David James Betts – My Cancer Story
I suffered with malignant Parotid Carcinoma to the right side of my face in 1980 when my two children were very young. I first noticed a swelling that started to get in the way when I turned my head. This became a hard mass under my right ear. The results of the tests confirmed that I had a malignant tumour in my right Parotid Gland. It was explained to me that it would be necessary to remove the tumour and the gland. I was also told that the surgery would sever the facial nerve. The invasive surgery caused a good deal of damage as a result of my facial nerve being severed when the tumour and gland were removed causing paralysis. This resulted in the right side of my face collapsing, so my right eye lid didn't work and my mouth drooped on that side. I ended up with a smile on one side. This was followed by a course of intensive Radiotherapy at Clatterbridge Hospital which ultimately created later issues of its own. The prognosis was very poor and I was given 6 months at the outside. I looked and felt a mess and went through many difficult and depressing times. But hey, 40 years later I'm still here following a very successful career in the police service, during which I was awarded the Queens Police Medal for Distinguished Service to the Community which I received from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2001. I am very proud of this honour and particularly as in the early days I had no idea what was ahead for me and my family. I retired from the Cheshire Police in 2003 following 30 years service. I carried on working in the security and forensic solutions areas until retirement at age 65.
My operation to remove the tumour in 1980 was carried out at Warrington General. In the years following the initial operation I have been an in patient at Whiston Hospital on Merseyside on many occasions for plastic surgery to repair the damage caused when my facial nerve was severed. I kept asking them to give me a George Clooney look alike, but needless to say, it didn't work. I subsequently was rushed to hospital following a fall caused by wrongly prescribed drugs. The fall caused me to collide with the house wall which resulted in a broken rib and pneumothorax.
In 2009 the damage from the radiotherapy had affected the skull bone in that area which had become manky and needed in part to be removed, I had already lost my hearing in that ear and the surgery caused me to lose my ear entirely but hey ho!! I now have a prosthetic ear. This has been a story in itself, firstly attending Whiston Hospital, Salford Royal and now the best yet at Nottingham University Hospital. A long journey but worth it to get the best outcome.
Also in 2012 I suffered a torrential bleed and was later informed this was related to my original radiotherapy. I was rushed to Warrington General Hospital having passed away twice and fortunately kept alive be the wonderful paramedics. I was subsequently transferred to Walton Hospital for an operation to seal the bleed with stents. When returned to Warrington I spent two weeks in a coma in ICU.
During my career I have throughout been in roles that require me to speak publicly at meetings and give presentations to groups large and small. I have always been aware of how I am perceived by audiences due to the facial damage. Children can be the most difficult as they are inquisitive and are always the first to point and stare. I have on occasion explained to them so they understand. During the latter part of my police career I developed a large partnership of young peoples groups throughout all the towns High Schools and colleges which proved very successful and provided them with opportunities to contribute to others. The Princess Royal accepted my invitation to view their presentations and work. I have been a member of the Board of Trustees for Priestley College, Warrington, The Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Trust, St Roccos Hospice and chaired many organisations meetings. I was President of Warrington Rotary and the Officer in Charge of the Home Office Attendance Centre. Recently I have given a number of presentations to Secondary school pupils as a part of my work with SmartWater Technology. Before the presentations I used my experience in the hope that it would act as an inspiration to the young people in the hope that they would see that even when life becomes difficult and hard to cope with, by adopting a positive attitude, so much can be achieved.
I imagine like all people who have suffered with cancer we have our up moments and sometimes very low moments. In the early stages there were more down moments than up. The low moments can be very difficult to cope with. At the time I was diagnosed, I seemed to have everything going for me. I was just 30, had passed my promotion exam and my job prospects were looking good. I had a lovely family, I had been married for 9 years to the love of my life Glenys whom I met when we were both 17, we got married at 21 and have been happily married ever since. My son was 5 and daughter 3 at the time of diagnosis. I believe that I have only made it this far with keeping a positive outlook and most importantly also the support of my wife. I am very lucky. Glenys should be the one who received an honour from the Queen.
My work colleagues were very good particularly when they provided transport for Glenys to and from Clatterbridge whilst I was an in-patient. I was with the CID at the time. It's funny the things people say to you particularly colleagues when they find out you have cancer. I'm certain the things said to me were all meant with the best of intentions. The first day I returned to work at Warrington Police Station I was met on the main corridor by a colleague. His words were, “Oh Dave, if it had been me, I'd have topped myself!” Made me feel better!! (Not) I can't count the number of people who said, “Never mind it could have been worse!” At the time and for some time after I can assure you that the way I felt, taking into account the effects of the operation and the radiotherapy, the change in my appearance, the damage to my job prospects and future, also not knowing what the longer term situation would be for my wife and two very young children, I couldn't then see what could have been worse.
I realise now though, by keeping a positive outlook, never giving into it, coupled with the medical support and tremendous support from my wife in particular, family and friends. Yes, things could have been much worse. I've always said since, that I would like the following to be on my tombstone.
David James Betts
Died date: …........................, “Never mind, It could have been worse!!” Just my sense of humour.
l'd really wish to help others in a similar predicament and hopefully inspire them with my story and experience. If nothing else, give them some hope and positiveness out of something that is so earth shattering. I would be pleased to see a way for me to achieve that.
In 2012 I suffered a torrential bleed which put me in hospital again. I worked until 65 and am still a Trustee for the Cheshire based Drugwatch Trust.
I was 30 when I was diagnosed on the 14th February (Valentines Day) and in February 2020 I celebrate my 70th Birthday. Still a youngster though!! We have a happy life and have a two lovely Granddaughters. I remain very positive, I love life and would like to assist others. ( 6 months,“My A... !!”)
I have always been aware throughout my journey that other than friends, relatives and colleagues there has been a lack of support for those suffering with Head and Neck cancer related issues. At the end of 2019 following a visit to Nottingham University Hospital I started up a Support group entitled Heads2gether Warrington. This is now gaining support and I am so pleased that I can now pursue something that I have so wished to do throughout my journey and which has been sadly lacking…
David James Betts QPM