Liz Marsh - Mouth Cancer Survivor

Liz Marsh - Mouth cancer survivor’s story

Last year, at aged just 27, Liz Marsh was diagnosed with mouth cancer. As a non-smoker and someone who doesn’t drink alcohol to excess, Liz was not considered at high risk. Plus, she also tested negative for HPV, another high risk factor for mouth cancer.

But what had started out as just an ulcer on the top left side of her tongue, quickly developed into something far more serious.  Here is her story.

In July last year, I noticed I had an ulcer on the top of my tongue. It was quite painful but I didn’t think too much of it at the time and put it down to being stressed and run-down. Our baby son had just undergone a second operation for open heart surgery, and so to me, this ulcer was simply a symptom of being exhausted and worried.

It just so happened that I had a dental appointment coming up and I decided I would wait until then to check it out. However, by the time of the check-up, the ulcer was beginning to look quite nasty and was more painful.

My dentist wanted me to come back in three to four weeks but in the meantime, I was in a huge amount of pain and thought that I might need antibiotics, so I went to see my doctor. Unfortunately, my doctor said it was just an ulcer and that it would go away.

However, when I returned to my dentist, I was immediately sent for further assessment and for a biopsy to be taken. At the appointment, I agreed to have the biopsy done there and then; within a week I was diagnosed with mouth cancer.

It was one month from diagnosis to surgery

The ulcer had first appeared in mid-August; by November, I underwent a 14-hour operation in which part of my tongue was removed (a left hemiglossectomy) and tissue was used from my left forearm flap to rebuild it. In addition, 58 lymph nodes were removed from my neck. These lymph nodes were all clustered, meaning that they hadn’t spread.

I do have scars (my neck, my left arm, and stomach where a skin graft was taken to repair my left arm) but that doesn’t bother me – I feel that is a small price to pay to be alive.

Liz Marsh Treatment

Liz Marsh during treatment

People don’t realise that mouth cancer affects everything Liz Marsh

Generally, I don’t think people realise just how serious mouth cancer can be. We use our mouths all the time and for so many things that it has a massive impact on every aspect of daily life.

After the operation, I was fitted with a trachi tube; it was so uncomfortable and I hated it. My mouth was swollen and I couldn’t talk. Eating was a lot harder than I thought it would be; it was more than a week before I was able to try any real food (blended) and I cried my eyes out because I didn’t think I would ever be able to do it. In three weeks, I lost over a stone in weight.

This was a very tough time for me; I was away from my baby and I think the reality of it all just caught up with me.

Recovery has been much harder than I thought

A lot of things hit me more after the operation. I have had to learn how to talk again and had a lot of speech therapy. It has been a tough process but I feel that I have done well. Even though I was surrounded by lots of people, I felt very isolated. I was offered counselling and I am very glad I took it because it really helped.

Mouth cancer has affected my family, not just me

Financially, the past year has been incredibly tough. My husband, who has been amazing throughout this whole thing, had to take a lot of extra time off work because I could do very little. So he had to look after me as well as our son who requires extra care because of his heart condition.

I do think that my husband might have benefitted from talking to someone, just as I had counselling.

Know your body – if something is not right, get it checked

I had heard of mouth cancer before I was diagnosed, but I didn’t realise that an ulcer could be a sign of the disease. Campaigns like Mouth Cancer Action Month are great because it helps people to be aware of the disease. It is absolutely crucial for everyone to know that if something doesn’t look right, they have to get it checked out straight away. Don’t put it off because it could save your life.

                                                                                          

You can follow Liz’s mouth cancer story on her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lizmarsh1802