07:06pm Wednesday 19 February 2020

Mouth cancer, their stories: Toni

Toni Richardson, 67 , spoke to the Foundation about her battle against mouth cancer.

“It was 1989 when I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue”, Toni told us. “It was another piece of bad news for me, as I’d already had a tumour removed from my throat some years before. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells you that you have cancer, the feeling of anguish and pain doesn’t change.”

Having fought mouth cancer for more than 20 years, Toni’s story is even more remarkable given the trials and tribulations she endured in the aftermath. Although she was a smoker and an occasional drinker, Toni never considered the effect her lifestyle could have on her oral health.

“At the time we knew what drinking and smoking could do to you, but for me mouth cancer wasn’t one of those things. Awareness of the disease is much higher now that it was then, yet in my opinion there’s a complacency that’s developed. People have such a terrible attitude now. They believe that if they don’t smoke or if they don’t drink then they’re not at risk, and that is wrong.”

Toni’s treatment involved having her face peeled back and re-building her lower mandible using bone from her leg. Matters were made worse when she contracted MSRA. Whichever way you look at it, Toni’s experience is one to make all of us sit up and take note and she is keen to remind everyone about the impact mouth cancer.

“Mouth Cancer is visual. You can’t hide it. It affects your face for everyone to see. People stare and it is not a nice feeling. Strangely, I think it’s even more difficult for family and friends who get angry at the way some people look at me.”

The road to recovery can also be long. “I remember visiting the dentist after I’d had the tumour removed from my throat as I’d had a loose tooth for a while. It had been hurting for a little while, but I just thought it was remembered pain, yet my dentist said it had been a year and it had cut my tongue.

“After that there were frequent checkups and the inevitable radiotherapy sessions. I’ve had so many operations over a long period of time I knew staff in hospitals very well. I can remember everything like it was yesterday.”

Toni’s determination to overcome her tongue cancer is clearly evident. Having befriended everyone who was involved in her treatment, they also saw how she wanted to defy the odds.

“When I was told I had cancer, I saw it rather differently than I guess some other people would do”, Toni explained. “If you look at the phrase ‘I have cancer’, take the word have and the letters ‘cer’ away, then you’re left with I can. Being told that bad news isn’t a death sentence. It gives you the chance to battle it and come out the other side fit and healthy.

“Too often I see messages that lead to complacency when it comes to mouth cancer. Smoking, drinking and combining the two really is a bad idea, and if you think you are safe because you don’t do one of the two you are wrong. Mouth cancer doesn’t have a preference. It can strike anyone.”

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