WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
A young mum had to undergo surgery to rebuild her tongue with skin, muscle and veins from her arm after she was struck down with mouth cancer.
Liz Marsh, 28, became one of the youngest patients ever in the UK to be diagnosed with mouth cancer when she received the news in October 2016. She had gone to the doctors after a seemingly innocuous ulcer on her tongue tripled in size in just four weeks.
She said doctors initially dismissed it as harmless, but after her dentist referred her for a biopsy she was given the diagnosis – by which point the potentially deadly ulcer had turned black.
She had to undergo urgent, life-saving surgery in which a third of her tongue was removed and replaced with tissue taken from her arm.
Luckily for Liz, from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, the operation was a ‘complete success’, according to Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital surgeon Sunil Bhatia.
He said: “We took a flap of skin, along with its arteries and veins, from Elizabeth’s arm and plumbed it into branches of the carotid artery and jugular vein, using incredibly fine sutures under a microscope.”
Liz said she was first shocked to know how complicated the surgery would be, but felt reassured by her doctor.
“Thankfully my consultant at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford was amazing and he reassured me that I could be fixed,” she said.
“I had a lot of muscle and veins removed from my arm so they could help rebuild my tongue. It was a complex surgery but I was out of hospital 11 days later.
“I had been fed through a tube for the entire time I was in hospital and I had to try and relearn to eat once I left.”
She added that she even needed speech and language therapy after having her tongue rebuilt.
She said: “For months after my surgery I struggled to smile as my mouth felt numb but now I’m embracing my imperfections.”
Even though her first diagnosis was almost two years ago, Liz was still having surgery in May to have her new tongue – which was quite bulky – trimmed back.
She said she wanted to share her story to spread awareness about the disease and hopefully help someone else identify the problem before it’s too late.
She said: “I hope being open with my story helps others seek help – if it saves one person’s life then it’s worthwhile.
“If you have an ulcer, white patches or a lump in your mouth then make sure you get it checked.
“Doctors were shocked when I was diagnosed as I was so young but it shows it can happen to anyone. Due to my age I have recovered well from surgery and hopefully I will remain cancer free for the next few years so I’m given the all clear.
“I currently have check-ups every eight weeks but this will be extended the longer I’m in remission.
“I’m so thankful to have a second chance and I know my positive attitude has helped ensure I beat cancer.”
Featured Image Credit: Caters