A patient’s perspective

Henrietta Kiezun

In September of last year, I was diagnosed with a stage 2 malignant tumour in my tongue. There had been remarkably little to indicate that something was amiss, other than an increasing sensation reminiscent of muscle strain within the tongue itself.

Originally, this occurred only when I was eating and, being a busy working mum, I did not think too much of it. However, over the space of around 7 weeks, the sensation grew. I could feel no lumps or bumps, but it was when I felt a very small amount of friction on the underside of the tongue that I decided to seek a referral to see a specialist. Although very little could be seen, Professor McGurk thought it was likely to be cancer and arranged for an array of tests to be undertaken. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest, but at least that meant I didn't have too much time to think about things, and within around 11 days from the initial consultation the 2cm tumour had been removed.

Ordinarily, a partial or full neck-dissection is the default procedure to prevent oral cancer from spreading. However, I was fortunate to benefit from Professor McGurk's pioneering Sentinel Node Biopsy (SNB) work, which meant that I had minimally invasive surgery to remove only those lymph nodes closest to the tumour. I had a pre-op appointment where the Professor injected radioactive dye into the site of the tumour. It was followed by an interesting time lying on the scanning machine, listening to some surprisingly hard-core Reggae from a nurse's smartphone, whilst the dye's progress to my lymph nodes was tracked. Later, they would know exactly which nodes to target and where to insert the knife. Waking up after the operation itself was always going to be a bit of a shock and there was pain and swelling, as was to be expected. However, within two days I was ready to leave the hospital with no serious worries about complications other than how to manage the pain, and my young daughter and husband were certainly happy to have me back at home where they could look after me.   

I'm glad to be able to say that my recovery time was pretty swift, with only 3 weeks off work, and, aside from a lisp as my tongue healed, nobody would have known that I'd had major surgery. The scar on my neck is minimal and high up enough to hide behind my hair so nobody even notices it. In my role at work, I am the first face that many people meet and so a confident and warm greeting is important, particularly as I deal with young children. As somebody who is naturally quite shy, it is a relief that I do not have to cope with the confidence-knock of a large neck dissection scar (or indeed any of the potential complications that can arise from that procedure).  Instead, I'm perversely rather proud of my small SNB battle wound.