In 2006, Gordon Mullen knew something wasn’t quite right in his mouth, yet he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Fortunately for him, during a routine check up, his dentist could.
“That year, I’d had an ulcer on my tongue during October and November,” Gordon recalls.
“The first biopsy came back okay and the diagnosis was an allergy. But by the end of 2007 it hadn’t gone away and I needed to get a crown replaced, so I bit the bullet and went to the dentist.
“It turned out to be a real lifesaver.”
Gordon’s memories of that consultation are as vivid today as it was on the day of the appointment. “It’s the kind of thing you just don’t forget,” he said.
“What made it worse was I almost knew what was coming. I’d pieced the jigsaw together, I could see it on people’s faces, yet when I heard the words ‘you have cancer’, there was no way I could be prepared for it.”
During Gordon’s now life-saving examination, he recalls how the dentist referred him for a second biopsy, while the look on her face told him everything he needed to know about the ulcer. Even before getting the results from the CT-Scan, Gordon told me they knew something he didn’t.
“There was a tangible atmosphere, almost as if everyone other than I knew what was going to follow. It was a stage two cancer, and as soon as I heard that ‘C’ word, I thought there was nothing I could do and I was going to die. It was the most frightening experience of my life.”
Within weeks, Gordon was under the knife at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. He described the operation as ‘remarkable’, and was released four days later.
Although Gordon hadn’t heard of mouth cancer prior to his experience, he was taken aback at the risk factors involved. Furthermore, at the tender age of 38 and living a fit and healthy lifestyle, Gordon’s experience is a classic example of how important it is to know what you’re looking for and act on it.
“I went through a six week course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy,” he said. “It’s left me with a permanently dry mouth, I can only eat a combination of soup and soft foods, yet when you think about it, I was one of the lucky ones.
“Having read so much about how important finding mouth cancer early is, I cannot stress enough how vital it is for people to go and get checked out. There’s no point messing about. Yes, ulcers are quite common, but if they’re persistent, as they were in my case, then visit the dentist as soon as possible.”
Although Gordon still encounters the same side effects of the treatment day in day out, he’s had no recurrence of the disease. In his own words, he’s ‘just getting on with life’. Without early detection, a key factor in the fight to reduce mouth cancer mortality rates, he just might not have had the chance to do so.