Thursday 24 May 2018

Shock as mum's mouth ulcer turns out to be terminal cancer, family's warning

Caroline with her daughters Jamie (8) and Zara (3)
Caroline with her daughters Jamie (8) and Zara (3)

Kathy Armstrong

A devoted mum was stunned to learn that a persistent mouth ulcer was actually terminal cancer.

Caroline Sweeney (37) is undergoing palliative chemotherapy but her family is looking for pioneering alternative treatments in the hope it'll give her more time with her daughters, Jamie (8) and Zara (3).

Caroline's sister Michelle told "Caroline had a mouth ulcer for about four months and she was treating it at home homeopathically and with all different alternatives before she went to her doctor in June 2016.

"Her GP was really unhappy with what she found and she referred her to see an expert in head and neck cancer in Cork University Hospital, he was able to confirm straight away that it was tongue cancer after he did a biopsy.

"He was surprised at the aggressiveness of it and opted for her to have part of tongue removed so they could manage it, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

"In December last year an MRI confirmed that a tumor had grown in the same area and she had to get her whole tongue removed to save her life.

"She had it removed in January alongside some lymph nodes, she was told the chances of her talking or eating were very slim but she has done remarkably well since then.

"She surprised everyone with what she can do in terms of swallowing and speech."

Caroline Sweeney is fighting cancer
Caroline Sweeney is fighting cancer

Caroline, who is from Macroom in Cork, had another MRI in May which was clear, but a follow-up scan in August showed that there was a recurrent tumor in her neck.

Michelle (35) said they are determined not to give up.

She said: "Caroline was told it was an aggressive form of cancer and they could only offer her palliative chemo, she was basically told to get her affairs in order.

"So she's doing the palliative chemo right now but we're looking at alternatives in Germany.

"We haven't confirmed anything as of yet but we are looking at three clinics and are hoping to have a plan in place by the end of this week.

"The most important thing for her is that she's fighting this battle for her two babies, she wants to be here for them.

"We're fundraising online for the treatment because it isn't available in Ireland."

Michelle, who is from Macroom in Cork, has spoken candidly about how tough the past year has been.

She said: "It's been a horrible 16 months for her and in that time she buried two members of her family, so it's been a very difficult year.

"Our father passed away in October and her mother-in-law died as well this year.

"It's been very hard but her mind is strong and she's remarkable so all we can do is stand tall behind her and let her know she has our support and has the best treatment available."

Michelle also stressed the importance of people being aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancers.

She said: "It's unbelievable, we want to raise awareness of this.

"It's so important that people who have mouth ulcers that don't go away get them checked out.

"Many of us fob mouth ulcers off as being caused by not eating healthy, or being run down or stressed, she's obviously disappointed that she didn't see her doctor sooner but all we can do is look forward.

"She had always been fit and well, never smoked, she would only drink sociably on the odd occasion and had never really been sick before this, there was just no indicator that anything was wrong.

"It's an aggressive form of cancer so I don't know if it would have made a huge difference but people should know that it is one of the symptoms of head and neck cancers."

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