A MOTHER who thought her toothache was caused by stuck food was shocked when she was told she had incurable cancer.
Christine Palfrey, 42, thought the worst would be an abscess – and never imagined cancer because “nobody in her family has it”.
After concerned doctors conducted scans, they discovered Christine had an extremely rare salivary gland cancer.
She was told she might have only three years to live and would have to have heavy surgery to remove the tumor, part of her jawbone, her tongue and some teeth.
But remarkably, nine years after her diagnosis in early 2013, Christine is thriving and says, “I’m absolutely determined to live life to the fullest.”
Christine, a former dental nurse from Bampton, Oxfordshire, first suffered from jaw pain in December 2012.
She blames her fatigue – a common symptom of cancer – on regular exercise and not eating enough.
Then, one Sunday in early December 2012, Christine woke up with a severe toothache in her left lower jaw.
“I’m a former dental nurse, so I thought it couldn’t be my wisdom tooth because I’m in my 30s,” she said.
“I’m sure it would be something and nothing – maybe a bit of food that got stuck.”
But when the dentist took an X-ray of Christine’s jaw, he didn’t like what he saw.
Christine said: “He said it could be an abscess, but he didn’t want to speculate and said he would refer me to a specialist in the next few days.
“When I left, I thought, ‘He can’t think it’s an abscess, or that he gave me antibiotics.’
“I still don’t think for a second it’s going to be cancer, because nobody in my family has it.”
Christine was referred to King’s College Hospital in south-east London, where a surgeon found a solid tumour – but Christine reassured her it might not be cancerous.
Christine said: “As I was leaving, I entered a part of London that I didn’t really know and suddenly everywhere I looked I saw signs that I had never seen before, it was all about illness. cancer.”
When she got home, Christine told her ex-husband, who is the father of her daughter, Victoria, 21.
She recalls: “He just said, ‘It can’t be [cancer]. You don’t smoke and you don’t have any family history’. “
But after Christmas, Christine was asked to return to the hospital and make sure her husband would be with her.
Christine was told she had adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), which is usually found in the glands in the head and neck.
According to Salivary Gland Cancer, the disease is diagnosed in just 5 out of millions of people in the UK each year.
Christine remembers the tears streaming down her face when her military husband asked, “What happened now?”
On the same day, Christine was taken to London Bridge hospital, where a specialist booked her for surgery.
She said: “I knew nothing about cancer back then. He told me it was stage 4 and said that although it was treatable, it was not curable.
“So I asked how long I had left to live and he said, generally, three to five years.”
But for Christine, almost more difficult than the surgery was the task of telling her daughter Victoria she had cancer.
Christine recalls: “Everybody was crying, but I just kept saying to Victoria, ‘You know how strong your mom is. She’s going to get through this… It’s just been a bumpy road, so we just need to focus on the future’. “
A week after being diagnosed, Christine had a 12-hour operation.
Her hip bone was used to replace the part of her jawbone that was removed to remove the cancer.
The surgery changed Christine’s face shape and left her with a large scar on her neck. It also means she has to learn to talk again.
I am pursuing a positive life dynamic and now Barry has given me even more to look forward to in the future.
It took her almost a year to recover not only from the surgery but also from the next round of radiation therapy that left her skin burned to her face, neck and ears.
“You don’t have a mouth ulcer until you get a mouth ulcer from radiation,” she says.
Christine then had to have three more surgeries to remove a secondary cancer from her lung.
In 2015, two tumors were found in her left lung, and in the summer of 2021 she had to have two surgeries to treat her right lung.
Sadly, Christine’s first marriage could not stand the stress and ended in divorce in 2015.
But Christine’s treatment helped prolong her life by several years, and she has to have CT scans six times a month to monitor her condition.
“Right now, I am in good shape and there are no Pharisees,” she said.
“I have my next scan in February, so basically I’m not cured but I’ve been successfully treated.”
Christine has found love again with Barry Weeks, 51, a technical director she met at the IT hosting company where she works as a compliance specialist.
“One Monday morning, I was at work explaining to Barry how I finally learned how to eat Wotsits over the weekend,” says Christine.
“He asked me to prove it, so I found myself at 8am doing an impressive session and, after having coffee together, in February 2016 we started dating. “
The couple married on 27 November at a fairy tale Welsh castle with 54 guests and Victoria as bridesmaid.
Describing her husband, Barry as someone who knows how to bring “life” to a room, Christine is determined to share the same positivity in the future.
She said: “I am pursuing a positive energy and now Barry has given me much more to look forward to in the future.”
Christine is supporting Cancer Research UK’s Play Your Part campaign, which highlights how everyone has a role to play in the fight against this disease.
To find out more about Cancer Research UK’s Play Your Part campaign visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.
https://www.thesun.ie/health/8170211/toothache-incurable-cancer-devastated/ I was devastated when my ‘toothache’ turned into incurable cancer