Plymouth oral cancer survivor urges people to think seriously about smoking
A WOMAN who says breathing her father's second-hand cigarette smoke as a child gave her mouth cancer is urging people to consider their lifestyle choices.
Vera Mitchell was diagnosed with mouth cancer in her mid-50's, over 10 years ago.
The city woman, a retired teacher, underwent major reconstructive work and speech therapy after surgeons removed half her tongue to stop a tumour spreading.
Mrs Mitchell recently visited second year students at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry to talk about her battle with the disease.
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She said: "I have never smoked in my life but up until the age of 18 I lived at home where one of my parents smoked quite heavily. I assume I developed cancer as a result of passive smoking for all those years.
"But for me there is no blame involved because back then the consequences of smoking and passive smoking just weren't known.
"I suffered with the symptoms of oral cancer, with a sore bit on the edge of my tongue, for several years. But then it began to change in appearance and my dentist sent me to Derriford Hospital for further tests.
"I had extensive surgery which cured the cancer, but it was not pleasant and there were all kinds of side effects.
"I really want to get the message across that the lifestyle choices young people make now will affect them in the future. If they choose unhealthy lifestyles they are in effect choosing the consequences of those lifestyles too. If you smoke you are also accepting to choose the consequences related to smoking.
"I have always chosen not to smoke or drink alcohol and it would be very rare for someone with a lifestyle like mine to have developed mouth cancer. But when the surgeon probed into my background we have to assume that the passive smoking I endured was the cause of my mouth cancer."
Vera has been talking to young people around the city about oral cancer for about five years.
She said: "It's very important for me to get the message out there. If someone can benefit from my experience it helps to make my experience worthwhile.
"People need to remember that smoking doesn't just cause physical consequences, it causes emotional ones too. If a smoker gets cancer it's not just them that will suffer, it's also their family. It can be extremely traumatic to see someone fighting for their life and that's what we have to take on board. We have to be responsible for our own health.
"There is a degree of ignorance about mouth cancer and its implications and I would urge people to visit their dentist regularly and specifically ask for a mouth cancer check."