Young Mother's Horrific Mouth Cancer Teaches a Lesson We All Need to Hear

If you've ever had a little ulcer inside your mouth, you probably didn't worry about it. They usually go away quickly. I've gotten a couple after accidentally biting the inside of my cheek or eating something too hot. But you'd be wrong to ignore it. And 34-year-old mother of three Natalie Hurley is speaking up about what happened to her so that others may learn from it. Hurley was pregnant with her third child when she noticed the little ulcer on the inside of her tongue. She chalked it up to stress and her pregnancy.

She says the ulcer was quite painful, so when it still hadn't gone away after a few weeks, she went to her doctor.

He confirmed that it was just a general ulcer and nothing to worry about. She was relieved. But then she had a dental appointment and asked the dentist to take a look. She says:

I could tell by her face that something was wrong -- she said mouth ulcers shouldn't last longer than two weeks.

The dentist referred her to a specialist, but scarily, the letter got lost in the mail. So Natalie went back to her regular doctor, who again told her not to worry. (!!)

After two months, she was desperate to see a specialist, so she went to another dentist, who gave her another referral. (This is all happening in Britain, and frankly, it's bothering me that she needed so many referrals and had such long wait times to see doctors. I'm in favor of healthcare for all, but if it turns into this, I'm scared!)

Finally, Natalie got to a specialist. But by this time, the ulcer was triple the size it was at the beginning, and "was almost burrowing" into her tongue.

Eventually, Natalie was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. She had to have half of her tongue removed. And, horribly, the cancer had spread to her lungs. Without an operation, she has only months to live.

Ugh, this is so frightening. Could this happen to you? Here are some risk factors for developing mouth cancer:

- Being a heavy smoker and/or drinker.

- Having HPV in the mouth (experts attribute the increase in HPV-associated mouth cancers to oral sex).

- Being in your 50s or older, but mouth cancer is on the rise with younger people.

Signs to look for:

- A sore in the mouth that doesn't heal after a couple of weeks.

- A lumping or thickening of the skin in your mouth.

- A white or reddish patch inside your mouth.

- Tongue pain.

- Sore throat or feeling like something is caught in your throat.

(Read the full list of warning signs here.)

Natalie's baby had to be induced at 32 weeks before she could begin treatment. She deals with a painful collapsed lung. And she says that she knows the cancer will kill her -- though she is hoping to have years left, not months, and her doctors are hopeful since she is young and has responded well to treatment.

This is just tragic and devastating. But Natalie is brave to share her story so that others might be more aware.

Do you ever check the inside of your mouth?

Image via Fendis/Corbis


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

sweet... sweetcherry_59

Ahhhh Socialized heath care at it's finest. Awesome.

nonmember avatar Kristi

I get mouth sores quite frequently so this information is very informative.

Sara B. Ware

Please get checked if you have something longer than 2 weeks, even if you fit in none of the risk groups.  My mom died of tongue cancer 35 years ago, when she was way under 50, never smoke, never drank, nothing.  They did say that possible factors that were relevant to her were the daily drinking of very hot coffee, and chewing on pencils.  Anything that irritates the throat/tongue.  Please be aware of that.  Additionally, in the past 15 years, they have made huge strides in treatment of oral cancers, so the earlier you catch it, of course, the better. 

Michelle Lorenzen

My husband experienced an ulcer under his tongue in December of 2007. I remember him joking that it was a tumor, and me saying "it's not a tumor!" ........ in February of 2008  he went to see our regular dentist for a simple tooth extraction and the dentist noticed that it was still there. My husband was at the oral surgeon's office within days getting a biopsy. It was malignant. He faced surgery less than a month later, where the tumor under his tongue was removed, along with much of the tissue on the underside of his tongue, and all of his teeth as well. He did 7 weeks of localized radiation treatment, and 4 weeks after that, he had another 5 weeks of oxygen treatment (to promote the regrowth of the gum cells.) I am happy to report that as of the summer of 2013, he is 3 years cancer free!

Oral cancer is nothing to mess around with! It is one of the most aggressive cancers out there, and prompt treatment is needed before it metastasizes.

Prayers for this poor woman and her family, but kudos to her for not giving up!!

Lauren Wasinger

That's how our system already functions. After my 5 year old had her first seizure, I was told that the earliest appointment with a neurologist was 3 months out! After I was hospitalized for a possibly life threatening condition, I was given an appointment with the specialist that was a full 6 weeks out. And that was in another city, an hour's drive away. In my city, it would be 3-4 months. I don't live in a podunk little town in the middle of nowhere, either. And I have good private insurance that pays these doctors well.

The reality is that we have to be proactive patients, because no one cares about our health as much as we do. Regardless of insurance, health systems, privatization, etc.

A-non... A-nony-mous

I don't see this as an issue with socialized medicine. It's not like no one has ever died in the US while waiting for treatment or been denied treatment or anything. ;-)

It doesn't sound like the 'patient' was very pro-active. She let the problem go on for at least two months without doing much about it. It's tragic that it's turned into this but if you leave problems go for months and months and they're not getting better then that's on you, not your health service. They can only work with what you give them and if you're going to let problems go then they can only scramble and do what they can at the last minute. It doesn't mean you get rushed through treatment.

If you're having issues, YOU need to keep track of things. If you know you have a specialist appointment YOU need to be calling your Doctor and keeping track of when and if you don't hear anything within a week or two you need to call back, and call back again if necessary. Or call the Specialist yourself and confirm your appointment.

If you feel uncomfortable with the treatment you're getting YOU need to speak up.
If you feel that you should see a specialist sometimes YOU need to state that to your Doctor, that you want a second opinion.

Tired of seeing people who want to ignore problems and then everyone jumps on the ignorant trendy bandwagon of blamin the Doctors and system.

nonmember avatar Natalie Hurley

Dear Anonymous,

I am Natalie Hurley. I was very proactive you ignorant individual. This is not the original article. It has been taken from yesterdays Daily Mail. My mother had just died & I was 8 weeks pregnant. I went to the doctor THREE times within 6wks of the ulcer appearing. He said it was NOTHING but stress & pregnancy. Dentist disagreed & put in a referral. That went missing on the system. I saw a private dentist who referred me the following week. Get the FACTS b4 making a judgement on someone you complete idiot! !!!!

Woodbabe Woodbabe


A-non... A-nony-mous

Dear Natalie Hurley,

None of those facts were presented in this article. ;-) I can only comment on what was given and what was given was basically that month went by with a couple of appointments and that person seemed content with waiting around and generally accepted what Doctors stated.

I stand by what I said. Sometimes Doctors and hospitals do make mistakes. But the idea that it's instantly and always a Doctor or "the system"'s fault when there's a missed diagnoses is irking.

nonmember avatar Patty

This is a horrific diease. My healthy active husband of 41 years recently died from this. The dr found it in stage 1....usual surgery, tongue removal, radiation and chemo.....his death was slow and agonizing 2 yrs from the on slot. Occasional drinking no smoking.....and EXTREMELY PAINFUL.

1-10 of 33 comments 1234 Last