Mouth Cancer Action Month

For 46-year-old Sarah from Coventry, life was seemingly going without a hitch.

Sarah and her husband Steve were looking forwarded to Sarah’s 40th birthday celebration in December and their then 12-year-old son Garrick was doing well after recovering from a benign brain tumour a few of years prior.

Then in October 2013, Sarah's life changed forever.

Things started to go wrong when Sarah started to feel some pain in the left side of her gum, just below one of her back teeth. She thought it was just an ulcer, but something was odd about it.

Sarah says: “At first, I didn’t think much of it and carried on with my everyday life. It didn’t feel like a normal mouth ulcer though, sometimes it would send an electric shock kind of feeling through the left side of my face.”

In mid-November, after the pain or inflammation had not gone away, Sarah decided to book an appointment with her dentist. Initially, the dentist treated the tooth above the inflammation with a filling.

The problem persisted and so Sarah went back again but it still wasn’t spotted. After trying another dentist, and getting a misdiagnosis of sinusitis, the problem had still not gone come the start of the new year.

It would not be until August 2014, after several dental visits and even a last-ditch trip to A&E, that Sarah finally received her diagnosis of mouth cancer.

She describes the moment she received the news: “The doctor told me that they had results from my biopsy back and they had found malignant cells.

"From what they could tell the tumour was 20mm long and was squished up against the gum.”

Sarah admits that her knowledge of mouth cancer was poor before her diagnosis: “I didn’t really know about mouth cancer until I had it.

"Then I started to look into it and realised just how many people it does impact."

"I will do anything to help make more people aware, the sooner mouth cancer is treated the better your chances.”

Thankfully for Sarah, her treatment went well. She received both radiotherapy and chemotherapy and was given the all clear in February 2015. She had a phased return to work in the April of that year.

However, whilst the mouth cancer might have been cured for Sarah, the effects of the disease still affect her daily life to this day.

Sarah adds: “Following my treatment, I developed trismus, also called lockjaw, which has impacted my life dramatically. I am only able to open my jaw a matter of millimetres so eating with a knife and fork is tricky and it takes me a long time to eat my meals.

"When going out with friends and family I usually order kids meals so that people aren’t waiting around for too long and if I want a drink, I have do it through a straw.”

As is common with mouth cancer survivors, Sarah’s taste buds and salivary glands were also affected, taking some of the joy out of eating and making swallowing more difficult.

Despite the setbacks Sarah has always kept a positive attitude.

Sarah says: “Some friends have commented that I’m amazing for having the attitude that I have but I don’t think of myself that way. When you’re dealt something you’ve got to face it."

"I’ve got an incredible family and friends who’ve supported me through it all. The way I look at it is that you’ve got two choices; do what’s had to be done or give up. Giving up isn’t an option”.

She admits that despite this she still has down days when she feels frustrated or depressed but her friends, family as well as support from Macmillan nurses keep her going.

When asked what her advice would be for somebody who’s got something unusual in their mouth such as a lump or an ulcer that won’t go away, Sarah says: “I would say that if you think something isn’t right in your mouth then go and get it checked out.

"It probably is nothing to worry about but it’s important you don’t ignore it. If it is mouth cancer, then the sooner it’s caught the better your chances."

“I would also say that if you aren’t satisfied with the diagnosis you receive then feel free to get a second opinion from another dentist or doctor.”

For more information about mouth cancer, including how to spot the disease early, how to reduce your risk and what to do if you notice any of the early warning signs, visit