient throughout the process. Every step forward counts, and embracing the small victories helps overcome frustrations.
Public speaking events have become an opportunity for me to defy cancer's attempts to silence me. Despite the challenges, I refuse to let cancer hold me back.
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Oracle Cancer Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales (1142037). A company limited by guarantee. Registered company in England and Wales (7125497). Registered address: 80 Coombe Road, New Malden KT3 4QS