WARNING: Graphic Pictures
A woman discovered she had oral cancer by typing her painful symptoms into Google, after her GP misdiagnosed the disease as an infection.
Mum-of-one Caroline Greaves 46, went to her doctor after she had difficulty swallowing, a persistently painful mouth, lumps in her neck, earache and swelling.
But the GP told her it was just an infection and gave her antibiotics which she took for six weeks after the visit on March 18 last year.
When the pain didn’t ease, Caroline returned to the surgery a fortnight later but was still told there was nothing to worry about.
After she returned home she typed “oral cancer” into Google and realised she had all of the tell-tale signs except white lines on the inside of her cheeks.
But when she looked in the mirror she spotted them straight away and returned to her GP in April for a third time.
Determined Caroline insisted on a hospital referral and was diagnosed with an advanced form of rare tonsil cancer after tests a week later.
But by then cancer had spread to her saliva glands and into the lymph nodes on both sides of her neck.
She underwent eight weeks of gruelling radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions and after a six month battle went into remission last October.
On Wednesday, Caroline, who is now back working at the hair salon she runs in Kirby-in-Ashfield, Notts., said Google had ended up saving her life.
“If I hadn’t Googled it, I don’t think I would be here today to be honest," she said. "It definitely helped save my life."
She added: "My cancer was very complex but I knew that something wasn’t right, I knew it was more than an infection. You know your own body and how I was feeling wasn’t normal."
"You rely on doctors to be able to recognise when something is more than just an infection."
When Caroline recognised the oral cancer symptoms were identical to her own, she marched back to the doctors.
“I'm glad I was strong enough to tell him I knew it was cancer and needed to see someone at hospital."
Caroline originally thought she was unwell because of working seven days a week running her own hair salon alongside a job at B&Q.
She now struggles to eat and drink and has to be fed through a tube but is slowly eating solid foods to get her tongue muscles and tongue working again.
She can’t eat chocolate, cake or fruit because they are taste rancid from when her taste buds were damaged during treatment.
Caroline, who lives in Kirkby-in-Ashfield with her husband, Damian, 44, and eight-year-old son Ben, added: "Chocolate tastes absolutely foul now, which I used to love.
"I do have a little nibble every day in case it's got better but most times I have to spit it out because it's that revolting.
“I force myself to eat every day because I have got to get my throat muscles and tongue working again.”
Caroline has now switched to another GP practice but one of the partners at her original surgery admitted there was nothing wrong with Googling symptoms.
Refusing to comment on individual cases, he added: “We don't get everything right every time – we are not infallible.
“If a patient has particular concerns, we ought to be addressing those concerns. Some doctors hate patients coming to them having Googled something.
“It can be seen to be overriding the doctor's knowledge, consultation and professional skills but there is nothing wrong with Googling.
“It is just a source of knowledge and if it brings people to the doctor with concerns, it's probably not a bad thing.
“Sometimes Google gives you the right answer but it can get in the way and some people feel threatened by it.
“It's a source of knowledge but the problem is it's not always the correct knowledge for that patient and their symptoms and that's the catch.”
Dr Kat Arney, of Cancer Research UK, said more needed to be done to improve the way cancer was both spotted and treated.
She said: “We would encourage people to know what's normal for them and to discuss any symptoms that are new, and happen on most days, with their GP.
“And if symptoms persist, to keep going back to their doctor. It may not be cancer, but if it is then it's vital to start treatment as soon as possible.”
Caroline is now holding an event for Cancer Research UK's Big BBQ Weekend this Saturday (19/7) to celebrate the first anniversary of her treatment ending.
She's already raised #1,300 before her barbecue for 250 people at St Wilfred's Church Hall, in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Notts.
Caroline added: “I have to pay Cancer Research back because they helped to save my life because it was their site I looked at.
"This is the first time I've celebrated being cancer-free.
“I refused to do it last year when I got the all-clear in the October because I couldn't even drink water.”
Paying tribute to his “amazing wife”, Damian, a lorry driver, said: “After the worst-ever year and a half my wife has suffered with this terrible disease, it completely baffles me how she has found the strength and courage to smash thiscancer's butt and raise money for charity.”