A model has shared her ordeal after a routine dentist appointment sparked her deadly cancer battle.
Elly Brown, now 45 and from Henderson, Nevada, said her dentist was ‘checking my tongue as usual and felt a lump.’
She was diagnosed with stage one oral squamous cell carcinoma which is normally harmless and had a small piece of her tongue cut out.
The 12-hours surgery
But a year later when ‘unbearable’ pain erupted in her ear, doctors said the cancer had returned and was now stage three — meaning it had spread to her lymph nodes, told Daily Mail.
She was sent for a 12-hour procedure where doctors cut out half her tongue and part of her jaw before rebuilding them using tissue and bone from her leg — an operation that caused her face to swell.
Ms Brown has now recovered and the cancer has not returned, and she has resumed working in media production.
The singer and on-camera host also has lichen planus, a condition where the immune system attacks the skin causing purplish, flat-topped, and itchy bumps or lesions to appear.
The condition is uncommon, affecting about one to two percent of Americans who are typically between 30 and 60 years old.
However, patients who have it are sent for regular oral check-ups to monitor lesions in their mouth and for any cancers that may emerge.
Lichen planus may raise the risk of mouth cancer in long-term cases because of the persistent inflammation.
What is Oral squamous cell carcinoma?
Oral squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed in about 54,000 adults every year — and is more than twice as likely to occur in men compared to women.
About 70 percent of those diagnosed with cancer live for more than five years after their diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.
Describing when she was diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 39, Ms Brown said: ‘My oral surgeon was checking my tongue as usual and felt a lump.
‘He actually said: ”I don’t like the look of that” – which is not exactly what you want to hear from your oral surgeon, but my lichen planus had been getting worse for years.
‘He took a biopsy and it came back positive for cancer; squamous cell carcinoma.’
She added: ‘No one can fully prepare you for being told you have cancer. For about a week, I couldn’t eat, sleep or concentrate.
‘I remember going to my regular hairdresser appointment and just being on the edge of tears, scared that all my hair was going to fall out anyway [even though I’d not had chemotherapy yet].’
The pain became unbearable
Doctors removed the lump in a minor surgery but were unable to follow up with radiotherapy because of her lichen planus.
But then a year later she started to have pain in her ear which quickly became ‘unbearable’, leading doctors to determine the cancer had returned.
‘I went back and demanded to be re-scanned and re-biopsied,’ she said, ‘and that’s when it turned out that the cancer had returned, and it was stage three.
‘They said I needed a hemiglossectomy — getting half of my tongue removed — and a mandibulectomy, replacing my jaw bone with bone from my leg.
‘I’d also need a tracheostomy so I could breathe in the hospital and a feeding tube for five months.
‘And I’d have a big scar running from my lip, down my chin, and around my jaw.’
What is a tracheostomy?
A tracheostomy is when doctors make a small hole at the base of the neck connected to the trachea, or windpipe, to allow someone to breathe and eat without using their mouth.
In May 2018, Ms Brown went for the 12-hour surgeries which also saw them rebuild her tongue and jaw flap using tissue from her leg.
She said: ‘My plastic surgeon and her team were very compassionate and did their best to preserve the natural shape of my face.
‘Not an easy task!
‘After removing the tumor, they got the tissue they needed from my leg and reconstructed my face.
‘I was in the hospital recovering for about nine days, with drains all over my body that came out over time.’