Two people who have had head and neck cancers are encouraging others to be aware of their bodies and check out anything unusual.
Kathleen Campbell has had two cancers removed from inside her mouth. The first was a lump on her tongue four years ago, which Kathleen thought was a wart.
Her GP was concerned about the lump and referred her to a head and neck surgery specialist at Christchurch Hospital.
While Kathleen was waiting so see a specialist the lump kept growing so she consulted her GP again.
“My GP actually took a cellphone photo and sent it straight off to the specialist,” Kathleen says. The specialist saw her quickly, and a biopsy showed the lump was probably cancerous.
“They took out a wedge-shaped section of my tongue,” Kathleen says. “Thankfully it was caught early so I didn’t need any chemo or radiation treatment.”
Last year Kathleen asked her GP to look at an ulcer that wasn’t healing on the inside of her mouth. A specialist confirmed it was a cancer that had begun to eat into her jaw.
The second surgery was much more serious, requiring a piece of her jaw to be removed and be replaced with a piece of bone from her leg.
“Learning to talk and swallow were the toughest parts of my journey, and soon I hope to be able to eat food other than soft.”
Kathleen has recovered from her surgery, and wants other people to be vigilant against cancer.
“As soon as you suspect, get onto it, don’t put it off. Both of mine were caught early because I didn’t muck around. I listened to my body, I knew there was something wrong.”
Another patient, Bryan, was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer (a type of throat cancer) last year.
“I had a slight sensitivity in my neck that had developed into a lump,” he says.
Bryan’s GP referred him to a specialist, who took a biopsy of the lump and diagnosed it as cancer. He had six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Christchurch Hospital.
“My neck was a bit of a mess, because radiotherapy burns the outside of your neck as well as the inside. That took six weeks or so from the end of treatment to heal up – I continued losing weight for several months.
And my eating was different. Even now, I have much less saliva in my mouth, so I have to be careful to eat moist food.”
Bryan had surgery and chemotherapy 10 years ago for an unrelated bowel cancer. He says that was found when he went to his GP and a dietician after having trouble eating.
“Here I am 10 years later still going strong, and I hope I’ll stay around a bit longer. The trick is, if you feel that something is wrong with your body, you should get it checked.
“I know it costs money to go to a GP, but it’s a relatively cheap price to pay for something that could absolutely destroy your life if you didn’t get it checked.”