Lawrence was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer in 2010. Three years later doctors found another cancer on his tongue. Now 3 weeks after his most recent operation, Lawrence is recovering well and staying positive.
In 2010 my doctor sent me for an ultrasound to check out a swollen salivary gland. During the ultrasound, I asked the operator if they would mind checking out my thyroid at the same time. There was no medical reason for me to ask, but something in me told me that something was not quite right, which I have no doubt saved my life. During this scan they found a lump on one side and I was sent for a follow up biopsy. These results came back positive for a condition called Hurthle cell cancer and I was told I would need that side of the thyroid removed.
The operation went well, but I then had almost three weeks to wait for the results. The Hurthle cell did come back a benign but they had also found papillary cancer in its early stages, which meant the removal of the rest of the thyroid and two lymph nodes closest to it, five weeks after the first operation took place. Some very minute cancer cells were found in one of the lymph nodes, so three months later I underwent radioactive iodine treatment to kill off any remaining thyroid tissue and any rogue cancer cells that could have been floating around my body. Several weeks later I was given the all clear and have been very lucky to lead a normal life with hardly any issues due to being on medication for the rest of my life.
About six months after the radioactive treatment I noticed a couple of white spots had appeared on the left side of my tongue. I did mention this to my thyroid consultant, but she was not at that stage worried about it, but when I saw her about 18 months later she did suggest I go to my dentist to have some raised spots on my teeth filed down, thinking that was the issue. Sadly I ignored this advice and did not go and get it checked out.
Over a period the white spots turned to an ulcer, which slowly got bigger and did not want to heal. In April 2013, I think it got badly infected and looked a lot worse. I knew I was due to see my consultant for a check-up in early June, so waited until I saw her. It had actually started to heal slightly by the time I did see her, but this time she was most insistent that I go to my dentist, which I did about a week later. The dentist did file down the teeth and asked me to revisit two weeks later. The follow up appointment had shown some improvement, but not enough to satisfy them, so they asked me to go back to the consultant.
The consultant decided to be on the safe side and carry out a biopsy. This was quite painful having injections directly into the tongue, but I was told it looked clean underneath and was probably nothing to worry about. My world was rocked two weeks later however when it was confirmed as a very early stage one cancer of the tongue.
Following an MRI and CT scan, I went to meet the maxillofacial consultant to discuss what surgery was required. My world further fell apart when they suggested having a neck dissection at the same time as the removal of the tumour in the tongue. I think the consultant saw the shock on my face and said he would only carry out the tongue operation at that stage. This meant the removal of up to one centimetre outside of the tumour and could require reconstructive surgery by taking muscle from the forearm to rebuild the tongue. Luckily for me this did not happen and only had the tumour removed.
The following four to five days were not easy and talking, eating and drinking was difficult, but that soon passed. I did feel very sorry for myself several days afterwards, when I looked in the mirror, but I got the kick I need the following day seeing people in outpatients who had bad facial disfigurements due to cancer. This made me realise that things for me were not that bad at all.
When the results finally came back, my consultant had some good and bad news. The cancer had been completely removed and there was a clear margin of healthy tissue, but because the tumour was further into the tongue than they thought, the wanted me to undergo the neck dissection. I could have said no, but I was caught between a rock and a hard place. After some soul searching I decided to go ahead and have the operation. I’m pleased to say that the results on the lymph nodes they removed all came back clear.
At the time of writing it’s been just over three weeks since the neck operation. My tongue has healed really well and does not look that bad at all, just a slight indentation, which is about halfway along the left side of the tongue. There is some sensitivity when eating and drinking, but I’m slowly getting used to that. I could not shave for two weeks after the neck operation, and it has been difficult to do so as that side of the face is still very numb and hard to the touch. My lower left ear is still slightly numb and my mouth on that side is a bit weak. Hopefully over the coming months this will improve further, but I have been told this could be permanent due to all the muscle and nerves they have to cut through during the operation (This was all explained to me prior to the operation). To be honest I’m just so happy to be alive.
I of course know that I’m at a much higher risk now of developing further head or neck cancer. Hopefully as I’m going to be closely monitored over the coming years if anything did appear it would be caught early again. My thyroid consultant did say that the tongue cancer was not connected in any way to the thyroid cancer.
My attitude to life has now changed somewhat. I know how lucky I’ve been to beat two cancers and every day from now on is a bonus. It just goes to show that we never know what’s round the corner and we should all live life to the fullest.
Finally I would like to add that the treatment I’ve had on the NHS has been out standing over the last three years and I could not have had better care.