Mouth cancer survivor prepares for Race For Life

Kim Barclay had a tough battle with mouth cancer. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Kim Barclay had a tough battle with mouth cancer. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A YOUNG woman who needed a third of her tongue removed to fight cancer has told how she feared she would never speak again.

Kim Barclay, from Currie, noticed a small ulcer on the side of her tongue in 2013 but she initially wrote it off as nothing.

I’m proof that if you think something might be wrong, you’ve got to keep persevering to get to the bottom of it. It’s what’s saved my life.

Kim Barclay

Her GP gave her steroid capsules to take, which did nothing to help the pain, before eventually sending her for a biopsy at St John’s Hospital, in Livingston.

Then just days after her 30th birthday, doctors gave Kim the devastating news that she had mouth cancer.

As a non-smoker and only moderate drinker, her diagnosis was as much a mystery to doctors as it was to Kim herself as the disease tends to affect people aged 65 and over.

She said: “I could hear what the doctor was telling me – that I had cancer – but it didn’t sink in. It felt as though he was telling someone else, I couldn’t believe it.”

Oral cancer symptoms include persistent ulcers, unexplained lumps or red or white patches on the lining of the mouth or tongue. With early diagnosis, a complete cure is often possible.

Kim underwent a life-saving 15-hour operation, where surgeons removed some of her tongue and rebuilt it using skin and arteries from her wrist. Surgeons warned that they may not be able to access the tumour without breaking Kim’s teeth and separating her jaw, and her speech could be seriously impaired.

Kim said: “I was so worried going into surgery. I could cope with losing teeth – implants could always put that right. But the idea of having facial scars was a big worry.”

Thankfully Kim’s surgery went well and surgeons were able to cut out all of her tumour without invasive facial incisions. Kim’s cancer was classed as stage two and surgeons were satisfied that they’d removed all the cancer during surgery.

Nearly three years on, Kim, 32, an analyst with Royal Bank of Scotland, has been given the all clear. She said: “I’ve healed well and apart from a scar on my neck where the lymph nodes were removed, you wouldn’t know what I’ve been through.

“It’s difficult to detect any difference in my speech and that’s such a relief because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to talk after surgery. I honestly feel very lucky.”

Kim will be taking on Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in Holyrood Park, for the third time this year to thank those who saved her life. She said: “Race for Life is so important – it raises awareness of cancer but also raises money that’s vital to find new treatments. I’ve benefitted directly from that. The type of surgery I had would have been virtually unheard of 20 years ago.

“I’m proof that if you think something might be wrong, you’ve got to keep persevering to get to the bottom of it. It’s what’s saved my life.”

To enter the Race For Life on June 19, see raceforlife.org or call 0300 123 0770.

lizzy.buchan@jpress.co.uk