Barbara, now 33, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I noticed the ulcer but was sure it was just a minor thing. They’re really common. I didn’t want to make a fuss.
‘It was tiny and the pain was quite sharp when I was eating sometimes but you could easily ignore it – I never thought it would be cancer.’
When she first found the ulcer, she went to a family friend who worked as a pharmacist.
A few weeks later, she returned and the friend recommended seeing a dentist, who told her it looked like two of her teeth were rubbing on the ulcer, preventing it from healing.
After having some of her teeth filed down, she was told to return two weeks after that, but again, the ulcer didn’t get any better.
She says: ‘They were actually really apologetic at the dentist because it really looked like nothing but they said it was protocol to refer me to the hospital.
‘I went to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital and the doctor there wasn’t sure either. She said she would see me again in another few weeks.
‘Eventually, as it hadn’t gone away, they decided to do a biopsy to see what it was, which was done in mid December.’
Due to get the results on December 31, once the swelling from the biopsy went down Barbara enjoyed Christmas, not giving too much thought to the upcoming hospital appointment.
When the day came, she attended with her fiancé Nick Fountain. She said: ‘I was actually really relaxed about the appointment.
My partner and I were even dozing off a bit as we were in the waiting room because we really didn’t think this was going to be anything sinister.
‘I went into the room and there were five people there and I thought that was a bit excessive.
‘The oral health consultant and surgeon started asking me questions about why I’d decided to get it checked out and eventually he just said: “It’s a really good job you did because it’s bad news – you have cancer.”’
She had MRI and CT scans, blood tests and x-rays and surgery to remove the tumour was then scheduled for 7 February 2019.
The huge 12-hour operation meant removing about 2cm by 3cm of tongue at the back, as well as some glands and lymph nodes in her neck as a precaution.
They then cut along her arm to remove some of the fat and tissue for her new tongue and an artery to create a transplant.
They then took skin from her leg to create a graft for her arm. Barbara was warned that as each person’s tongue is unique, there was no way to tell what impact the surgery would have on her speech and ability to eat.
She says: ‘I am really chatty and public speaking is a part of my work so talking is a huge part of my identity.
The risks were a big thing to come to terms with but this was the best treatment. ‘My medical team were amazing and I felt taken care of. I trusted them completely.’
Luckily, when she came round from the surgery, she was immediately able to speak and has not needed any speech therapy.
Although the operation was successful, there has been a long-term impact on her life. She says: ‘That part of my tongue is lame and sometimes food will get stuck. I don’t really like people watching me eating as sometimes it involves sticking my fingers in my mouth.
‘It took a long time for recovery in my arm. It had a big impact on the movement in my arm but hopefully, over time, the skin will loosen and it will improve.
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