Maureen Naylor can never laugh again.
It’s the devastating legacy from her time as a 40-a-day smoker.
And today, the Wearside woman described the nightmare of being a cancer sufferer in a message to get smokers to quit as part of a hard-hitting new campaign.
Maureen, 68, was diagnosed with throat cancer four years ago after decades of cigarettes.
Read more: Sunderland’s shocking health legacy: Five people a week die from smoking
She thinks her 53 years of smoking cost her tens of thousands of pounds, but it’s the health consequences which have affected her the most, and she admitted: “I have to face up to it, I have brought it on myself.”
Her worst fears were realised after a tumour was found in her throat. Now, after having a full laryngectomy and neck dissection, she has to speak and breathe through a hole in her neck.
Simple pleasures in life, such as laughing, swimming and even eating spicy foods, are a thing of the past.
Maureen, of Donwell, Washington, said her decades of cigs began in the school playground.
Other girls were smoking so she did the same. “I was spending £40 a week and it must have amounted to thousands over the years.”
She ignored all the warning and all the signs, both on television campaigns and at work.
I was aware of smoking being linked to cancer but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I saw all the adverts and the warnings but I ignored them. But it did happen to me, don’t let it happen to youMaureen Naylor
Maureen, who used to work at Reyrolles, in Hebburn, recalled: “I was smoking five a day back then and a man at work told me it would go to 20-a-day and more.”
She ignored the piece of friendly advice and admitted: “You go through life, you see all the television adverts and the photos and you think it will never happen to you. It did.”
She added: “It was January 2012 when I was diagnosed but I started having problems the October before. I had a sore throat which developed into earache but I ignored these, I know I should have got them checked sooner.
“It was only when my voice started to deepen and I began to find swallowing difficult that I knew something had to be done.
“I was first given antibiotics, which didn’t work, then I had blood tests and I was sent straight for an endoscopy. They found a tumour on my throat which was attached to my larynx and a biopsy confirmed it was cancerous.”
Maureen, a stepmother, step grandmother and step great grandmother, needed an operation as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy after the operation.
And she added: “I didn’t know going into the surgery if I would ever talk again. Not everyone is suitable for the special valve which enables you to speak after the operation so there was no guarantee.
“I was lucky and made quite a quick recovery. I haven’t had my five years all clear yet but it has certainly changed my attitude to life – I make sure to do things that make me happy as life’s too short.”
And in a stark message to smokers, she admitted: “There’s lasting negative impacts that the cancer continues to have on my life too. I still have swallowing difficulties, I lost my sense of smell, I can’t go swimming because I have to be careful not to get water into the stoma in my throat. I can’t laugh anymore, I can’t swallow most meats and spicy foods burn my throat as a result of the radiotherapy.”
It all follows a lifetime of smoking which started when she was 12 or 13 and eventually led to a 40-a -day problem.
“I was aware of smoking being linked to cancer but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I saw all the adverts and the warnings but I ignored them. But it did happen to me, don’t let it happen to you.”