Essex tongue cancer survivor reveals how therapy gave her confidence to socialise again

Tongue cancer survivor Karen Liesching-Schroder, who ran the Southend Half Marathon two weeks after finishing radiotherapy. Picture date: Tuesday April 4, 2023.
Tongue cancer survivor Karen Liesching-Schroder, who ran the Southend Half Marathon two weeks after finishing radiotherapy Credit: PA

A tongue cancer survivor said speech and language therapy helped her to regain her confidence so she could join her family for meals out again.

Karen Liesching-Schroder sought medical help in 2015 when what she thought was an ulcer became unbearably painful.

She was shocked to be diagnosed with cancer the following year because she was a fit and healthy person who had never smoked and drank very little alcohol. She associated mouth cancers with old men who smoked and drank.

The school nursery nurse, from Rochford, Essex, said a speech therapist helped her to regain confidence following surgery.

“Amelia helped me find strategies for dealing with my swallowing issues and eating out in public,” Karen said.

“She also helped me with exercises to help strengthen and straighten my tongue; some of them impossible mechanically and others that over a period of time, practice and perseverance, actually worked.

“We also worked on a meal diary where I had to try different foods and report back to her.”

Karen said it was “a boost” to see how much she had improved when she repeated a survey which was completed when she was first assessed: “Amelia helped me with my speech, food and confidence and it was because of her that I was able to start eating out with my family again.”

When Karen suffered last year from late effects of radiotherapy and severe nerve pain in the area of her tongue that had been removed, she stopped the speech therapy exercises to make everyday life a little easier with pain management.

“I was harder to understand and I had issues with confidence,” she said, but found it helpful to use Makaton which uses symbols, signs and speech to communicate.

“I started introducing Makaton with my family at home in order for them to understand me easier. I taught them the alphabet signs of sounds I couldn’t do and basic signs to get us through. I also bought Makaton into my class setting which helped myself and children with speech and language issues.”

Karen is currently working with highly specialist speech therapist Richard Cave who she met though the Mouth Cancer Foundation for which she is a patient ambassador and runs a support group page.

Mr Cave, who is also an adviser to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, posted about the Project Relate android voice app which aims to help people with non-standard speech to communicate more easily with others.

“I was excited as I thought this would be perfect for people like myself who are speech impaired,” Karen said.

“Once I got the app up and running and began recording voice cards for the phone to recognise my voice, I got more excited.

“Richard wanted to reach more people so I have been posting about this to encourage more mouth cancer patients to come forward and give this a go, seeing as it’s a free app.

“As a speech therapist, Richard has recognised a lot of the hurdles patients like me face, when we go into a cafe and try to order a cappuccino or in a restaurant and order a vegetarian lasagne.

“When we can’t pronounce those important sounds, at least with a voice app trained to understand all our mechanical difficulties with sounds, the voice app can help us with this.

“This app is going to be so important to people like myself.

“I wouldn’t have known about this if it hadn’t been for speech therapists such as Richard wanting to improve our lives.”

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