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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Karolina Komada & Alahna Kindred

Doctors thought fit army veteran had a cyst - now he must re-learn how to eat and drink

A 'fit and healthy' army veteran says he managed to avoid doctors for 20 years until he was diagnosed with stage three cancer.

Personal trainer Lee Webb, 52, thought he had tonsillitis but, when the infection started coming back, he knew something was wrong.

Lee, from Bedford, was diagnosed with tongue, tonsil and lymph node cancer towards the end of February 2022.

During his treatment, he lost 15kg of weight and had to learn to eat and drink again, Bedfordshire Live reports.

Explaining the moment when he found out his diagnosis, Lee said: “I knew there was something wrong, but when you hear the diagnosis, you automatically think you will die in the next week or so. That’s what goes through your mind.

"The doctor said it’s curative, I missed the word. My brain didn't take that into consideration, I thought I will die. I had a 75 per cent chance of survival."

After recovering from Covid in summer 2021, Lee thought he had tonsillitis, but when the infection started coming back, he knew something was wrong.

Lee explained: “I had internal bleeds and I was taken to the hospital for that. It was my first time in the ambulance, first time touching base with the NHS after many, many years. They told me to visit the ear, nose and throat department but I never received an appointment letter because it went to my old address. That just shows how long I didn’t see doctors.

“A few months later, around October, I had a second bout of what I thought was tonsillitis, but also I noticed a lump in my neck. That’s when I started being concerned.”

The first lump appeared in October 2021, but Lee says he wasn't diagnosed until the following February due to the NHS still struggling with the after-effects of the pandemic and limited GP appointments.

“For over a month I tried to make an appointment with the GP," Lee continued. "All I heard was that the lines were broken. Keep trying.

“In January, I thought it was a third bout of this thing, but the lump was getting bigger. I decided to go to the GP, but they refused to let me in."

Lee was told he needed to take a PCR test and wait another three days for a possible appointment.

“But how was I supposed to wait if my throat was in pain? I stood in the car park of my local GP and refused to leave," he added. "Eventually they checked me outside of the car park, when the practice nurse came.

"She noticed I couldn't open my mouth, when normally you can open it for about 30 millilitres - same as three or four fingers - she could barely put one in. The next thing she said you need to see a doctor the next day, and I did.

“But after the blood tests came out negative, around two weeks after I went to the nose, ear and tongue department. I said my GP thinks it is a cyst and then I just heard it’s something more serious."

From that visit, Lee had to go through several biopsies and MRI scan. After it was confirmed it was stage three tongue, tonsils and lymph nodes cancer, he underwent treatment.

Despite his healthy lifestyle, it was the HPV virus in his system that caused the cancer. The virus is commonly known for causing cervical cancer in women but it can also cause cancer in the neck area for both men and women.

Lee said: "I completed my treatment in the beginning of May 2022. A week before my treatment after my second session of chemo I became ill which resulted in me losing some 15kg of weight for which I was admitted to hospital for being underweight.

"I’ve had to learn how to drink and eat again and have only been eating again since the middle of June and still some 10kg from where my weight was pre-cancer. Imagine being punched in the jaw - that’s how I feel most of the days. There is loads of fatigue."

Lee has been supported by his friends and family and even though mentally he admits he's doing well, physically he's still trying to get back to himself. To support his journey in getting stronger and healthier he decided to do a 100 miles cycles between four hospitals, where he was treated.

On Wednesday, July 20, Lee will start at 9am from Bedford hospital, where then he will cycle to Luton & Dunstable Hospital, Stevenage Hospital and at the end to Mount Vernon Cancer Centre just outside Rickmansworth. All of those four hospitals represent steps of his battle with cancer.

Bedford hospital is where he has been diagnosed, followed by Luton & Dunstable hospital where he had to have his teeth removed and Stevenage Hospital were he had his feeding tube installed.

Lee said: "Radiotherapy affects bone structure around the mouth, so doctors need to be able to get back in there if they need to do some treatment. They removed two back teeth but also those that looked like they will need to come out because of the treatment.

"Then, I needed a feeding tube. In Stevenage hospital they have a new way to insert those. You need one, because around four weeks into your treatment, you can't swallow anything. Luckily I stopped using it around four weeks ago, I started learning how to eat again on my own."

The reason behind Lee's cycle is not only to get back to his shape, but he also wants to make people aware about the support which is available out there.

Lee is going to read to other patients during his stops at each of the hospital while raising money for Macmillan.

Unfortunately, his battle with cancer is not over yet. On July 26, Lee will attend a PET scan which will show effects of the treatment.

Lee explained: "Until the end of the month I will try to stay positive and slowly go back to my old habits.

"I know I will be tired and fatigued after the cycle, but it will have a positive impact on my mental health. I need to focus my mind on something else until PET.

"I'm looking forward to that 100 miles cycle, no matter what kind of weather there is, I don't mind."

You can watch Lee's bike cycle here and if you want to support him and Macmillan you can donate money here.

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