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Mum who had 90% of tongue cut off proves doctors wrong and learns to speak again

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A woman who had 90% of her tongue removed by surgeons fighting an aggressive cancer has stunned doctors by learning to speak again.

Gemma Weeks had some worries about a mysterious white patch on her tongue for several years, but it was only after a painful hole appeared in her mouth that she took herself into A&E.

On March 1, Gemma. 37, was told she had stage four mouth and neck cancer and was rushed for emergency surgery.

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Medics told the mum-of-one that due to the cancer's aggressive nature she would have to have most of her tongue removed and she might never be able to speak again.

But Gemma defied doctors when she managed to say "hello" to her fiancé and daughter when they came to visit just a few days after the surgery.

And she said that despite still having difficulty with certain words she can now hold normal conversations.

She said: "They rushed the surgery through because of my age, and the aggressiveness of the tumours.

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“I was terrified at the thought of never being able to speak again," Gemma said, "and also to never be able to eat and drink with my mouth. but at the end of the day it was a small price to pay to be alive.

“I would rather see my daughter growing up and not miss all her special moments.

“Initially, after the operation, I wasn’t able to talk at all and doctors thought it would stay that way. The first word I said was hello when my fiancé and daughter came to visit me a few days after surgery.

“It didn't sound at all like me, but it was progress, which I’ve been working on ever since, and now people can actually understand me, mostly."

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Surgeons removed 90 per cent of Gemma’s tongue on March 6 at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, with skin grafts taken from her arm to help rebuild it.

They also removed all the glands in Gemma’s neck.

She added: "The surgeons were brilliant, they worked miracles on me by rebuilding the left side of my mouth, and my tongue with grafts from my arm.

“They used a vein, a nerve and lots of flesh from my left arm.”

"I can mostly talk normal now but I struggle with a lot of words, especially if they have c or s in them and i don't sound like I used to. My new tongue is connected to the left side of my mouth so it's extremely difficult."

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Gemma, from March, Cambridgeshire, said she first had symptoms six years ago, which started as a small white patch on the side of her tongue.

She added: “I’d also been going to my doctors in these six years saying I felt ill and drained.

“I ended up going to A&E at the end of February as by that point I had a rather large hole in the side of my tongue and was unable to eat as it was so painful.”

Gemma now faces six weeks to radiotherapy and chemotherapy starting this month but has been supported throughout by her family, friends and fiancé Phillip Miller, 38.

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Pal Claire Shafer has begun a fundraising page that has already raised over £1,100 to help Gemma as she is currently unable to return to her job as a care assistant.

She added: “I wouldn’t have been able to get through what I have without the people I have around me.

"People have been so kind.

“When Claire told me she had started it, I told her that people wouldn’t want to give me money but they have’ to have that support is moving.

"Having that financial support makes such a difference.

“I’m back and forwards to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge most days and with the parking as well, you’re essentially paying to be ill.

“It’s really tough.

"I want to thank everyone who has donated for being so kind.”

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