An Irish Olympian who was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2016 has said he didn’t know anything was wrong until his dentist noticed a lump at a routine check.
Cathal O'Grady competed for Ireland in the Men’s Heavyweight category at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, he said his toughest fight came 20 years later when he was diagnosed with mouth cancer.
He was speaking to Anton Savage to mark Mouth Cancer Awareness week and encouraged anyone who notices any symptoms to get them checked out.
“When the dentist first spotted the lump and asked me how it had been there. I didn’t even know I had a lump,” he said.
“There was no discomfort. When she showed it to me, I could see it then, but it didn’t cause me any concern at all.”
O’Grady said his treatment involved the removal of a significant amount of his soft palette, hard palette and a lot of the jawbone on the left-hand side of his face.
After that he had 35 radiotherapy sessions at St Luke’s Hospital.
He said he always felt lucky that his dentist had caught the cancer in time.
“There is always something worth fighting for and, in my case, I had a prognosis whereby with the correct treatment I could overcome it,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t have that opportunity. It’s just a cancer diagnosis and the rest is just downhill and horrible.
“I was given, by my dentist, an opportunity to go through a little bit of a rough period for a time but then come out the other end."
The Olympic boxer said his hope is that the experience helped him to develop a bit more resilience and compassion.
“Anyone who walks the corridors of St Lukes or St James’s, it will have quite an impact on you,” he said.
“You just feel embarrassed to be in there with some people. The situations they go through and how brave they are – and the reality is they have nothing to be brave for really, you know.
“So, I had to do my little bit and hopefully come out the other end. I am five years cancer free which is good. Only that the Mouth Cancer Awareness Week got in touch, I don’t really think about it on a daily basis – which is good.”
Over 700 people are diagnosed with mouth, head and neck cancer in Ireland every year.
O’Grady said the best way to protect yourself form mouth cancer is to visit your dentist and keep an eye for any changes in your mouth tissue.
“Initial changes could be like a lump in your mouth,” he said.
“It could be a red or white patch. It could be a cold sore or a mouth ulcer that doesn’t go away. It’s worth going to your dentist with any of these and they’ll point you in the right direction.”
Symptoms of mouth, head and neck cancer include:
- A sore or ulcer in your mouth that does not heal
- White or red patches inside the mouth
- A lump in the mouth or neck
- Thickening or hardening of the cheek or tongue
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue
- Numbness of the tongue or face
- A persistent sore throat and hoarseness
- Persistent nosebleeds and a stuffy nose
- Unexplained loose teeth
Early detection saves lives. When in doubt, get it checked out.
You can listen back to Cathal O’Grady here: