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Helen's story


In 2014 Helen was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue that had been caused by the HPV virus. After retiring from her teaching job, Helen had hoped to join a choir but felt her cancer treatment had left her unable to sing like she had with the children at school. She was introduced to our Chelsea Sing with Us choir and is delighted to be able to sing and enjoy the company of the other choristers.

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This is Helen's story:

"My husband and I had been on holiday in 2014. We were sitting on a bus in Dubrovnik and for some reason I put my hand up to my neck where I found a lump. I thought my glands were up because often my glands were up and down but no; it was only on the one side. I thought it was a bit strange.

"About a month later I was going to the doctor for a medication review for an underactive thyroid and I mentioned it to him. He completely ignored what I was there for and said that he didn’t like the sound of that lump and wanted to refer me. He’d given me a piece of paper to hand to the receptionist on my way out which read ‘urgent, suspected cancer’ and as he hadn’t actually mentioned the word cancer to me, it was a bit of a shock.

"The following week I was in the hospital. They thought it might be a cyst and nothing to worry about but ordered a biopsy anyway which proved positive. I had a tumour at the base of my tongue; a basal tongue squamous cell carcinoma. This all came as a bit of a surprise because I’ve never smoked and I don’t drink heavily but apparently my cancer was viral – HPV the same virus that causes cervical cancer.

"They told me the treatment would be very severe and was usually successful. The treatment was severe; I had two rounds of chemotherapy mixed in with daily radiotherapy for six weeks. With radiotherapy you tend to get outbreaks of mouth ulcers and after a fortnight I couldn’t eat or drink very much. I managed to get through it with increasingly liquid food. I was told that the worst always comes after treatment because the effects are accumulative; I ended up in hospital having a nose tube fitted so that I could be fed. I don’t know what I would have done if I had still been teaching, the treatment meant I wasn’t able to do very much. I usually looked after my little grandson and was so worried about having to let my daughter down. It wasn’t until the end of May 2015 that I was able to eat anything socially; eating at home had been a nightmare. Eventually I began to eat properly but I was left with a very croaky voice and unable to sing.

"Not being able to sing was a real sadness for me because one of those things I’d always thought I would do when I retired was join a choir. I was a primary school teacher and we did a lot of singing, especially with the little ones. If it was raining we’d sing ‘rain, rain go away’ and if it was sunny ‘the sun has got his hat on’, we’d even sing the times tables and make up silly words to old tunes. I’m hardly a gifted musician but I used to take assembly singing practice and what we called ‘Sing-alongs’.

"My son who works at the hospital came home one day with a leaflet for Tenovus Cancer Care’s Sing with Us choir and said ‘here’s a choir just for you’. I was delighted.

"It’s so lovely singing with the choir and we punch so far above our weight because very few of us have got great voices but together we make a beautiful sound. I’ve met some really lovely people from all walks of life and we all enjoy each other’s company. We can forget our troubles for the hour that we’re singing; it really is one of those things where we come together to make something bigger than all of us.”

If you'd like to find out more about financial advice, our Sing with Us choirs or any of our cancer support services, click here or call us on 0808 808 1010.