lifestyle

Mum thought she had just bitten her tongue in her sleep, but she actually had tongue cancer


The tongue cancer started as a bump on Jamie’s tongue (Picture: MDWfeatures/Jamie Powell)

37-year-old Jamie Powell woke up one day in December 2019 with a small bump on her tongue.

Assuming she’d bitten it in her sleep, the nursery worker from California, USA, didn’t think anymore of it.

However after two weeks passed, the bump seemed to be getting bigger and had started rubbing uncomfortably against her teeth. Jamie soon started to worry.

At a routine dental cleaning appointment in January 2020, she showed her dentist the bump. He didn’t think it was anything to worry about and advised her to continue as normal.

Jamie said: ‘I started to Google to see what it could be but I found nothing that looked close to what the bump on my tongue looked like.’

She had a gut feeling that something was wrong and scheduled an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor the following month. The doctor did a biopsy, taking a small chunk of tissue out of the bump.

A week later, in March 2020, Jamie got a phone call diagnosing her with aggressive tongue cancer. Jamie felt angry after leading a healthy life and felt she didn’t know who she was after her diagnosis.

‘After the diagnosis a few weeks later, I instantly didn’t know who I was anymore and felt betrayed by my body,’ she said.

‘After all the healthy things I did day after day, I still got cancer. I was angry, but I turned that anger into strength.’

Jamie underwent six weeks of radiation (Picture: MDWfeatures/Jamie Powell)

She was quickly booked in for a partial glossectomy – surgery to remove the affected part of the tongue. Her tongue was rebuilt using skin taken from her leg and she also had a neck dissection after a scan showed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

Jamie spent a week in hospital and couldn’t speak or eat. She was attached to a feeding tube and wasn’t allowed visitors due to Covid-19 restrictions.

After testing the cancer tissue they had removed, doctors found the cancer had infiltrated her nervous system and she needed thirty rounds of radiation to her head and neck.

Jamie was warned she may not be able to talk or sound the same after the radiation and that she would endure severe burns to the inside of her mouth and neck. She even recorded videos of herself talking to show her children, Jack (5) and James (3), in case her voice didn’t recover.

Every day for six weeks, she was bolted to the radiation table in a mesh mask and ‘zapped’ for fifteen minutes at a time.

‘The radiation was the hardest thing I have ever done,’ she says.

‘I met with my radiologist and she explained that it was a morbid treatment and one of the toughest types of radiation…

‘I tried to keep a positive mindset and kept telling myself that this is just a blip in time and you are doing this to be able to stay here on this earth for your children.’

The radiation left Jamie with burns on her head and neck (Picture: MDWfeatures/Jamie Powell)

After surgery and the treatment, Jamie had to learn how to move and control her tongue again, describing it as like a ‘foreign object’ in her mouth. She also had to work with a speech therapist and spent five months learning how to talk and eat again.

Due to the radiation, Jamie will have a dry mouth for the rest of her life and has to constantly hydrate with water. She will also have difficulty swallowing, talking, and eating for the rest of her life.

Mum Jamie has been left with a new droop in her mouth and lost 2st 8lbs from struggling to eat.

However, her tastebuds are slowly coming back – and she can eat soft foods and protein shakes. Although her voice doesn’t sound the same as before cancer, she is thankful she can talk.

Jamie started sharing her story on social media in March after failing to find anyone she could relate to with her diagnosis. She found her type of cancer was associated with older men with a history of smoking, something she has never done.

Jamie used Instagram as a video diary to share her story.

She says: ‘I started sharing my journey on social media as an outlet to be vulnerable. It was my therapy. I couldn’t find anyone that was like me when I first looked up my diagnosis – it was all older men with a history of smoking.

‘I have never smoked a day in my life and lead a healthy lifestyle, and yet here I was with tongue cancer. I found a couple of women on Instagram who had similar experiences to me and I was so grateful to not be alone in this.’

Now, Jamie is taking it day by day – focusing on her recovery. She is continuing with speech and physical therapy to work on her tongue and mouth mobility. A full recovery from tongue cancer is expected to take eighteen months.

She added: ‘Cancer is just as much a mental fight as it is physical. I felt ugly and was embarrassed at how I looked and sounded. My mouth had a droop from where I had no feeling on the left side and I lost forty-pounds from being unable to eat.

‘However, I’ve survived one-hundred per cent of my bad days and I will continue to do so – I plan on being around for a long time to raise my boys.

‘I am slowly starting to eat more food and I’m resting and letting my recovery take the time that is needed. It’s a slow process but I’m learning to love the new me. This cancer needs to be talked about and I am thankful to be the voice for it.’

Do you have a story you’d like to share?

Get in touch at MetroLifestyleTeam@metro.co.uk.


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