Casey, and the lump she first noticed (Picture: Casey Marsh)
After losing seven and a half stone over two years, Casey Marsh was the fittest she’d been in a long time.
So when she felt a little pain in her mouth, she assumed it was just a mouth ulcer that would go away quickly.
A few weeks later, the pain was still there and the 28-year-old, from Cumbria, went to see her GP.
After a referral to the hospital, further investigations showed the ulcer was actually a cancerous tumour growing in her tongue.
She says: ‘I’m young, I’m much healthier than I used to be, I don’t smoke and I drink very little – I didn’t fit with the typical person who gets tongue cancer.
‘As my surgeon said to me, cancer doesn’t have a rule book. Cancer does still affect young people and it’s important to get anything unusual checked out.’
When lockdown hit, Casey was coming to the end of her weightloss journey, which she’d started through Slimming World, before going on to losing weight through exercise and calorie counting.
Casey last year (Picture: Casey Marsh)
She explains: ‘I did Slimming World for about eight months but I fell out of love with it. I started going to the gym and I was working with a personal trainer, exercising three or four times a week.
‘I’d always been overweight but for the two years before my diagnosis, I had been doing something about it and felt better than I did in a long time.’
In April 2020, she felt the pain on her tongue for the first time.
She says: ‘It did just feel like a little ulcer but I couldn’t pinpoint where it was. I really didn’t think of it. It was quite early on in the pandemic and at that point I didn’t want to go to the GP for just a bit of a sore mouth.
Casey with her partner (Picture: Casey Marsh)
Warning: Graphic images
‘By June time, it had got worse and I decided to speak to my GP. She examined my mouth and couldn’t see anything visible but she spoke to ear, nose and throat department at my local hospital. They said to keep an eye on it and to come back if it didn’t go away.’
Two weeks later, with the pain still present, Casey went back to the doctor and was referred for an appointment at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.
Due to Covid restrictions, her first appointment was with a nurse over the phone.
Explaining her concerns, the nurse said that they would need to examine her. She was given an appointment at the hospital on July 17.
A few days before, she found a lump in her mouth for the first time.
The lump in early July (Picture: Casey Marsh)
She explains: ‘By that point, my food was sort of getting stuck on one side of my mouth and I was getting frustrated so one night I just stuck my fingers in my mouth to feel around.
‘I could feel a little lump – which I hadn’t felt before as up until then, I’d just had the pain. I couldn’t see it because it was far back but my partner had a look and he could.’
Initially she was examined by a nurse, who then went to get a consultant to have a look at the lump.
Casey says: ‘When she said that, my heart sunk a little because I thought “oh it’s bad”.
‘The consultant looked at it and he said that if I came into the room as a person over 60, who smoked or drank a lot, he would think it was cancerous but as I didn’t have any of those high risk factors, it was more likely to be something benign.
The lump in August, just before she had surgery (Picture: Casey Marsh)
‘I felt reassured by that and they said they would refer me to a maxiofacial surgeon to take a further look.’
Her next appointment was at the end of July, where the maxillofacial surgeon said they needed to do a biopsy.
She asked the consultant what he thought it was and he told her then there was a strong chance it was cancerous, but it was treatable.
Casey waited a week for results, which confirmed that she did have tongue cancer.
She says: ‘It was awful to hear I had cancer but I was glad that it had been diagnosed quickly and the surgeon already knew what he could do to treat it.’
She spent two weeks isolating and then had surgery on August 25, to remove the tumour and the lymph nodes in her neck as a precaution.
Casey after surgery (Picture: Casey Marsh)
‘It was difficult because my partner wasn’t allowed to come into the hospital to see me because of Covid so I knew when he dropped me off and said goodbye, I wouldn’t be able to see him until I came home,’ she says.
She spent six nights in hospital as she wasn’t able to eat and had to be feed through a tube.
Slowly she started to eat more and once out of hospital, she worked with a speech and language therapist over zoom to build up strength in her tongue again.
Casey’s tongue and neck healed well and about three weeks after the surgery, they told her they’d managed to remove all the cancerous cells and she needed no further treatment.
Casey is now cancer-free (Picture: Casey Marsh)
As there is a risk it could come back, she has a checkup every month for 18 months.
Almost six months on, she still has some numbness in her mouth but has adapted to it and has healed well.
Casey wants to tell others that it’s important to go and see your doctor if you do experience anything unusual, even during the pandemic.
She adds: ‘Going to the doctors might seem like somethign you don’t want to do right now but they have lots of measures in place to protect you.
‘Cancer and other conditions don’t stop just because of covid so if you do notice something out of the ordinary in your body, go and get it checked out.
‘If I had ignored the pain or put off going to the doctor, it could have been a lot worse. I would have needed much more extensive surgery with a much longer healing time and possibly radiotherapy.’
COVID-19 has slowed down Cancer Research UK’s research. To help the charity continue its life-saving work to create better cancer treatments for tomorrow visit cruk.org/donate
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch at [email protected].