A British woman identified as Rebecca Patterson has undergone groundbreaking surgery to replace her tongue with arm tissue after battling cancer.
Rebecca was 38 when she was diagnosed with tongue cancer in April 2018 shortly after getting engaged. She had a sore spot on her tongue and a white patch in her mouth for about eight years which never went away.
She was initially diagnosed with oral thrush but she was in so much pain she could barely speak or eat. She then had a biopsy and received the devastating call from a nurse telling her its ‘cancer’.
Patterson said: ‘You can never prepare yourself for hearing the words ”it’s cancer’. I sat in the consultant’s room trying to process what was happening thinking am I going to die?
Will I lose my tongue? How will life ever be normal again? My world had shattered into a million pieces. I remember saying to the consultant: ‘I can’t have cancer, my life with my fiancé is just beginning.’
‘I wanted answers to all these questions but didn’t want to hear them. I felt so overwhelmed with different emotions. I also kept flitting between feeling physically sick with worry – to relief that I finally had a concrete answer.’
After the diagnosis, Mrs Patterson underwent 11 and a half hours of surgery at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. Surgeons removed the right side of her tongue and then removed the skin and an artery from her left arm to build her a new tongue.
The team of doctors also removed the right lymph nodes in her neck and two back teeth so the tongue would fit.
Patterson added: ‘I woke to find my arm bandaged, two drains coming out of my neck, a tracheostomy and a feeding tube. ‘Whilst recovering in hospital, I went through a lot of ups and downs. I couldn’t speak for a week and could only communicate through writing everything down.
‘My trachea would leak, and I would end up with crusty secretions around my neck, my arm was like a dead weight and I had very restricted movement in my neck. ‘I couldn’t do anything independently and relied on the nurses to wash, dress and move me. I felt trapped inside my own body. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.’