Barnsley Hospital has been running an oral cancer awareness initiative in November, which is also national Mouth Cancer Action Month. The goal is to improve access to cancer screening and awareness of head and neck cancer symptoms across South Yorkshire. We spoke to one cancer patient and his partner.

Every year 12,400 head and neck cancers are diagnosed, and as many as 88% of these are preventable.

David Tyson is one of those suffering from a head and neck cancer. Incredibly, he and his partner Samantha Roberts have been coping with the condition and its life-changing impact for over 15 years.

It wasn’t always this way. The couple met in healthier times at their local gym at Grimethorpe. Samantha, now 51 and a teacher at Shafton Primary School, remembers: “We were both in our 30s. David was working nights for Next. He was a big strong physical lad and regularly went to the gym. I’d just finished my newly-qualified teacher year when he became unwell.

“He had a lump in the back of his mouth. We thought it was just a virus and went to the GP but it progressed to a hospital appointment. They found that cancer was in his tonsil and growing into the lymph glands, infecting his neck.” David was treated with seven weeks of radiotherapy at Sheffield Weston Park. Samantha said: “You have your own custom-made radiotherapy mask. He found it claustrophobic at first but has mastered that.”

Patients often find recovery from treatment difficult. They may need reconstructive or plastic surgery, speech therapy, dietary counselling and emotional support. However, if cancer is caught early, it can be cured, and with the right care, cancer patients can have a good quality of life.

Samantha, who works full-time and cheerfully calls herself the ‘breadwinner,’ says each day can have ‘mammoth’ struggles. “David has restricted movement, no saliva glands, tinnitus, an underactive thyroid and his jaw is crumbling. It’s affected his facial features – he has had to have teeth removed – and he has ear infections. The mental side is hard too. David is 19 stone and 6ft 2 so I really worry if I hear a bump or bang in the night.

“But you keep going because you love the person. We have been going to clinics for 15 years now and the only outings we go on are to hospital – we call it ‘date night!’” Football fan David said: “I’ve tried all sorts. I even tried acupuncture to stimulate my saliva glands and I’ve been in a hyperbaric chamber to get oxygen into the blood vessels. There’s no point throwing in the towel now and leaving Samantha behind. If I stay in this fight, it will be because of her.”

A thank you for comforting care

Despite David and Samantha’s monumental day-to-day struggles, the brave couple still found time to thank Barnsley Hospital Oral and Maxillofacial team for their care.

David wrote to staff:

“I am writing with such sincere and grateful thanks for all the support, care and kindness you have shown to both myself and my partner. I have been attending your clinics for around 15 years now and I cannot begin to thank you and tell you just how much I appreciate all the care and medical help you have given me.  During this time, you have shown such support, sincere care and help in more ways than one; by that I mean both my physical and mental health needs.  To see your familiar faces and to have a chat is so comforting, thank you for caring.

“You have always included my partner in all my visits, and she has been my support and carer throughout all of this. You have always shown her such kindness and treat us as one.  Thank you so much for what you do and always asking how we both are getting on; this means so much when you are faced with day-to-day struggles.

“As I continue to be in the care of your wonderful team it gives me great relief that I am in safe hands and that I will be given excellent care.  I feel so privileged to have access to such sublime medical care.  I am without a doubt so thankful for our amazing NHS.”