Doncaster man who underwent pioneering cancer surgery wants to start support group for sufferers

Rhys Eales hopes to raise awareness ameloblastoma, after he was diagnosed and treated with the disorder. He is pictured here with his wife, Naomi and his daughters Brooke, six and Hannah, two.
Rhys Eales hopes to raise awareness ameloblastoma, after he was diagnosed and treated with the disorder. He is pictured here with his wife, Naomi and his daughters Brooke, six and Hannah, two.
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A South Yorkshire cancer patient who considers himself lucky to be alive wants others to know there is life after the disease.

Rhys Eales, underwent a pioneering surgery to remove a tennis-ball sized face tumour earlier this year.

An x-ray of Rhys's jaw

An x-ray of Rhys's jaw

Surgeons at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire hospital took a section of Rhys Eales’ left fibula, before shaping it, and attaching to his jaw in the 12-hour operation.

Using 3D technology from CT scans, they first carried out virtual surgery on a computer.

They also inserted new blood vessels in Mr Eales’ neck, in a free tissue transfer process.

They brought in a hinge from America for the surgery which cost more than £15,000.

Rhys gives the thumbs up during the early stages of his recovery

Rhys gives the thumbs up during the early stages of his recovery

The tumour, initially thought to be an abscess, was discovered after a dentist visit where Rhys, 26, complained of pain during eating.

It was benign, but had destroyed half his jaw.

“Something kept popping in my mouth all the time,” the Willow Avenue, Cantley man said.

The tumour, he said, was ‘taking over his whole face’.

He’d battled with the pain for about two years before he was diagnosed with a tumour.

“I kept putting up with it. It was quite painful,” he said.

“It was like a toothache, but worse.

“Drinking coke and beer set it off.”

Rhys’s surgeon, Dr Muzzamil Nusrath, is leading the Living Beyond Mouth Cancer group.

It aims to support those living with the disease, and raise awareness of mouth and neck cancer.

“Mouth, face and jaw cancer, unlike other cancer, can affect the very identity of a person,” Dr

Nusrath said.

“It affects speech, swallowing, sight, aesthetics and can lead to long-term functional and social issues.

“Therefore, it is vital to help patients afflicted with this type of cancer.

“It is very difficult to hide it from your friends, and difficult to socialise.”

Mr Eales is relieved he can smile at daughters - six-year-old Brooke and Hannah, two - and 22-year-old wife Naomi again, as the feeling in his face begins to get back to normal.

“It’s brilliant, definitely,” he said.

“I can’t eat certain foods, and my smile isn’t going to be the same again, but I’m alive, and that’s all that matters.”

He had to teach them to be gentle even when just having a cuddle.

“The little one, when she gives me a stroke or something, knows one side of my face is poorly,” Rhys, said.

“She’ll grab one side of my face really tight, and be careful on the other side.”

He wants others to know they can get past the disease.

“Just because you’ve got cancer, which can affect you aesthetically and your facial expressions, it doesn’t mean you’re an outsider,” he said.

A liquid diet meant Rhys, who works at MAK Distribution, Kirk Sandall, lost more than 40 pounds after the operation.

His strength, and fitness, is slowly coming back.

“I sometimes find it difficult to walk long distances,” he said.

“And I’ve found I’m not as strong as I used to be and can’t lift items that I could before with ease.”