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