Cosette Calder, who lives in Christchurch, had a lot to live for when she was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Hard as her treatment was, she knew her cancer was curable and she had a five-year-old son to look after. Cosette’s early symptoms are interesting too. They show us how throat cancer can manifest itself.
Here is her story.
I was diagnosed with throat cancer a week after my 40th birthday in May of 2015. I started to feel unwell in mid-March, two months prior to my diagnosis. I felt like I had a lump in my throat. I also had an ear ache. I went to my GP and upon examination there was no visible lump in my throat and no sign of anything wrong with my ear. I was coughing and sometimes I had the taste of blood in my mouth. I experienced pain when yawning. My throat felt sensitive and it was increasingly uncomfortable when swallowing food. By early May my throat felt very inflamed. My GP ran some tests and when redness showed up in the back of my mouth my doctor referred me to the Ear Nose and Throat department at Christchurch Hospital. When I attended this appointment, it was explained to me after examination that I most likely had throat cancer in the early stages. I was shocked and upset. However, I was thankful that I had an early diagnosis as this gave me the best chance at being cured and leading a healthy normal life after treatment.
Before I could begin my treatment, I had to undergo some procedures and tests. I underwent minor surgery to provide a biopsy of the tumour. I also underwent another procedure to insert a feeding tube called a PEG in my stomach as some patients experience difficulty eating during and after treatment. I also had a plastic mask made of my face and shoulders which I would wear during my radiation treatment.
My treatment plan was six weeks of chemotherapy combined with radiation treatment. This began in July and by then the cancer had spread to one lymph node in my throat which swelled into a very large lump on the side of my neck. Every Monday I had chemotherapy. Monday to Friday I had 20 minutes of radiation treatment daily.
Upon completion of treatment it took at least a month before I really started to make progress. I used the feeding tube for two months as it was too difficult to eat food. Over time my health gradually improved.
I am pleased that I am now clear of cancer. I am nearly two years post treatment. I have regular three-monthly check-ups at the hospital. I also attend the Head and Neck Cancer Group sessions at the Cancer Society. I am a member of the Head and Neck Cancer Support Facebook group. I am 42 now and I feel happy and healthy again. I have my life back I and enjoy seeing my seven-year-old son passing his milestones. I am grateful for my second chance.