Mark Steel has revealed he initially thought a newfound lump in his neck was so trivial it could be treated with ‘vaseline or garlic’ – before doctors diagnosed it as throat cancer.
The comedian, 63, found the growth while shaving and within six weeks of blood tests, scans and biopsies he was given the bad news.
‘I went to the doctors, expecting to be told there’s no need to worry, it’s a harmless lump that could be cured by Vaseline and garlic’ he wrote in The Mirror.
The funnyman recalled being informed of the diagnosis branding the doctor as having ‘slightly less emotion than a mechanic’ who was fixing his clutch.
Mark compared himself to a failing football team after receiving so many pieces of bad news, but recalled his son Elliot, 26, shouting ‘There’s your first win of the season’ when the physician told him the disease hadn’t spread to his lungs.
The TV regular is currently forced to feed himself through a tube due to problems swallowing following surgery.
Writing: ‘I feed myself with a syringe into this tube, which can be awkward if someone comes round as I automatically want to offer them some. Because it’s rude not to offer food to your guests while you’re eating, even if you would have to carry out a medical procedure on them to do it’.
Mark announced the devastating diagnosis on his blog last month, but assured that it is a cancer ‘that can be got rid of’.
As well as performing stand-up, Mark has written several radio and television shows, as well as a number of books.
He has also appeared frequently on Have I Got News For You, Room 101, Mock the Week, The Graham Norton Show, and Question Time.
He was due to perform at Norwich last month as part of his tour that was meant to continue until Peterborough in April 2024, but all of his shows have now been postponed.
Writing in his blog Mark recalled that during his appointment was when ‘everything changed’ after the radiologist said he would need a biopsy.
He wrote: ‘“Biopsy?” I thought, “But that’s how cancer starts. It always starts with a biopsy,’ before adding, ‘a biopsy makes everything seem grotesquely, cancerously real.’
A doctor then gave him the prognosis over the phone that his ‘chances’ were ‘not good’.
Mark then explained that he was emailed and told his biopsy was lost, and would have to come in for another ‘to see what stage of cancer you have’.
He wrote: ‘”Hang on,” I said, “No one has said it’s definitely cancer, are you saying it’s definitely cancer?” She paused. “Yes. Had no one told you?”‘
The comedy writer expressed that he did not blame the NHS, but said: ‘Most of the staff are paid appallingly and treated with contempt. Their minister quit and went on I’m a Celebrity, so don’t take out your frustrations on them. Even so, it’s reasonable to ask politely how they could have lost the biopsy and forgotten to tell me I had f***ing cancer’.
In his typical comedic way, he wrote about the awkwardness of having to tell his son, daughter, agent, friends and partner.
He said: ‘I was in the exciting early slightly hesitant stages of a new relationship that seemed extremely promising. So one evening I had to say “By the way I might have cancer”.’
Mark added: ‘Most cancers now are seen as curable. Even the ones that aren’t curable are treatable, and patients live for many years. My generation were brought up thinking cancer was as final as being beheaded, but that’s no longer true. If it’s cancer, there will be a plan to deal with the cancer.’
He went on to say praise the NHS, from scientists, to doctors, to cleaners, to campaigners, for helping ensure that he could survive a disease that would’ve once been fatal.
WHAT IS OROPHARYNGEAL CANCER?
The oropharynx is the part of the throat directly behind the mouth.
Symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer include:
- a painless swelling or lump in the neck
- a sore throat or tongue
If you have symptoms, it is important to have them checked by your GP.
They may refer you to a specialist for tests.
These may include a test to examine your throat closely.
The doctor may also take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) to make a diagnosis.
Treatments for oropharyngeal cancer include:
- surgery to remove the cancer
- radiotherapy, which treats the cancer with high energy x-rays
- chemotherapy and targeted therapy, which use drugs to destroy cancer cells.
Your doctor will discuss with you the best treatment for you.
Side effects of treatment depend on your situation and the treatment you have.
You may get a sore or dry mouth and have difficulty eating.
Your hospital team will tell you more about what to expect.
There are lots of things that can help you manage side effects during and after treatment.