A mum-of-three says she is lucky to be alive after doctors gave her Bonjela for a harmless “mouth ulcer” which turned out to be oral cancer.
Nicole Freeman, 25, was four months pregnant when she first noticed a sore at the back of her tongue in November 2020.
Unable to see her GP due to Covid restrictions, Nicole claims she spoke to her doctor and sent photos of the sore five times on a monthly basis as it got progressively worse, Yorkshire Live reports.
The young mum says GPs told her it was nothing to worry about and prescribed her Bonjela – a product that aims to relieve the pain of mouth ulcers – medicated mouthwash, and Vitamin B.
But when hospital staff noticed she was struggling to talk when she was giving birth in March, the “‘ulcer” was diagnosed as oral cancer just days later – and doctors told her she would have been dead by the summer if it was left any longer.
Nicole, from York, said: “I was in shock, absolutely terrified and couldn’t even speak. I just looked at my baby girl and cried – she was only a week old at this point.
“It should have been a happy time but instead I was making every day with my baby count until I had to go into hospital for a month for surgery and treatment.”
The news left Nicole’s husband Jake, 28, devastated and fearing the worst for their family, including newborn baby Nevaeh, now three-months, and her older sister Holly, five.
Jake said: “The doctor noticed Nicole was struggling to talk and took a look at her tongue – by this time it was weeping and oozing constantly.
“He said if it was an ulcer it should have reduced by now and it looked a bit suspicious, so he sent her for a biopsy four days after she gave birth.
“We came home with the newborn and two weeks later got the call to say it was oral cancer.
“They said if Nicole hadn’t been pregnant and in the hospital to give birth she would’ve died by June.
“It was shocking to hear how bad it was and the news affected Nicole badly – she’d only just given birth so she didn’t want to die so soon.”
The mum claims she had been told repeatedly by her GP that the sore was just an ulcer since they are common in pregnant women who develop a Vitamin B deficiency, as Nicole did.
Nicole underwent a 15-hour operation to remove the tumour and half of her tongue, replacing it with skin and veins from her left arm.
Surgeons found that the cancer had already started to spread to her lymph nodes and so Nicole also had to be cut from ear to ear to remove them.
She then spent four weeks recovering in the ICU, depended on a tracheotomy to breathe and is now still learning to talk and swallow again.
Nicole started chemotherapy and radiotherapy last week on June 10, and will be an in-patient at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds for four to six weeks during this treatment.
Jake said: “Nicole is very upset to have to be an in-patient during her treatment because baby Nevaeh is starting to do more things like smiling and she’s worried about missing out.
“But she needs to be sedated for chemo with a breathing tube for her own safety.
“We’re hoping she’ll finish her treatment after four weeks when our oldest daughter breaks up for the summer holidays so we can enjoy some family time.”
A spokesperson for Priory Medical Group in York said: “The group is sorry to hear about this individual’s experience but it is unable to comment on the confidential medical history and records for any of its patients.”
The couple are appealing for donations on a GoFundMe page to help with travel costs for the family visiting Nicole during treatment as she is unable to work.