​​​​​​​​​MUM’S GONE TO ICELAND – ( Mary Pinn )     -  My Cancer Story


Three years ago, I never thought I’d be basking in a thermal pool in Iceland, drinking strawberry wine and having a lava mud pack. But it’s true!

The past 36 months have been a rollercoaster, to say the least.

My first encounter with the Big C began just after Christmas 2013, when a big lump suddenly appeared on the right side of my neck. It didn’t hurt and at first I didn’t think too much of it, except when it quickly got bigger.

Something told me I should visit my GP – and thank goodness I did.  She had a quick feel, and before I knew it, was on the phone to the Royal Surrey County Hospital demanding an appointment with an ENT  clinician that same afternoon.

Still really unaware of the potential seriousness of the situation, my husband Stephen and I met with the doctor, who immediately tried to shove a camera up my nose and down my throat. An endoscopy.  It was extremely uncomfortable  and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Whilst I was still feeling rather gobsmacked after the procedure, the doctor said abruptly that she couldn’t see the right side of my neck as it was “completely blocked” and referred me to a consultant the following Monday.

I then met the consultant surgeon who was to go on and operate to remove the lump. He was very matter-of-fact; informing me the lump looked rather suspicious. He booked me into hospital for a biopsy.

Funnily enough, I still wasn’t too concerned, as the lump didn’t hurt and Stephen and I convinced ourselves it was probably only a cyst. I was still eating and drinking normally.


Just over a month later, the day came and my cancer journey began.

After operating, the surgeon initially thought the big lump he had excised probably wasn’t anything sinister. But this opinion was to be shattered two weeks later when I attended the ENT outpatients department.

Staring at his computer, a consultant I hadn’t met before turned to me and said straight out: “Well, it is a squamous cancer and it’s a secondary.” I nearly fell off my chair.


Stephen and I drove home in a bit of a daze.  The consultant had talked about radiotherapy and chemotherapy and possible further surgery.  Now comes the strange bit. I became very calm and asked to be on my own for a while.

Something inside me dredged up my feelings as a 10-year-old girl, ready and waiting to take on the world and its adventures.  I remember then that I felt invincible, and my 10-year-old self came to my aid.  This disease was an unwelcome intruder and I somehow just knew it wasn’t going to win.

The hardest part was telling my two children. I found myself trying to comfort them – and telling them over and over that I wasn’t about to die.

Stephen was also at a loss and it was me that became the strong one.


I felt divorced from reality on the first day of radiotherapy.  I’d gone through the making of ‘The Mask’  - fellow patients know what I mean – and was escorted  into the radiotherapy chamber.  The radiotherapists were fantastic; caring, considerate and ever aware that the mask could make me feel claustrophobic . Luckily, I just tuned out – and mentally ran through songs in my head – all my Tamla Motown favourites!

Radiotherapy, five days a week, was topped up with one weekly session of chemo. This lasted through July 2013 and the beginning of August. 

During most of the treatment, I didn’t feel ill, but this was to change towards the end.  I thought I had got away with bad side effects, but they hit me suddenly, with blisters around my neck and sickness from the chemo.  I was definitely feeling bad.  By this time, the blisters meant I found swallowing very painful and realised why the doctors had insisted I had a stomach feeding tube fitted before treatment started. (That’s another story!)

Eventually, treatment finished and I was left to recover.  Amazingly, the blisters started to recede within two weeks, but the chemo had left met very tired and unable to work. It wasn’t tiredness – it was a kind of

fatigue, which the doctors said was to be expected.  Very debilitating.

But the surgeons, radiotherapists and chemo people had done a great job – as my follow-up outpatients appointment confirmed.  The remaining bits of the tumour had shrunk and my surgeon was confident the rest of it could be got rid of with a further operation. The other good news was that the primary cancer (probably from the tonsil) had somehow  been enveloped by the lump and become one. Apparently, it’s not that common, but can happen.


The next part of my story may be more familiar to you.  I had a further operation in November and was pronounced cancer-clear in mid-December 2013. My feeding tube was removed and I looked forward to Christmas.

It was about then I realised just how much weight I had lost (three stone) and to my dismay,  realised there was no way I could swallow a turkey dinner!  In fact, anything solid with ‘bits’ in was a no-no.

The necessary radiotherapy had zapped my saliva glands, so my mouth was permanently dry. That, along with my weight loss, meant I was not getting enough nutrients and felt desperately fatigued.

It’s taken a long time to learn to live with a soft diet , making sure I get enough nutrition through protein shakes and mushy food.

But I’m doing it – and have put on a stone and going up. I surely miss my steak and chips, chicken Kiev and  many other favourite dishes (oh for a toasted bacon sarnie), but, in fact, my diet is probably healthier!

The nurses, diet and speech clinicians at the RSCH have been wonderful – always encouraging and there whenever you need them. I can’t thank them enough.

Yes, this has been a life changing experience -one I would not have personally asked for- but it’s taught me to appreciate each and every day to the full. That’s a kind of a blessing.


Next Episode: What people got up to in the hospital wards ........