Brave cancer survivor tells of incredible support

Andrea with grandsons (left to right) Cooper, Ellis and Charlie
Andrea with grandsons (left to right) Cooper, Ellis and Charlie

Through many dark days since being diagnosed with cancer, Andrea McNicholas has been kept going by the love of her family and friends.

Her three children and seven grandchildren have shown incredible love, but then Andrea is an incredible person.

I was told I would have 20 per cent chance of it being cured but if the chemo did not shrink it, there was nothing that could be done. Luckily, the chemo worked

Andrea McNicholas

The 49-year-old has been left with severe facial disfigurement after undergoing surgery for aggressive mouth cancer.

Speaking to the Observer, Andrea said: “This has affected me big time - I won’t go anywhere on my own. I feel so uncomfortable as I think people are staring. My friends keep me going though, as we go to our local pub and play darts.

“My family have been amazing. I don’t think about how I used to look anymore, I can’t turn the clock back but I am thankful to be alive and see my grandchildren grow up.”

The brave mum who lives in New Springs was diagnosed with the disease – by then in its latest stage – in July 2011 after complaining of symptoms including having a hole in her palate which wouldn’t heal for more than a year.

In November of the same year, she underwent a gruelling 20-hour operation, in which her neck was dissected and her nose and part of her jaw were removed.

In the wake of the surgery, the former college kitchen supervisor has been left with irreparable damage to her face.

She’s likely to be fed through a tube for the rest of her life, has difficulty breathing and swallowing, has no sense of taste or smell and her self-esteem is so shattered that she barely leaves the house.

And as if that isn’t enough, Andrea has to live each day with the appalling knowledge that her suffering could have been prevented if it had been detected sooner.

The 49-year-old has been awarded a six figure sum from Wrightington Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Foundation Trust as it accepted full responsibility for the delay in diagnosis, which resulted in her losing her nose and teeth.

Andrea’s troubles began as early as June 2010 when she raised concerns about a small hole in her mouth which was not healing and she also had a lump in her neck.

She had an MRI scan and the radiographer stated that a tumour was growing and she was to be referred to a facial surgeon.

However, this was not reported back to Andrea or her doctor and she was just given antibiotics.

The mother-of-three’s symptoms worsened and by February 2011 she had severe toothache. After several trips to the hospital, she was diagnosed with the late stages of mouth cancer in August.

In November she underwent a 20-hour operation where he nose and part of her jaw was removed.

Andrea said: “By then I knew it was cancer. I was quite calm as I knew what they were going to say.

“I was told I would have 20 per cent chance of it being cured but if the chemo did not shrink it, there was nothing that could be done. Luckily, the chemo worked.

“But this should have been picked up 18 months ago. My life would have been normal if it had been detected then.

“At that point I just would have needed surgery and I would have been back to work within three months. My nose would still be there. It infuriates me. But there is nothing that can be done about it now.

“My mouth is dry 24/7 because the radiotherapy killed my saliva glands and I have no sense of taste or smell.

“I don’t eat - I get fed through a tube in my stomach.

“I used to enjoy going to restaurants every Thursday with my friends but I can’t do that anymore - that does get me down. I really miss eating. I sometimes try soft things like mashed up vegetables, but you get sick of that after a while.”

As the cancer has changed Andrea’s facial structure, the young grandmother said she is too self conscious to go out alone as she feels people will stare at her.

She also had to give up her job as a kitchen supervisor at the Pagefield College campus.

She said: “I absolutely loved that job - it killed me when I had to finish. I don’t see me being able to work again.”

As a result of the delayed diagnosis, WWL trust awarded Andrea £900k.

She added: “It won’t get my life back, but it will help me out.

“I am going to buy a bungalow and I am hoping to go away with my family in the summer. It is my 50th birthday in two weeks .

“I do feel myself getting more confident as time goes on and when my nose gets sorted I will feel even better.”

Last year Andrea’s daughter Gemma Bradley raised more than £1,000 in her mum’s name by taking part in Wigan’s Race for Life.

Gemma said: “She amazes me every single day, and I thank the lord that she is still here with us. She is an inspiration to all and shows that beating cancer is possible.

“She is, in my eyes, super human, a living miracle and I couldn’t be more proud of her. People who stare need to think before doing so, as they have no idea of her story and what she has been through. “

A spokesman for WWL Trust said: “The Trust deeply regrets the shortcomings identified in the care provided and accepted full responsibility for the delay in diagnosis of cancer and expressed its unreserved apologies to Ms McNicholas.  Legal representatives for Ms McNicholas and the Trust have worked to agree an appropriate settlement to provide for Ms McNicholas’s needs now and into the future. The Trust appreciates that money can never fully compensate for the pain and suffering Ms McNicholas has had to endure and would like to pay tribute to the strength she has shown throughout such difficult times. 

“Steps have been taken to implement changes aimed at preventing this from happening again.