'I was diagnosed with a rare tongue cancer at just 19 years old'

'I was diagnosed with a rare tongue cancer at just 19 years old' <i>(Image: Rachel Morton)</i>
'I was diagnosed with a rare tongue cancer at just 19 years old' (Image: Rachel Morton)

A teenager was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery after being diagnosed with a rare tongue cancer.

Rachel Morton, 22, was only nineteen when she was diagnosed with advanced oral squamous cell carcinoma in December 2020.

She said: "When you’re a teenager you’re developing your sense of identity and self then cancer comes along and it’s tumultuous."

In 2019 Rachel started to suffer from painful mouth ulcers, then she became increasingly tired and started falling asleep in the daytime.

She later developed rashes on her lips and after several GP appointments was referred for a biopsy.

Rachel, who was in her second year of university, was rushed into surgery for a 16-hour operation.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Two-thirds of her tongue had become cancerous, and it had spread into her jaw and into her lymph nodes, so all had to be removed alongside the blood supply, as it could have carried malignant cells.

Surgeons then used muscle and blood vessels from her legs to reconstruct her tongue and the arteries and veins in her neck.

After the operation Rachel was left unable to speak or walk, and found out that as the cancer was aggressive, she would also need go through a gruelling schedule of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

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Glasgow Times:

The Lanarkshire teen was studying at Edinburgh University when she was treated at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

As Rachel’s treatment took place at the height of the pandemic, and she was unable to have visitors or mingle with other patients, the support of her Teenage Cancer Trust Nurse Fiona and Youth Support Worker Nicola became incredibly important to her.

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Glasgow Times:

She said: "Getting through all I went through without Fiona and Nicola would have been near impossible.

“Fiona is so kind and so caring and she honestly is a ray of sunshine, so warm to be around, and so thoughtful and reassuring.

"She was there for my family too, especially when they couldn’t visit and needed updates on how I was doing and someone to answer their questions.

“Nicola is young and interesting and funny and because I couldn’t leave my room would sit and talk to me for hours, and it never felt like she was being paid to be there.

"Without her I would have been incredibly lonely.”

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She added: “Teenage Cancer Trust funded staff like Fiona and Nicola have more time to spend with younger patients and that makes such a difference.  That gave me consistency and familiarity and a chance to talk about how I was feeling at a very scary time.

“You’re always seen as a young person first and they understand that underneath it all is a person with interests and a family, you’re not just a medical mystery to fix.

“Pressures on the NHS mean that the funding raised by the charity for units in hospitals for young people, and nurses and support workers who are trained to work with younger patients is more important than ever.

“But the charity is finding it harder to raise the money it needs to continue with all they do and expand so they can reach every young person that needs them.

“This charity has saved my life both physically and mentally - it’s a charity worth giving to - and it needs your support.”

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Glasgow Times:

Rachel is now the face of the charity's latest campaign, Stop Cancer Destroying Teenage Lives.

To find out more, click here.