Author: The Bharat Express News

A woman who was told her mouth ulcers were caused by growing wisdom teeth and a hectic lifestyle has had part of her tongue removed and remade using muscle from her leg.

Charlotte Webster-Salter, 27, began suffering from recurring ulcers in 2018, but attributed it to long shifts as a flight attendant and felt “run down.”

After several visits to the dentist and GP, Charlotte was finally referred to a specialist in the Ear, Nose and Throat Unit at St Richards Hospital, Chichester, in February 2021, for a biopsy after her tongue developed painful, white patches.
Test results revealed Charlotte had oral cancer after a tumor was diagnosed on her tongue.

Weeks later, she underwent nine-hour surgery at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, during which part of her tongue was removed and replaced with muscle from her leg.

Having no idea if she would be able to talk or eat normally again, Charlotte spent the next two weeks having a tracheostomy — an opening in the neck with a tube inserted to help you breathe.
Despite the grueling surgery, Charlotte amazed doctors with her speedy recovery, and was overjoyed to find that the cancer hadn’t spread further.

She now hopes to help raise awareness about signs and symptoms of the disease.
Charlotte, a student midwife, from Petersfield, East Hampshire, said: “My tongue is now a two-tone color – it looks like a drumstick lollipop.

“There is even a freckle on my tongue of my leg.

“You hear about breast cancer and prostate cancer, but rarely oral cancer.

“It is usually older men or smokers who are diagnosed. The doctors had never treated anyone as young as me.

“The first time I saw a poster about it was at the head and neck clinic.

“It’s definitely something that needs to be talked about more.”
Charlotte began to feel “decrepit” and contracted stomach ulcers in 2018 while working as a cabin crew.

She went to the dentist who suspected that the sores were caused by her wisdom teeth coming through.

However, as they kept coming and going over the next few years, she booked a GP appointment in 2020 to get more answers.

Charlotte said: “The sores always appeared in one area, which I thought was odd.

“I kept rejecting it, in my mind I thought it was just stress or feeling exhausted.

“I even thought it was because of a hangover or eating spicy food, it made it worse.

“I had straightened my teeth and had fillings, but nothing helped.”
Charlotte returned to the GP who eventually referred her to the Nose and Throat Ward at St Richards Hospital, Chichester in February 2021.

She underwent a biopsy in which a tissue sample was taken from her tongue for testing.

Doctors had discovered a tumor called a squamous cell carcinoma growing in her tongue and Charlotte — it was classified as a type of head and neck cancer.

At the same time, Charlotte’s mother, Sam, now 51, had battled breast cancer after being diagnosed at age 49.

Sam had undergone a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and was in remission when Charlotte revealed her diagnosis.

Charlotte said: “I just laughed when they told me – I was so shocked I didn’t know how to react.

“Cancer was furthest from my mind.

“The hardest part was telling my mom, so I waited to do it in person.

“She had been through so much and it broke my heart to tell her that her daughter also had cancer.”

Charlotte was booked for surgery at Queen Alexander Hospital, Portsmouth on June 7, 2022.

The nine-and-a-half-long surgery involved cutting out part of Charlotte’s tongue — containing the tumor — and replacing it with muscle from her thigh, called a “skin flap.”

They didn’t know if the cancer had spread, so doctors also removed a lymph node from her neck for testing.

She was also given a tracheostomy — an opening in the neck with a tube inserted to help her breathe — as she would struggle with the swelling.

Charlotte was supported the whole time by her doting partner, Tom, 31, with whom she lives.

“The night before surgery Tom and I went for a curry – it was amazing,” she said.

“I didn’t know when I’d be able to eat or even talk again.

“No one really knew what the outcome would be — the loss of the ability to speak was the scariest thing for me.”

The surgery went well, but Charlotte had another four-hour surgery when her new tongue lost its blood supply.

Fortunately, doctors were able to survive and she spent four days in the ICU before being transferred to the Maxillofacial Unit.

Two weeks later the tracheostomy was removed and after 10 days Charlotte could finally say her first words.

“I said ‘hello’ and everyone was in tears,” she said.

“The moment I took my first sip of water was the best ever.
“I surprised my mother and Tom by talking to them when they arrived – it was a very emotional moment.”

Charlotte was delighted to find that the cancer had not spread and that she needed no further treatment.

She underwent speech and physical therapy to learn to talk, eat and even walk while recovering from surgery on her neck and leg.

After recovering, she started university in September 2021 and is currently studying to become a midwife.

“The hospital staff and surgeons were incredible – I can’t thank them enough,” she said.

“If I couldn’t talk, the nurse would sit and talk to me for hours.

“It was the little things, but they were so supportive.

“In some ways I feel extremely lucky because it was caught on time.

“I’m a rare case because I’m so young – it was a mystery to the doctors.

“But I think it’s so important to pay attention to the symptoms at any age.

“There needs to be more publicity.

“If only one person reads my story and recognizes the symptoms, I’m happy.”