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Talking therapist who was told he would never speak again defies the odds to recover and teach junior doctors

When Paul Roebuck was told he had tongue cancer in 2017 he felt his world had collapsed.

Just a few years before his diagnosis Paul had left his job to set up his own talking therapy and counseling business – but then doctors told him he may never speak again because they had to remove part of his tongue.

Through strong-will and determination Paul has defied the odds. Four years on from the devastating diagnosis, he has not only recovered his speech but now teaches junior doctors at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust, where he was treated, on how to deliver bad news to patients.

Paul said: “When I go in to the hospital I feel so blessed, honoured and privileged. The nurses, doctors and staff have no idea how important they are. It is just incredible how much they care.

I have a great sense of pride and commitment to UHCW. When I deliver my course to the doctors I just want to make some of it stick, when they leave I want them to have new information. It really is an important place for me.”

His incredible journey started back in 2017, while holidaying with his wife in Las Vegas. One day Paul woke to the taste of blood in his mouth. In the preceding weeks he had bitten his tongue a few times and resolved to get it checked out when he returned to the UK.

Following a check at his dentists, Paul was sent straight to Warwick Hospital for a biopsy. A few weeks later he was asked to go for a second biopsy at University Hospital, Coventry, before being asked to visit his consultant at hospital.

Paul said: “As soon as my dentist looked into my mouth I knew something was wrong, I will never forget the look of utter surprise on her face.

“When I was called back to University Hospital, Coventry, to see Dr Walton I thought it was to be discharged, but when I walked in there was 10 people in the room so I knew something wasn’t right.”

Paul was told he had tongue cancer and would need to have two thirds of his tongue removed, leaving him completely floored.

The shock I felt was bad,” he continued. “The group were there to explain what the surgery would be and the implications of it. I just thought how it could impact my speech, as a talking therapist that was scary.

“How could I do my job if I couldn’t speak. I was told to prepare to be unintelligible on the phone.”

Paul had to undergo an eight hour operation at University Hospital, Coventry. The surgeons removed the cancerous part of Paul’s tongue and lymph nodes before taking flesh from his wrist to build Paul a new tongue.

When Paul woke from surgery he could not see, talk or walk. Six days after the operation Paul was able to utter a few words.

“That was the moment I knew I had beaten it, wild horses were not going to stop me now,” he added.

“I had no choice really. It was either sit and sob or grab life and make the most out of it. Rather than restrict my life, it has added to my sense of perspective. I thought I’m damn well going to enjoy my life.”

During his recovery Paul spent three months with a speech therapist, learning to talk again. Each night he would practice his letters and sound phrases with his wife, as he learned how to use his new tongue.

Paul had recorded himself throughout his cancer journey and shared updates on his Facebook page, which quickly became a new support group for people affected by oral cancers.

The page attracts views and comments from all over the world. Paul shares informational materials, on what patients can expect from surgery and recovery, and motivational messages to let people know that there are happy endings in sight.

As well as providing support to oral cancer patients through his Tongue Cancer Journey Facebook page, Paul is also giving back to the hospital that cured him.

As well as teaching junior doctors Paul is a regular volunteer at University Hospital, Coventry, taking part in the hospital’s Compassionate Communities project, which helps patients through end-of-life care.

Kristine Davies, head of voluntary services at UHCW, said: “Paul is a breath of fresh air and an absolute inspiration. From the moment we met him at his interview to become a volunteer it was clear he was going to be an invaluable addition to our team of volunteers.

“The pure strength and determination he has shown to be able to speak again and to support members of our community has been phenomenal. His expertise as a talking therapist has lended itself so well to support patients in the community.”

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