A mum-of-two had to have half of her tongue and a chunk of her neck removed after a persistent mouth ulcer turned out to be cancer.
When Karen Liesching-Schroder, 47, initially noticed the small ulcer on the right side of her tongue, she thought nothing of it.
But when it was still there 18 months later, she decided to get it checked out by doctors.
An initial biopsy to check if the ulcer was malignant came back all clear, but several months later, Karen found herself unable to eat and in immense pain, so returned for further tests.
A second biopsy revealed the ulcer was a symptom of underlying tongue cancer.
“I was naive and never imaged it would be anything sinister as I am healthy and never smoked before,” Karen, from Rochford, Essex, says.
“I associated mouth cancers to elderly men who smoke so I was shocked when I was diagnosed.”
The mum says she’d been too scared to look inside her mouth for fear of what she might find, so when the nurse described it as a hole in her tongue, she couldn’t believe it.
In March 2016 Karen had the right side of her tongue removed and underwent a neck dissection to prevent the cancer from spreading to her glands.
After six weeks of radiotherapy doctors revealed the nursery nurse was in remission, but her joy was short-lived as months later she began experiencing pain again.
In November 2016 she had a further health scare when doctors discovered she had an aggressive form of oral thrush, but thankfully it was able to be treated with antibiotics.
However, the mum did have to have further ulcers removed from under her tongue and take morphine for four months.
Though Karen is recovering well she has been left with problems swallowing as the radiotherapy damaged the base of her tongue.
“I have lost confidence as my speech is sometimes slurred but I had speech therapy last year to help with both swallowing issues and confidence,” she explains.
But thankfully she avoided having to have her teeth removed or her tongue reconstructed.
Karen has chosen to open up about her experiences to urge people not to dismiss health problems and pain, and to raise awareness of mouth cancer.
“I am sharing my story so people do not think they are fine because they are healthy and non-smokers because it can happen to anyone,” she says.
“People have many misconceptions about mouth cancer as it isn’t spoken about enough.
“I am very lucky that they caught the cancer quick enough.”
According to Cancer Research UK tongue cancer is a type of head and neck cancer.
Symptoms can include a patch, spot or lump on your tongue that doesn’t go away.
The main risk factors are smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol and infection with the HPV virus.
The treatment for tongue cancer depends on the stage of your cancer, where the cancer is on your tongue and your general health, but can include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, either combined or on their own.
The NHS says Mouth cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, but it's much less common in the UK.
Around 6,800 people are diagnosed with mouth cancer each year in the UK, which is about 2% of all cancers diagnosed.