Woman has tongue amputated after cancer grows during GP delay

Mouth cancer: What are the causes and symptoms?

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Tongue cancer survivor Laura Marston spent weeks fruitlessly calling her GP for an appointment, worried about the growing ulcer on her tongue. When she finally got a slot, she was told that at 39, she was too young for mouth cancer – but they would do a biopsy just in case. She ended up needing almost all of her tongue amputated, leaving just 5mm behind.

Now the Hertfordshire woman is sharing her experience so other people do not delay getting diagnosis and treatment.  

Ms Marston said waking up after the surgery “speechless – literally” was “the weirdest thing I have ever experienced”. 

She said “I found that I wanted to talk and I didn’t know how to go about it.” 

She started doing exercises to strengthen her throat muscles, practising tongue twisters and whispering to herself when no-one was in the room. After two days, she managed to whisper Maria – her nurse’s name. 

“It was exhausting, as if I had run a marathon. It took all of my energy to get something out of my mouth.”

Since surgery in August 2019, she’s learnt to talk again, had her tongue reconstructed from a muscle in her arm and written a recipe book featuring the food from her journey relearning how to eat. 

The process of learning how to eat and talk again was a long and “very frustrating” one. 

When she left hospital, all she could have were ice chips flavoured with fruit, slowly progressing onto different thicknesses of liquid as she built up the muscles needed for swallowing. 

She studied videos of Freddie Mercury – who had extra teeth and a large jaw – for tips that helped her enunciate tricky words. 

She remembers one of her first meals, a microwave lasagne she bought because she could not bear cooking something she might not be able to eat. 

The pasta went straight in the bin and she was left with mince, tomato sauce and white sauce.

“It took me two hours to eat. But the sense of achievement that I’d managed to eat this tiny bowl of minced beef was incredible.

Mr Marston penned a cookbook to raise money for charity and share some of the recipes she made during recovery.

Pepperoni pizza soup is one of her favourite recipes from the book – a product of the jealousy she felt when her husband was enjoying a pizza and all she could have was yet another meal replacement shake.

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She also uses her social platforms to encourage people to be alert for the symptoms of mouth cancer. 

Awareness of the major signs for mouth cancer is low. Almost half of UK adults do not know that long-lasting mouth ulcers can be an early warning sign of mouth cancer, according to a report from the Oral Health Foundation. 

Women are told to “cop a feel” for breast cancer and men are encouraged to “check their bits” – but no-one tells you to check your mouth, Ms Marston said. 

She said: “For anyone out there who has a mouth sore, an ulcer, a lump, or bump, or something in their mouth that won’t go away after two weeks … go to the dentist.”

She said she did not realise she could go to the dentist when she was waiting for a GP appointment, thinking because it was not teeth it was not their area. But dentists check for the signs of mouth cancer. 

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