November is Mouth Cancer Action Month and Fifty three year old Simon Cryer from Cardiff shares his journey with us.
Simon was diagnosed with throat cancer in May 2012 after suffering a painful lump under his tongue a few months previous.
Simon who lives with his teenage son said: “To be told I had cancer was a huge shock and even more so when I knew the extent of surgery that would be required. I was so mad at myself for leaving it so long before seeing a doctor. I was never concerned that it might prove fatal.
“After referral from my GP, I was seen at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital by the head and neck team.
“The day the consultant said, ‘today is the day you give up smoking’ was the day I gave it up!
“In June 2012 I had a sub-total glossectomy (removal of 90% of my tongue) a bilateral neck dissection (removal of the lymph glands on both side of my neck) and reconstruction using a muscle taken from my thigh.
“After recovering from surgery, I received six weeks of radiotherapy. In October of the same year secondary cancer was discovered in my neck, leading to further surgery and a further seven weeks of radiotherapy.
“A few months later I suffered with Osteoradionecrosis of the jaw (exposed bone which results in pain and difficulties with eating and drinking) eventually leading to further surgery to remove a section of my jaw bone and reconstruction with the fibula bone from my leg. It was a tough time!
“The rehabilitation I received was fantastic. It included input from surgeons, dietetics, a clinical nurse specialist and speech and language therapy. Without these medical professionals support along the way I wouldn’t be on the road to recovery where I am today.
“Despite these major surgeries, I always felt supported and informed. The staff at the three hospitals I spent time in (Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Velindre Hospital and University Hospital of Wales) always had up to date records and knew what was happening and why.
“This meant that the recovery and rehab teams, from dieticians to lymphoedema nurses were all on the same page. Speech therapy arranged personalised exercise plans and regular assessments and all the staff were genuinely happy to see me making progress.
“I work within IT and was off work nine months receiving treatment during 2012/13. My boss was enormously supportive. Not having to worry about work makes a big difference.
“Life after my illness has been positive. I was previously a kick-boxer, but as being hit in the face was no longer an option, I turned to the sport of my teens, cycling.
“A couple of my rather unfit but determined friends had completed the ‘CarTen’ and suggested I should do it too. So cycling became my thing, and very happily my girlfriend Belinda, who was so supportive during my years of treatment, joined in too.
“The CarTen is completely non-competitive, which meant that Belinda and I could enter without feeling any pressure, it’s also a great charity event.
“I was concerned that the reconstruction op would mean that my leg would be weakened and also that breathing would be an issue but in the end neither was a problem. Doing more training would have been good though – there are some pretty tough hills at the far end! Afterwards I felt like I’d really achieved something and also that patience and perseverance had paid off.
“Before my illness I loved to travel. However afterwards I was wary of travelling far. After living on milkshakes after every op, getting back to solid food has been a real challenge. However, going hungry can be a great motivation and so far we’ve managed holidays in France and South Africa without me fading away – I have needed to take a hand-blender with me though.
“I can’t relay strongly enough how good I feel having gone through this journey and come out the other end, getting back to a reasonably normal way of living again. There is life after cancer!