Life is so precious: make every day count
With mouth cancer cases exceeding the 7,500 mark for the first time, it’s more important than ever to highlight the plight of those who have battled the disease. Of even more importance is the need for early detection, which transforms survival rates from as low as 50 per cent to up to 90 per cent.
51 year-old Tracey Stear from Plymouth is one mouth cancer survivor who puts her successful battle down to early detection. She spoke out to support Mouth Cancer Action Month and encourage others to follow her lead.
“I remember it had been a very difficult year,” Tracey said. “I lost my mum in really difficult circumstances and my dad later on in the year, so when I went for my referral and biopsy, I just knew it would be cancer.”
After spending the summer with a sore throat and her doctor diagnosing the problem as tonsillitis, Tracey’s busy lifestyle meant she thought nothing of it. However, after a visit to the dentist and a hospital appointment later that year, she began to grow concerned. What made matters worse is that Tracey received the news on a day she should have been enjoying.
“I got the news the day after Boxing Day,” she said. “I went to see the regional head and neck cancer specialist at Derriford Hospital, and to be honest when I got the results I was a bit of a state. I’d never smoked, only drank alcohol socially as my mum was an alcoholic, so it came as a real shock.
“I was really confused and angry. I’d just taken a holiday to the Maldives, which was a life-long dream and a bit of an escape after losing my parents, and I come back to finding out I had cancer. It was a really difficult time for me.”
After eight hours of surgery on her tonsils and secondary lumps on her neck, three courses of chemotherapy and almost seven weeks of radiotherapy, Tracey’s recovery was well underway. She recalls, “After surgery I had no feeling down the right side of my face from behind my ear down to my shoulder. It looked like it had dropped, and I lost my voice. Five years later I have quite a lot of problems with my teeth as I have no salivary glands. These are the things that people just don’t think about. Cancer is such a difficult thing to come to terms with, but it’s the longer lasting issues that can prove to be the most difficult.”
So how did she get through it? As is the case for many people, the answer lies within. The bubbly, outgoing personality she has played a massive part in that. Tracey told me, “I have always just tried to laugh things off and joke about them. Cancer meant I couldn’t do that. I had to accept it and get on with it. I’m a really stubborn person, and I wasn’t going to let it beat me.
“That very same trait saved my life. I knew my body, and I knew something wasn’t quite right. My advice would be not to ignore it, don’t let it become something at the back of your mind. Never give in, and go and get checked out.”