Charlotte Webster-Salter – who likens it to a drumstick lolly – initially blamed recurrent ulcers on tiring shifts as a flight attendant in 2018.
But tests last year found a tumour and in a nine-hour operation medics replaced the diseased part of her tongue with muscle from her left leg.
Charlotte spent two weeks with a tracheostomy tube in her neck so she could breathe, fearing she might not be able to speak or eat normally again. But her speedy recovery stunned doctors and she was overjoyed to learn the cancer had not spread.
The student midwife, 27, who now has a leg freckle on her tongue, says: “You rarely hear about mouth cancer. It’s usually older men or smokers diagnosed. The doctors had never treated someone as young as me. It’s definitely something that needs to be talked about more.”
Charlotte, who lives with boyfriend Tom Hendrie, 31, in Petersfield, Hants, said of her ulcers: “I thought it was just stress or feeling rundown. I even thought it was from being hungover or eating spicy food. I had my teeth straightened and had fillings but nothing helped.”
Charlotte’s first operation at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, went well. But her tongue lost blood supply and she was rushed in for another four hours of surgery, followed by four days in intensive care.
However, she says the hardest thing was breaking news of her diagnosis to mum Sam, 51, who had just come through a gruelling battle with breast cancer.
She said: “She had been through so much and it broke my heart to tell her that her daughter had cancer too.”
Charlotte – whose first word 10 days after the ops was “Hello” – admits: “Losing the ability to speak was the scariest thing for me.” She also went through therapy to relearn how to talk, eat and even walk following the surgery on her leg.
She says: “The hospital staff and surgeons were incredible. I can’t thank them enough.
“I’m a rare case as I’m so young. But it’s so important to look out for symptoms at any age. If just one person reads my story and recognises the symptoms, I’ll be happy.”