It's funny how certain dates you never forget and September 9 2010 is one of those. I can still vividly recall the head consultant in the Oral and Maxillofacial department of Cheltenham hospital saying to me and my husband, "There's no easy way to say this but I'm afraid it's mouth cancer". I guess everyone reacts differently and, initially, for me I was just numb and hardly aware of all the questions Derek, my husband, was asking until the consultant said to me, "Is there anything you'd like to ask?" I still don't know where it came from but I found myself saying, "Will I still be able to smile?" I think it was because I have always believed in the power of a smile and been someone who smiles a great deal. Plus in my career as a teacher and head teacher it was always something I passed on to the children in my care. Little did I know that the very same question would be the title of my first book!
Major surgery followed to remove the tumour and in doing so they removed my lower left jaw replacing it with bone from my leg plus skin from my leg too to create a flap over the bone. Apparently I was very lucky because after being in hospital for 10 days being fed through a tube up my nose, I was able to take liquid and pureed food. Plus my speech was hardly affected so I actually felt relieved with how well I had come through it all. However at the start of 2011 I had to have radiotherapy in order to kill off any remaining cells and this proved infinitely worse than the surgery. I had to wear a mesh mask made exclusively for me and as the weeks went by I developed awful blisters both inside and around my mouth and I was in terrible pain. It was during this period that I discovered my faith after a spiritual experience that I have never forgotten.
As time went on I was able to lead a more or less normal life with just regular check-ups and my consultant keeping an eye on things. I got very involved in my church even giving talks in church and at a weekly ladies group. Little did I know that it wasn't going to last. In July 2014 I could feel something strange in my left cheek and the roof of my mouth. When my consultant examined me he immediately organised a biopsy under general anaesthetic and once again we were faced with a new tumour although initially we were told it was inoperable because of where it was.
That was devastating news but, fortunately, just five days later, the team involved with this type of cancer decided they were willing to try to remove it but there would be certain consequences of the surgery. This time I was in hospital for three weeks and my face was disfigured on the left side, my speech was badly affected and I had to be fed by a tube directly into my stomach. As time went on I adapted although I had to readjust what I was able to do so decided to write my story down in the hope of helping others.
My first book was called Will I Still Be Able to Smile and I sold 200 copies donating all the profit almost £1,400 to my local Maggie's Cancer Centre that had helped me on occasions. Just after writing and selling the book I also decided to participate in the Race for Life in order to raise much needed funds for Cancer Research UK. I initially set myself a target of raising £500 but was overwhelmed to raise in excess of £1500! I had set myself a challenge and felt very satisfied that I had achieved it. My wonderful daughter, Jayne and my best friend Deb and her daughter Laura did it with me.
After the success of my first book and the Race for Life I decided to write a second book as I used writing to substitute for my speech problems and found it very therapeutic too. So my second book called Beware the Inspector Who Smiles came out recently (it charts my career in education from a newly qualified teacher through three headships and finally as a school inspector) and so far I have sold 170 copies with all the proceeds going to the children's cancer and leukaemia charity CLIC and I have raised £1,350 with potentially more once the last few copies are sold.
It would be lovely if my journey ended there but we were told recently that another tumour plus several smaller ones have developed and there is nothing they can do so it is now terminal. I have still signed up for the Race for Life in Cheltenham on 10 July this year and one way or another I am determined to do it. I have been offered a course of chemotherapy that isn't a cure but might just shrink the tumours to give me some extra time so I have agreed to try that.
Life can be cruel at times but at least I have been able to support others as a result of what I have been through and I just hope that one day a cure for this dreadful disease will be found. In the meantime I intend to keep smiling!
Christine is supporting Cancer Research UK's Race for Life. Join the Pink Army and take part in one of over 300 nationwide 5k, 10k or Pretty Muddy events and help raise money that goes towards beating all 200 types of cancer affecting both men and women. Enter now at raceforlife.org