Arm tissue used to repair Rushcliffe cancer patient’s tongue

Rebecca Patterson arm tongue cancer Image copyright Tiger Bear Photography
Image caption Rebecca Patterson, who married her husband Craig in July, was diagnosed with cancer shortly after becoming engaged

A woman in so much pain from cancer she could not eat says she is rebuilding her life after tissue from her arm was used to repair her tongue.

Rebecca Patterson was diagnosed with tongue cancer shortly after getting engaged in April 2018, and underwent an 11.5-hour operation the following month to remove the growth.

The 38-year-old from Nottinghamshire said it took months to fully recover.

Now happily married, she hopes her story can help other patients.

WARNING: This article contains a graphic image.

Ms Patterson, from Rushcliffe, said she was initially being given medication to treat suspected oral thrush, but after it worsened she made a doctor’s appointment and the cancer was confirmed.

“I couldn’t process it at first, I was just devastated, but there was something inside me that said ‘I’m not going to let this beat me’,” she said.

Ms Patterson underwent a partial glossectomy, where part of the tongue is removed.

After nearly a fortnight in hospital, she said it took almost two months to recover from the operation. She returned to her job as a learning support assistant at a school after six months.

Image copyright Rebecca Patterson
Image caption Muscle from Rebecca Patterson’s arm was taken to help repair her tongue

“The surgeons were incredible – my speech has hardly been affected,” she said.

“When my tongue gets tired, it’s like a burning sensation that I get, and my speech can slur a little, but the nerve pain’s nothing like the pain of the cancer.”

Ms Patterson, who married her partner in July, has raised money for the Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC) in Nottingham to thank them for her treatment, and said she hopes telling her story can help other people who have suffered from the condition.

She said: “This might sound a bit corny, but I feel like I’ve got a second chance, and I want to make the most of things.”

What is tongue cancer?

  • According to Cancer Research UK, symptoms include persistent red or white patches on the tongue, pain in the throat or when swallowing, numbness and unexplained bleeding
  • Smoking, alcohol and infection with the HPV virus can increase a person’s risk of contracting tongue cancer
  • As well as full and partial glossectomies, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also be used in both early and advanced stages of the disease

Darren Marfleet also received a partial glossectomy at the QMC to remove tongue cancer, with skin and blood vessels from his arm used to build a new tongue.

Now given the all-clear, the 47-year-old from Lincoln is running the Robin Hood half marathon in Nottingham with Laith Al-Qamachi, the specialist maxillofacial surgeon who also performed the procedure.

“When receiving any cancer diagnosis you do get low and straight away you think you are going to die from it,” he said.

“I previously enjoyed running and keeping myself fit but after my cancer diagnosis I stopped and it wasn’t until I mentioned this to Laith that he said ‘why don’t you run now?’ and this sparked the idea for us both to take part.”

Mr Al-Qamachi – who also operated on Ms Patterson – said rehabilitation is as important a part of the treatment process as the surgery, and praised the resilience of his patients.

“Cancer is itself devastating, and the surgery itself is very tough, and we’re helping them to get back to as normal a life as possible,” he said.

“It’s great to see patients doing so well.”

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