A grandmother who is set to abseil down ‘Spinnaker Tower’ in Portsmouth in September in honour of fellow throat cancer survivors has opened up about the lack of awareness surrounding HPV-related throat cancers and also the impact both the disease and diagnosis had on her.
Victoria Workman, 59, told how she was grilled with personal questions surrounding her sex life and was told she may have caught the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) by sharing a kiss after being diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer.
It comes as the Throat Cancer Foundation is focused on a nationwide campaign aimed at tackling the stigma of people living with HPV-related throat cancers.
‘No More HPV Stigma’ focuses on bringing together medical professionals and people who have lived with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) linked head and neck cancers to facilitate an open dialogue about changes that could make a big difference in the education surrounding HPV and the experiences of throat cancer patients.
Speaking of her own challenges, Victoria said: “I didn’t understand the HPV bit when I was told about my cancer, it was bad enough being told you have the “big C”. Then I understood. I was asked very personal questions.
“My replies were; no, I wasn’t sleeping around, no, I didn’t have many sexual partners before my husband, and yes, we are humans who do what humans do”.
“HPV doesn’t mean I’m promiscuous or have been. I was told you could contract HPV just by kissing”.
“My HPV story is like many others – it’s just an awful case of bad luck. We must just get on with our recovery, educate and support others.”
The retired children’s work manager also revealed how a medic told her to gargle TCP when she sought help for her illness at the Accident and Emergency unit back in 2012.
Now, gran-of-two Victoria is training to abseil the Spinnaker Tower in a bid to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of throat cancer”.
Victoria, of Worthing, said: “Nine years ago I realised something was wrong, so my mum insisted I go to A&E to get it seen to”.
“I kept choking and I had this awful cold which just wouldn’t shift and my mouth was in a lot of pain”.
“There was a very nasty consultant there said I shouldn’t be going to A&E for something as minor as a sore throat”.
“He told me to gargle some TCP and sent me on my way”.
“Just after that I went for two scans and the other doctor said it was apparent that I had throat and mouth cancer”.
When she takes part in the 170 metre high abseil challenge on Saturday the 25th of September this year, Victoria is planning on wearing a very unique costume, to remind her of the fact she’s beaten throat cancer, to highlight awareness of the signs to look for and to raise vital funds for the Throat Cancer Foundation.
She continued: “I wanted to do something that was really going to challenge me because I have no fear so that’s why I chose the abseil.
“I’m in training for it and every time I train, I suck in as much oxygen as I can through my mouth.
“I can feel the air on my scar tissues and it’s a reminder of how far I’ve come.”
The Throat Cancer Foundation is the only organisation to have provided nearly 20,000 information booklets to 300 cancer treatment centres for patients and medical professionals involved with the care of throat cancer patients throughout the UK on HPV and how medics should explain the virus to sufferers, loved ones and couples.
The Foundation’s aim is to tackle misconceptions about HPV-related throat cancers, after winning a nationwide campaign to have boys vaccinated against HPV in 2018.
Jamie Rae, Chief Executive of the Throat Cancer Foundation, commented: “Despite our relentless attempts to dispel the myths surrounding HPV, there is still a number of misconceptions surrounding the virus.
“There has been a large amount of media coverage in terms of busting the myths around HPV related cervical cancers of late, and we feel there should be the same level of awareness in relation to HPV-related throat cancers.”
Victoria says, “This time last year I was sat on my sofa super unfit thinking how crazy it would be to abseil down the spinnaker tower”.
“Today I am a gran of two, 59-years-old and I am active every single week”.
“I will be abseiling for every throat cancer survivor and victim as this illness can literally take your soul away”.
“The best you’ll get is that you have too much or too little saliva, lose a lot of weight, lose all senses in your mouth. The worst you’ll get is you lose your voice and your throat or even death”.
“I want you to all the know the signs and symptoms because I didn’t and neither did my doctor initially. 1) take notice of any sore lumps in throat/ cheek/ tongue 2) see more than one specialist 3) don’t give up”.
“The Throat Cancer Foundation works to reduce future cases of throat cancers. This includes; funding research into prevention and cure, advocating healthier lifestyles and campaigning for universal HPV vaccination”.
“Every year in the UK 14,500 people will be diagnosed with a throat cancer and of that figure 4,500 will sadly lose their lives to it”.
“It is not a cancer that is often spoken about; there are little to no national publicity campaigns and for that reason it does not attract funding like other cancers to help raise awareness and to allow major investment in vital and important medical research that would achieve improved treatment processes and better survival rates”.