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My Throat Cancer Journey: I'm not invincible

This story is about a patient’s journey relating to her diagnosis and treatment of throat cancer at Wrexham Maelor Hospital in 2017.

“In 2017, after several weeks of coughing, sore throat and two lots of antibiotics, I was referred to the hospital.  The referral came through very quickly, and I was anxious to see the consultant. I was hoping it was nothing sinister and just a bout of tonsillitis”.

“The consultant appointment day arrived and I was not prepared for the events that took place: questions, answers and the consultant did an immediate endoscopy procedure in the room.  Minutes later he was referring to my ‘sore throat’ as ‘CANCER’.  I felt sick to the stomach, and was sure I had heard him wrong”.

Five weeks later the patient was admitted and underwent a tracheotomy: “I had a tube in my neck.  I had to adjust. I couldn’t speak; I had to use a white board to write on, to communicate with friend’s family and doctors.  I felt lonely”.

“My treatment plan was finalised; 6 weeks of radiotherapy and 2 weeks of chemo.  The 17th November came and the last radiotherapy session.  It was all over - I got to ring the bell at week 5.  I felt good at this point, knowing I had done it and was coming out of the other end”.

“Helen, a Speech Therapist, joined my care package. I was told to do exercises (daft faces, facial stretches and singing) to help my swallowing and assist with eating.  I thought I knew it all, and I was running before I could walk.  I began to eat soup when I was told not to. I was coughing and spluttering, with liquids going the wrong way into my lungs”.

Following the trach removal a swallowing x- ray showed that the patient had suffered some scaring on her throat due to the radiotherapy.  An operation was needed to have her throat stretched. “At this point I’m really scared, I didn’t want to have the trach put back in”.

“During my next appointment with Helen, I had to take yoghurt and a banana with me. I had to eat the yoghurt, and then the banana – no!! Last time eating a banana, a tiny bit on a spoon took me 30 minutes.  So I purposely didn’t take the damn banana, but Helen magically produced one (she knows me so well). I tried eating it mushed-up at first. It was ok I could do that, no coughing. Then I had to bite a piece of banana, chew and swallow.  I was panicking and sweating but Helen kept reassuring me; “we can get through this, you can do it”. I ate the banana, all of it. I felt as though I’d won the lottery, I had done it!!!”

“I’ve since had further appointments to see other members of the team, and it’s all positive. The main focus now is on the eating part of the process.  Every day is getting easier. I get the odd blip, but I’ve learnt not to panic, put the spoon down, sit there a few moments, rest and try again”.

“I wanted to share my story and give some advice to anyone going through treatment for cancer.  Listen to the experts, follow instructions. You are not superwoman/superman. We are human beings.  I thought I was invincible, I didn’t listen and I thought I knew myself. But I wasn’t myself; I was going through something new.  I’m getting there slowly. I still have bad days, but they are getting fewer.  I’m positive about my outcome. I will come through this”.

November 2019

Graphic of the cancer ribbon symbol in red and grey on a lighter grey background