Many people believe in fate or destiny. Few can offer a reason for doing so without retorting ‘just because I do’. For 46-year-old mother of five Rachel Parsons from Coventry, the answer is much more sincere.
“Since I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, we have developed a bit of a family motto,” Rachel said.
“Everything happens for a reason, and that reason isn’t clear until something happens. I know I got mouth cancer to help other people get through their own battle. I just know it.”
On Boxing Day 2007, Rachel first noticed a lump in her mouth. Having heard of mouth cancer and the symptoms, she knew she needed to get checked out. After the dentist told her it was, a long lasting disease that can be found in the mouth, during a check-up in February the following year, Rachel’s mouth got progressively worse.
“I had a number of recurringand the lump had got worse, yet at my six month check-up in June, my dentist insisted it was nothing for me to worry about. I asked specifically for a hospital referral, and reluctantly he agreed.
“Not long after that check-up my mum was reading an article in a magazine about mouth cancer. She pleaded with me to go back to the doctors, as I hadn’t heard anything from the dentist. I went the following Monday, and it soon became obvious my dentist hadn’t referred me at all.
“My doctor instantly referred me for an urgent biopsy the following Thursday. I remember being sat at home the night before I got my results thinking ‘I’ve got cancer’. In my head I saw what was going to happen, where I was going to sit, what the consultant would say to me, everything. My eldest asked me why I would be up early, and I replied because I might have cancer. Sure enough the next day was a massive de ja vu. I had cancer.”
Rachel told of her relief at finally knowing what the problem was. Although the road ahead would prove a difficult one for her, husband Tim also felt the ripple effect of Rachel’s diagnosis. Like a cancer spreading throughout the body, her family suffered too.
After 9½ hours in surgery, Rachel’s first year of recovery was fraught with complications and continuous infections. She recalled how surgeons kept removing further bits of her mouth, yet her determination to pull through was evident to husband Tim.
“Life has never been the same” he said. “I’m a fireman. My job is about saving lives and being there when people need me. When it came to Rachel, I felt totally powerless. Five years later it has definitely changed our outlook on life. The whole experience has made Rachel a better, stronger person.”
Rachel herself added: “The big thing about mouth cancer is the awareness. I have been very proactive and helped other people who were in my position. The most important thing is for people to remember if there’s something not quite right or something you’re a little bit unsure about, go and get checked out. It saved my life, and it could save yours too.”