Mouth Cancer Action Month

For Kevin Parnham, 52, a perfect day would be enjoying a nice walk in the morning with his Boxer dog, Ottis, before heading to Pride Park Stadium to watch his beloved Derby County FC in the afternoon.

However, four years ago, he feared he may never get to walk his dog or watch Derby County again as his life was turned upside down after a tongue cancer diagnosis.

Kevin (pictured right with his two daughters) first noticed something was wrong in late 2017 when he started to feel a constant urge to clear his throat. 

He went to his local doctor who thought that it might be to do with acid reflux and gave him some medication. When this didn’t work,

 he went back to the same GP who then prescribed him antihistamines thinking it could be due to an allergic reaction to his dog. In the end, after a few visits and the problem only getting worse, his doctor referred him to an ENT (Ear, Throat & Nose) Specialist to take a 

further look.

Kevin says it was around this time, when it had got noticeably harder to swallow, that mouth cancer first entered his mind. His didn’t have specific knowledge of mouth cancer but he says:

“I knew you could get cancer pretty much anywhere in the body”.

At his consultation the ENT had a look in Kevin’s mouth with an endoscope (a long wire with a camera at the end) and told Kevin he could see tumour right at the back of his tongue. He quickly set up a biopsy to get a better understanding of the tumour. Unfortunately, in the days that followed Kevin received bad news, results had shown the tumour was cancerous. Despite knowing mouth cancer was a possibility the diagnoses still caught him a little off guard. As a non-smoker and only a light drinker Kevin says, “I didn’t think I was doing anything that would cause mouth cancer”.

Following the diagnosis, he was told he would need thirty sessions of radio therapy and six sessions of chemotherapy over 6 weeks. He started the treatment mid-February of 2018 and initially Kevin says the treatment wasn’t too bad. “At the start of the radiotherapy I was driving myself to my sessions and driving back but as time progresses you start to struggle with tiredness and also pain.”

He also had some unfortunate complications with his chemotherapy; he developed thrush in his mouth and also got an infection. Despite the ups and down of his treatment he remained upbeat and following a scan in April he was told the cancer had gone.

Overall, Kevin says he is very grateful for all the support he received from friends, family and also the hospital staff:

“My family were fantastic and everybody at the hospital were fantastic. I didn’t really need much else. I used the Macmillan forums a little but everybody’s journey is different. It was difficult to necessarily use other people’s experiences as a guide because what other people were experiencing what necessarily how I was experiencing it.”

Since getting the all clear Kevin has made really good progress. His swallowing, which he did struggle with after treatment, is now a lot better and he is able to once again enjoy Indian food. He admits he doesn’t have it quite as spicy as he used to, and he needs water on hand to help it down, but he hasn’t let mouth cancer ruin his enjoyment of both food and cooking.

When asked whether mouth cancer has changed his outlook on life Kevin replied:

“I think for quite a period of time I started to think in much shorter terms but as time’s going on my mentality is going back to normal. I don’t like to be defined by it. I’ve changed jobs now and I don’t tell people about it, I’m keen to move on with my life. The only issue I’ve really had is health anxiety. After having cancer any aches or pains in your body can get you worried it’s come back but over time the anxiety has got less.”

Thanks to Kevin’s early action and persistence with his GP, he now says his life is largely back to normal. His story is a good example of the importance of catching mouth cancer early as it greatly boosts both your chances of survival and also your quality of life.