Mouth Cancer Action Month

Mouth cancer had a huge impact on Sinead’s life, but it wasn’t all negative.  Despite her diagnosis, the mother-of-two from Bury found a new appreciation for life which spurred her on to pursue her dream job.  Below is her inspiring story of overcoming the disease and finding a new lease of life.

It all started during Easter in 2014.  Sinead (45) noticed a lump on her tongue and, when it didn’t go away, went to see her doctor. The doctor dismissed it, suggesting it would go away in due course. However, two months later, in June, it had not cleared up so Sinead went to her dentist. Her dentist realised the need for urgency so referred Sinead to a specialist for further investigation.

Unfortunately, Sinead’s initial referral was lost. After some delay, she got referred and had a biopsy done in early September of 2014. A couple of weeks later, on 16th September, Sinead received the news that she had tongue cancer.

The news came as a shock to Sinead, she had been a smoker for many years, but it was not something she was prepared for.

Reflecting on her diagnosis, Sinead says: “Being a smoker, I knew there was always that cancer risk but it still came as a big shock. I hadn’t heard of mouth cancer and didn’t realise just how long a journey I was in for.”

Following her diagnosis she was told she needed to have an operation to remove the tumour on her tongue. The 10-hour operation was scheduled for 4th October and the day before she had her last cigarette. Sadly, her recovery from the operation did not go to plan. Sinead’s tongue struggled to get enough blood flow and so she had to have a further emergency operation, this time more of her tongue was removed.

Thankfully, Sinead was told that the second operation was a success, so much so that she escaped the need for chemo or radiotherapy. Sinead was grateful that she didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiotherapy but her recovery from cancer was far from over.

Over the following months, Sinead had to re-learn how to speak and eat. Despite making good progress, she still struggles with certain sounds and food.  One of the hardest things Sinead had to deal with, was the scarring left behind from the surgery.

Sinead says: “I really struggled to deal with the scarring. It really knocked my confidence. If I went out I would cover up my neck with a scarf and wear long sleeves to hide the skin grafts. I felt ugly.”

The emotional impact of cancer is not always talked about, but it can be very profound. Sinead really struggled post-surgery and in 2015 she suffered a breakdown. However, with the help of friends, family and Macmillan, Sinead pulled through and decided to make a big change.

Prior to been diagnosed with cancer, Sinead had worked in the Civil Service for many years. It was not work she particularly enjoyed so she decided to make a fresh start and pursue a passion of hers - photography.

This turned out to be a fantastic decision. Sinead now works as a photographer and largely does work with schools. Now much happier, Sinead adds: “I absolutely love my job. I really enjoy working with children and get so much enjoyment out of capturing wonderful smiles and moments through my camera lens.”

When reflecting on her mouth cancer journey, Sinead has mixed emotions. It was very tough time but at the same time she feels it allowed her to take her life in a new direction.

Sinead says: “It might seem weird to say it but I do think cancer was one of the best things to have happened to me.  Prior to mouth cancer I wasn’t really happy in life, I felt like I was just going through the motions.

“There were some really low points in the journey, but I feel I came out the other side stronger and it spurred me on to make changes.  Life is better than it’s ever been now, and I’ve been able to adjust to the challenges that I’ve faced post-surgery.”

Of course, things might have been different if Sinead had not gone to visit her dentist when she did.  Sinead’s story shows that mouth cancer can affect anybody and highlights the importance of early detection.

It is vital that if you think you have something wrong in your mouth that you get it checked out. When it comes to mouth cancer the signs and symptoms to look out for are unusual lumps or bumps in the head, mouth or neck, an ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks and also any red or white patches in the mouth.

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 www.mouthcancer.org. Alternatively, you can get advice from the Oral Health Foundation’s Dental Helpline on 01788 539780 by speaking with a dental professional. Calls are charged at your local network rate.