A devoted wife has spoken about her husband’s battle with a lifetime of illnesses in order to raise awareness of mouth cancer.
Colin Wilcock knows what it is like to be ill after being diagnosed with hypocalcaemia, hypoparathyroidism, pernicious anaemia and the rare condition Addison’s disease when he was just eight years old.
The conditions caused him to lose his hair in his teenage years and suffer from vitiligo, a skin condition which left huge white patches on his body and face.
He was also later diagnosed with autoimmune syndrome and Gilberts syndrome.
In 1989, aged 25, Colin married Lynn who he had met when he was 11 after proposing to her on Valentine’s Day earlier that year. The couple had moved to Cornwall together seven years before but they returned to Leigh in 1993 to be closer to their families.
In 2005, Colin developed what seemed to be a fungal infection and started getting mouth ulcers. He tried various treatments but the condition never got any better and he started noticing flesh coming away from his cheek when he brushed his teeth.
No one really hears about mouth cancer which is why we decided to make the film as we felt we could help raise awarenessLynn Wilcock
It was only when he attended an unrelated appointment to see a consultant at the Manchester Royal Infirmary to remove a skin tag that the doctor recognised that he had mouth cancer, which was later confirmed by a biopsy.
Lynn said: “I received a phone call from Colin and he sounded quite nervous. He said ‘I haven’t had the skin tag removed but have just had a biopsy of my mouth and the doctor is 99 per cent sure it is cancer’.
“I couldn’t believe, with what he had been through all his life, that this had to be added to it.”
Colin began radiotherapy at The Christie but the treatment burned his skin leaving his face red and blistered.
At first it seemed to be working but the cancer quickly returned and in October 2007, Colin was told that without surgery he would die before Christmas.
Colin was in theatre for 20 hours and though the surgeons tried to forewarn Lynn of the change in her husband’s appearance, nothing could have prepared her for the moment she saw his face for the first time.
“From a distance, it looked like he had a huge dressing on his face,” she said.
“As I got closer I could see it was a large flap of skin which was attached to him with staples and stitches. There were tubes going in and out of his body and so many machines wired to him.”
When he came round, Colin couldn’t speak because of a tracheotomy and he couldn’t move because he had also had his back cut from the shoulder to below his rib cage so bone from his shoulder blade could be used to make a new jaw and muscle to rebuild his face.
Almost a decade later, Colin has recovered well but he still struggles with how the surgery has affected his appearance. He has had to deal not only with people’s stares and laughs but also frequent torments and even an incident where three youths attacked him and pelted him with eggs.
Colin took to giving people who stare or laugh at him cards explaining his looks while others reacted with shock and apologies if he told them what he had been through.
Earlier this year, Colin and Lynn made a short film for YouTube as a way of educating the people which has now been viewed thousands of times.
Colin and Lynn are eternally grateful to the specialists who have helped them, and those at Manchester’s Royal Infirmary and Christie hospitals who have diagnosed and treated the cancer.
“No-one really hears about mouth cancer which is also why we decided to make the film as we felt we could help to raise awareness,” Lynn said.
But Lynn also wants people to think twice before they laugh at others because of the way they look.
“You just never know what that person has been through,” she said.
For the video, visit youtube.com/watch?v=t4G-JAMoAow.