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Tongue cancer survivor writes cookbook


A woman told she would never eat properly again after having all but 5mm of her tongue removed has defied expectations to write a recipe book, even tasting dishes herself.

Laura Marston, 41, a HR director from Borehamwood in Hertfordshire, noticed she had a sore on her tongue in October 2018 but put it down to burning her mouth on a piece of toast.

However, when her sister, Eve Macmillan, 37, a restaurant supervisor, spotted the the sore blister on her tongue during a night out she urged her Laura to get it checked out.

Laura went to her GP who referred her to New Barnet Hospital, London and she was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer on 21st May 2019.

Laura Marston, 41, a HR director from Borehamwood in Hertfordshire has written a cookbook – called Eating With Confidence – full of dishes Laura tasted herself – despite being told she would have to have a permanent feeding tube following her tongue removal surgery 

Laura, who survived stage 4 tongue cancer despite the odds, has taught herself to taste food again - despite having almost all of her tongue removed during an operation at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London in 2019

Laura, who survived stage 4 tongue cancer despite the odds, has taught herself to taste food again – despite having almost all of her tongue removed during an operation at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London in 2019

Three days later, Laura was told by a specialist at University College Hospital, London, that she would need her entire tongue removed.

They explained that she would need a permanent feeding and breathing tube and that she only had a 30 per cent chance of survival.

Devastated Laura had 9.5cm of her tongue removed (leaving just 5mm) during an operation at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London on 13th August 2019. 

She also had a tracheostomy to help her breathe and skin taken from her left arm to reconstruct her tongue.

Laura says she loves cooking and eating - so she's thrilled to have been able to put together a recipe book after re-learning how to eat normally

Laura says she loves cooking and eating – so she’s thrilled to have been able to put together a recipe book after re-learning how to eat normally 

The book is filled with recipes Laura says helped her to get her taste back as she progressed from liquid meals like soup and smoothies to solid food

The book is filled with recipes Laura says helped her to get her taste back as she progressed from liquid meals like soup and smoothies to solid food 

Laura then had skin taken from her abdomen to reconstruct her arm.

After three days in intensive care, Laura remarkably began to teach herself how to swallow and speak by introducing liquids into her diet and singing the alphabet every day.

Now Laura has defied medics expectations by eating normally, talking on the phone with no limitations and has even written a recipe book to help other tongue cancer patients with their recovery.

Laura, an HR director, said: ‘When they told me I would never be able to speak again, I walked to the station to get home, looked at the tracks and thought I wanted to end it all right there and then.

The cancer survivor shows her healing scars - the result of major surgery to remove 9.5cm of tongue after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer

The cancer survivor shows her healing scars – the result of major surgery to remove 9.5cm of tongue after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer

‘I couldn’t bear the thought of going through it all.

‘But I’m a determined person and I vowed to get my voice back and taste food again.

‘I love cooking and eating – so I’m thrilled to have been able to put together a recipe book.’

When Laura first noticed the sore on her tongue – she thought nothing of it.

She said: ‘My sister noticed the ulcer on the back of my tongue during a night out.

While Laura is now capable of eating and speaking - despite losing most of her most of her tongue - she has to use medical equipment daily (pictured)

While Laura is now capable of eating and speaking – despite losing most of her most of her tongue – she has to use medical equipment daily (pictured)

‘I was singing and dancing and she spotted it and said it looked really sore and horrible.

‘I knew I better get it checked out, but thought nothing of it and never expected it to be anything serious.’

Laura was sent for a biopsy in April 2019 and in May 2019 she was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer by an oncologist at New Barnet Hospital, London.

She was referred to University College Hospital, London, where medics told her and her husband, John Marston, 45, a data scientist, that she would never eat or speak again.

During her treatment, surgeons took skin from Laura's arm in a bid to reconstruct her tongue. She was in intensive care for three days after surgery

During her treatment, surgeons took skin from Laura’s arm in a bid to reconstruct her tongue. She was in intensive care for three days after surgery 

Scars on her arms from the surgery in 2019 are healing following the major operations she underwent during her active treatment for tongue cancer

Scars on her arms from the surgery in 2019 are healing following the major operations she underwent during her active treatment for tongue cancer

Laura said: ‘I felt guilty that I was putting my family through it all.

‘I just thought: “Why my tongue?”.

‘Everything in life was going so well for me, I couldn’t help but think: “Why this now?” 

‘I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like not being able to eat or speak. It was completely terrifying.  

‘Being told too that I had less than a 30 per cent chance of survival, even after going through everything, was really hard to hear.

‘On my way home I looked at the train tracks and wondered if I should just end it all now.

‘I didn’t think I would be able to go through it.

‘They showed me what it would be like, and the thing that frightened me the most was not being able to speak.

‘I wondered: “How I do my job? How do I speak to people on the phone?”.

‘The thought of losing my ability to speak and communicate was awful, I had no idea what to expect.’

The cancer survivor said the thought of not being able to eat or speak was 'completely terrifying' - she even considered taking her own life before starting treatment (pictured during treatment)

The cancer survivor said the thought of not being able to eat or speak was ‘completely terrifying’ – she even considered taking her own life before starting treatment (pictured during treatment)

Laura had surgery at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London, on August 13th 2019, where doctors removed her tongue, leaving just 5mm of muscle left at the back of her throat.

She also had her jaw broken so they could get to her tongue and removed muscles from her left arm to sew the back of her throat together.

Laura said: ‘The medics there were amazing and made me realise there was a life after cancer.

‘They talked me through it all and I felt confident that I could do this.

‘I was relieved to finally have it done and try to move on with my life.

‘Knowing this was the point where I could concentrate on recovery was good.’

The radiotherapy mask Laura wore while undergoing treatment for tongue cancer. When she was diagnosed, doctors gave the 41-year-old a 30 per cent chance of survival, but her treatment was successful

The radiotherapy mask Laura wore while undergoing treatment for tongue cancer. When she was diagnosed, doctors gave the 41-year-old a 30 per cent chance of survival, but her treatment was successful

Laura was in intensive care for three days before being moved to a ward where she spent another six days before going home.

Laura said: ‘I was pushing myself a lot and learning how to do things so I got home quite quickly.

‘Doctors were amazed how I didn’t need the feeding tube and I started to eat on my own.

‘I just started to eat liquids very slowly.

‘I did have to write on a whiteboard for a little bit, but I also sang the alphabet every day so my speech got clearer.

‘Food wise, I’m eating normally. I have no limitations and I can talk on the phone.

‘It’s really unbelievable but I’m so proud of myself.

Nothing holds her back: Laura says that since her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, she is living life to the fullest

Nothing holds her back: Laura says that since her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, she is living life to the fullest 

‘From going from such a dark place where I thought I couldn’t carry on to now being confident enough to speak to people and help others is amazing.’

Laura’s also found new ways of creating intimacy with her husband, John.

She said: ‘Beforehand, kissing was very passionate and intense.

‘I was able to sense everything and give the passion back.

‘And that’s the part of kissing I really enjoyed.

‘After losing my tongue I feel like I can’t reciprocate so much, it almost made me a bit submissive.

‘Beforehand we were ‘even’ but without my tongue it felt odd at first, I felt almost docile.

Now Laura wants to help other tongue cancer sufferers with her cookbook , which she says 'helped her get her taste back'

Now Laura wants to help other tongue cancer sufferers with her cookbook , which she says ‘helped her get her taste back’

‘Like eating, I used to just do it without thinking. It feels different. But there’s still intimacy there on some level.

‘I don’t feel any different towards my husband and he’s been awesome and super supportive in helping me get used to it.’

Now, Laura has even written a recipe book called Eating With Confidence to help other tongue cancer sufferers.

She said: ‘It’s recipes I used to help me get my taste back.

‘My husband was eating pizza for dinner one and I was on another smoothie – it was horrible.

‘So I wondered what would happen if I blended pepperoni in my tomato soup

‘So I worked out how to make a pepperoni pizza soup. It was amazing, it hit the spot.

‘Then I did things like roast potatoes and as my food experiences progressed I tried out more. Then I moved onto smaller meals.

‘Now I eat normally and I’m enjoying life to the fullest, and nothing holds me back.’

Tongue cancer: the symptoms, causes, and risks 

Tongue cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. 

The symptoms of tongue cancer might include:

  • a red or white patch on the tongue that won’t go away
  • a sore throat that doesn’t go away
  • a sore spot (ulcer) or lump on the tongue that doesn’t go away
  • pain when swallowing
  • numbness in the mouth that won’t go away
  • unexplained bleeding from the tongue (that’s not caused by biting your tongue or other injury)
  • pain in the ear (rare)   

It’s important to remember that these symptoms might be due to a less serious medical condition. But it’s best to check symptoms with your GP just to make sure. 

We don’t know the exact causes of most head and neck cancers, but several risk factors have been identified.

Smoking tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) and drinking a lot of alcohol are the main risk factors for cancers of the head and neck in the western world. The HPV virus transmitted through sexual contact is another risk factor.

Having a risk factors means that your risk is increased. But it does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer.     

Contact your GP or dentist if you notice anything abnormal.

Source: Cancer Research UK 

 



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