Dad loses eye, part of nose after common symptom leads to cancer diagnosis

A dad suffering from a watery eye for six months was horrified after it turned out to be facial cancer.

Graeme Heward, from Lymm, Cheshire, has been left with a hole in his face after doctors had to remove his right eye and part of his nose to tackle the tumor. The 58-year-old had spent months dealing with eye problems and had felt pressure on his sinuses but believed he was nothing more sinister than conjunctivitis.

Graeme said he and his doctor initially thought his watery eye was a symptom of conjunctivitis or "dry eye." 

Graeme said he and his doctor initially thought his watery eye was a symptom of conjunctivitis or "dry eye."  (Caters News Agency)

He claims even doctors initially thought it was a dry eye condition before realizing it was cancer.

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Graeme, a physiotherapist, was eventually diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his nasal lining in 2011, which he has dubbed "The Alien".

Since then, he has undergone almost 30 operations and now wears a prosthetic face-piece to help him breathe.

"When doctors told me that they needed to remove part of my nose to get rid of the cancer, they said there was a one in 20 chance things would get messy and they'd need to go back for more," Graeme said. "I thought they were pretty good odds at the time but two weeks after I was called in by the consultant who told me they were going have to go back in and take away my eye."

"I was horrified, and after receiving the worst news in my life, I didn't have anywhere to go, I didn't want to break down in the waiting room with other people," he said. "So I was left to do it in a hospital corridor, I had nowhere to go."

He was prompted to go to the doctor before going on vacation with his 56-year-old partner Lesley Braithwaite.

"When I was diagnosed, Lesley and I had only been together for five years and I said to her I wouldn't mind if she couldn't handle it, but she hasn't wavered once," Graeme said. "She's been absolutely amazing, my biggest support, I honestly don't think I'd be here today without her."

Graeme has had countless surgeries to go back and remove parts of the tumor in his nasal lining, correct his breathing, and fit his prosthetic.

Medics can't give him any more radiotherapy or cut away the tumor any further due to it pushing on a major blood vessel, so he will never be cancer free but regular chemo is preventing it from spreading.

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"I do get some reactions," he said. "I think it gets up my partner, Lesley's nose more than it does mine because when someone stares at me, if I look at them, they look away, whereas she can see people staring for much longer before I've noticed. It doesn't really bother me though, it just makes me feel like how David Beckham must feel. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me."

He says it was two years ago, when his unrelenting cancer left him with only one more treatment option, that he discovered Maggie's charitable cancer support centers.

"I first discovered them about two years ago, when my treatment options were reduced to palliative chemotherapy," Graeme said. "I'd had about 25 operations by then but the cancer still kept coming back and was right up against a major vessel in my neck. Until then I'd never considered alternative medicines, but I realized I was about to exit this world unless I could make drastic changes to my life."

"I made 50 or so changes to diet, environmental exposure, stress reduction, and supplementation," he said. "All these changes coincided with the opening of a Maggie’s center in Manchester near where I live. I just used to go in and take a seat, they'd offer me a cup of tea and I found it a lovely inspiring place to be. I always felt comfortable, they're a little sanctuary where the staff understand what you're going through."

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Graeme was inspired to start a fundraiser for Maggie's in last year at the same time he received his successful facial prosthetic which has helped him to breathe and sleep properly and covered up the hole in his face.

He's planning to cycle 1,090 miles from Swansea to Inverness to raise £50,000 for the charity.

"I realized too few people were aware of Maggie’s facilities and resources, so I thought he’d try to change that, by cycling between all 22 Maggie’s centres, zigzagging across the country from Swansea to Inverness in 17 days," he said. It's been fantastic doing the ride to this point seeing the centers and meeting the staff and feeling the atmosphere in each one, it's more than matched my expectations."

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