‘The ripple effect’

Many people believe in fate or destiny. Few can offer a reason for doing so without retorting ‘just because I do’. For 42-year-old mother of five, Rachel Parsons from Coventry, the answer is much more sincere. She recalls her mouth cancer story as we look ahead to Mouth Cancer Action Month is November’s issue of Dental Hygiene & Therapy

Rachel says: ‘Since I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, we have developed a bit of a family motto. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason isn’t clear until something happens. I know I got mouth cancer to help other people get through their own battle. I just know it.’

On Boxing Day 2007, Rachel first noticed a lump in her mouth. Having heard of mouth cancer and the symptoms, she knew she needed to get checked out. After the dentist told her it was Lichen Planus, a long-lasting disease that can be found in the mouth, during a check-up in February the following year, Rachel’s mouth got progressively worse.

‘I had a number of recurring ulcers and the lump had got worse, yet at my six month check-up in June, my dentist insisted it was nothing for me to worry about. I asked specifically for a hospital referral, and reluctantly he agreed.

‘Not long after that check-up my mum was reading an article in a magazine about mouth cancer. She pleaded with me to go back to the doctors, as I hadn’t heard anything from the dentist. I went the following Monday, and it soon became obvious my dentist hadn’t referred me at all.

‘My doctor instantly referred me for an urgent biopsy the following Thursday. I remember being sat at home the night before I got my results thinking ‘I’ve got cancer’. In my head I saw what was going to happen, where I was going to sit, what the consultant would say to me, everything. My eldest asked me why I would be up early, and I replied because I might have cancer. Sure enough the next day was a massive de ja vu. I had cancer.’

Rachel told of her relief at finally knowing what the problem was. Although the road ahead would prove a difficult one for her, husband Tim also felt the ripple effect of Rachel’s diagnosis. Like a cancer spreading throughout the body, her family suffered, too.

After 9½ hours in surgery, Rachel’s first year of recovery was fraught with complications and continuous infections. She recalled how surgeons kept removing further bits of her mouth, yet her determination to pull through was evident to husband Tim.

He says: ‘Life has never been the same. I’m a fireman. My job is about saving lives and being there when people need me. When it came to Rachel, I felt totally powerless. Five years later it has definitely changed our outlook on life. The whole experience has made Rachel a better, stronger person.’

Rachel adds: ‘The big thing about mouth cancer is the awareness. I have been very proactive and helped other people who were in my position. The most important thing is for people to remember if there’s something not quite right or something they’re a little bit unsure about, go and get checked out. It saved my life, and it could save yours, too.’

In your next issue of DH&T . . .

The big issue: Oral cancer

• A moving true-life account by a patient

• Step-by-step guide to screening

• CPD Cover story Mhari and detection

• CPD Lifestyle influences for the young

• Blue is the colour – fluorescence visualisation

• Are electric cigarettes the way forward?

• Walking the talk – a hygienist’s initiative

• 30 seconds with – Nicki Rowland

DH&T is a nine times a year CPD journal. It aims to be the voice of hygienists and therapists, offering them independent advice and directives, new products, innovations and clinical protocols. Call 0800 371 652 to subscribe or visit www.fmc.co.uk/shop/dental-hygiene-and-therapy/

For further information please register your details at www.mouthcancer.org and www.mouthcancerfoundation.org

  1. To wear a Blue Ribbon and show your support, please visit www.justgiving.com/BlueRibbonAppeal

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