My jaw was re­built with bone from my hips

When a rare can­cer wrapped round one of her teeth Chris Pal­frey, 39, from Wit­ney, Ox­ford­shire, needed dras­tic surgery – which helped her find love again

Irish Sunday Mirror - - YOUR HEALTH - RACHEL TOMP­KINS

My job as a com­pli­ance spe­cial­ist in an IT firm was busy, but in the sum­mer of 2012 I started to feel so ex­hausted I was spend­ing week­ends in bed. Then six months later I got toothache and a nasty cold too.

I went to the den­tist who did X-rays and a scan and when he found some­thing that could be a cyst he re­ferred me to a con­sul­tant in Lon­don.

A biopsy con­firmed my worst fears – it was a tumour. I was sent straight to see Pro­fes­sor Mark Mcgurk at Lon­don Bridge Hos­pi­tal and was told I had ade­noid cys­tic car­ci­noma, can­cer of the sali­vary glands.

“It’s ex­cep­tion­ally rare in some­one your age and who is as healthy and ath­letic as you,” he said, then added: “It’s not hered­i­tary, not caused by your life­style. There’s noth­ing you could have done to pre­vent it.”

I was a slim, fit and healthy mar­ried mum. I never smoked and ex­er­cised five times a week. At 5ft 1in I weighed 8st 12lb.

The tumour, 4.8cm in di­am­e­ter, had wrapped it­self around my lower left wis­dom tooth.

The pro­fes­sor ex­plained I needed an op­er­a­tion to re­move some teeth and part of my jaw bone, which filled me with hor­ror. But they were go­ing to re­build my jaw by tak­ing bone from my hip.

My first re­ac­tion was would I still be able to run? Thank­fully I could and, de­spite all the trauma that was to come, I can still do 10k in 53 min­utes. My 12-hour op­er­a­tion at Lon­don Bridge Hos­pi­tal came within a cou­ple of weeks of di­ag­no­sis.

When I woke the fol­low­ing day my mouth felt numb. I tried to talk but it wouldn’t move prop­erly and I sounded like a baby.

The op­er­a­tion had taken longer than ex­pected be­cause the can­cer had spread to my tongue and they’d had to re­move part of it.

I strug­gled to talk and eat – and even had to learn to walk again.

My hus­band Steve was a bril­liant sup­port but it was a week be­fore I let my daugh­ter Vic­to­ria, then 12, see me in hos­pi­tal.

MESS

When she walked in I cried for the first time. My face still looked a mess – a scar run­ning from my ear to be­neath my chin.

The skin was black and blue, I couldn’t talk, was on two drips and be­ing tube fed. But see­ing Vic­to­ria gave me a boost and soon the physio had me us­ing a Zim­mer frame. Just two weeks af­ter the op I came home in a wheelchair.

My mouth was so del­i­cate I could only tol­er­ate jelly and vi­ta­min milk­shakes, and I had to use a bite ma­chine ev­ery day to open my jaw.

I had daily ra­dio­ther­apy for six weeks, was on painkillers for three months and used crutches for six months. But I car­ried on work­ing – de­ter­mined to con­trol at least one thing in my life. I had reg­u­lar scans and in 2015 I had an op­er­a­tion to re­move two tu­mours from my left lung.

Thank­fully they weren’t ac­tive but it still meant that my ill­ness had pro­gressed to sec­ondary can­cer.

In July 2015 I sep­a­rated from Steve as we had grown apart. By then the mus­cles in my face had been de­stroyed by the ra­dio­ther­apy so the left side was hollow-look­ing and my speech was very slurred. Plus, I had a huge scar along my jaw which all made me ex­tremely self-con­scious.

So I couldn’t be­lieve it when a work friend, Barry, asked me out for a drink. “Are you crazy?” I asked him. “I’ve got can­cer!” But he wasn’t put off and we’ve been to­gether 18 months. And while kiss­ing is lim­ited these days, Barry only pays me com­pli­ments!

The can­cer has come back in my right lung and my prog­no­sis is of­fi­cially about five years. But I’m very grate­ful such pioneering surgery has given me more time to be with Vic­to­ria... and for help­ing me find love again.

COURAGE Chris in hos­pi­tal af­ter sur­geons re­built her jaw MY LOVES With daugh­ter Vic­to­ria, be­fore surgery, and new fella Barry

RE­BUILT Vic­to­ria’s jaw surgery

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