- James Upfield, from Nottingham, has been smoking cigarettes since he was 13
- At one point in his life, the former soldier used to puff as many as 20 each day
- Doctors diagnosed him with stage four mouth and throat cancer in 2013
- During treatment, he died on the operating table and after his 'lungs exploded'
- But he has been unable to give up his bad habit despite his brushes with death
A smoker who lost half his tongue after developing stage four mouth and throat cancer has revealed that he still smokes five cigarettes a day.
James Upfield, 46, who has been smoking since he was 13 and used to puff as many as 20 a day, was diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
During treatment, the former soldier, from Nottingham, died twice - once on the operating table and once after his 'lungs exploded'.
He also developed motor neurone disease - a rare condition that progressively damages part of the nervous system - following radiotherapy.
Now he has to liquidise all of his food as he is unable to produce any saliva and lost all of his natural teeth to radiation.
Despite having tried everything from nicotine patches to going cold turkey, he has never managed to completely stop smoking.
Mr Upfield, whose face has been misshapen by surgery to cut out part of his tumour, claims to still be addicted to the potentially deadly habit.
James Upfield, 46, who has been smoking since he was 13 and used to puff as many as 20 a day, was diagnosed with stage four mouth and throat cancer in 2013
Having admitted that people think he is foolish for his continued smoking, he said: 'I wish I'd never started. I want to encourage people not to start.
'Looking back, if I’d known this would happen to me, I wouldn't have. I'm not proud I'm still a smoker.'
Advice from Cancer Research says that doctors should encourage patients to give up smoking before starting treatment.
It continues to say that smokers should also give up after treatment to reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
Both tobacco and alcohol are known carcinogens – meaning they contain chemicals that can damage the DNA cells and lead to cancer.
And the NHS cites them as the two leading causes of mouth cancer in the UK, according to its website.
During treatment, the former soldier died twice - once on the operating table and once after his 'lungs exploded'
Mr Upfield first went to see his GP after suffering repeated bouts of burning when he swallowed when he was 42.
The GP suggested it was tonsillitis, but he was immediately referred to Northampton General Hospital after a routine dental check-up.
Here a tongue swab was taken. After receiving abnormal results, he was sent for biopsies and MRI scans, before the devastating news was broken in February 2013.
Mouth and tongue cancers are more common in people aged between 54 and 70, Mr Upfield explained.
He said: 'The cancer was stage four - the worst it can be. If there was stage five, that would've been that.'
Tests indicated that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and, in July 2013, surgeons removed half his tongue.
Now he has to liquidise all of his food as he is unable to produce any saliva and lost all of his natural teeth to radiation. His face has also been misshapen from surgery
But Mr Upfield stopped breathing during the operation and had to be resuscitated.
He said: 'I died. Of course, I didn't know. I was unconscious. There was no-one saying, "Go to the light, James".'
Afterwards, while recovering in hospital, his lungs collapsed and started filling with blood – his second brush with death.
Mr Upfield added: 'It felt like I was drowning. But once again, thanks to the doctors and nurses, I was bought round.'
He underwent months of targeted chemotherapy to eradicate all traces of the tumour, before going on to have six weeks of radiotherapy.
Unfortunately, the radiotherapy led to him developing motor neurone disease – the same condition as physicist Professor Stephen Hawking.
Links between high levels of radiation and the muscle-wasting illness have been explored for decades.
Mr Upfield, who is medically retired, said: 'I was then in hospital for a long time. I underwent surgery to reconstruct my mouth and tongue, although I am due more.'
While in hospital he befriended six other oral cancer patients, four of whom have sadly now died.
Despite having been cancer-free for three years, he still has to attend regular hospital appointments for the next two years, after which he will be in remission.
In the meantime he is training for the London Marathon, and will be running in aid of the disability charity Scope.
Despite having tried everything from nicotine patches to going cold turkey, he has never managed to completely stop smoking (pictured in hospital)
Mr Upfield claims to still be addicted to the potentially deadly habit (pictured in hospital during his treatment)
HOW SMOKING CAUSES CANCER
Smoking is considered to be by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer.
After years of research, scientists have made the link between the two clear.
The notoriously bad habit is responsible for more than a quarter of cancer-related deaths in the UK.
Chemicals in cigarette smoke enter our blood stream and can then affect the entire body.
It doesn't matter what kind of cigarette that is smoked as there is no way to safely inhale tobacco, experts warn.
And the more cigarettes you smoke a day, the higher your risk of cancer.
Source: Cancer Research UK
He said: 'I’ve had so much support from Scope over the last few years. I wouldn’t be here without them and everything they have done for me.'
Mr Upfield, who keeps going thanks to a positive outlook, is determined not to give in and to keep challenging himself.
He said: 'I'm barmy and that barminess has helped me. Three years ago I was 6.5 stone, but I have worked to get my fitness back and I am 12 stone again.'
'I can either carry on with my life and be an active person, or I can just sit and slump at home – I have chosen to keep going and challenge myself.
'I know that I am a timebomb in a sense, that anything could happen, but I stay positive.
'There is more to life than feeling sorry for myself and having all these things happen to me in such a short space of time has made me a better person.
'For the first time in my life I actually take the time to listen to other people.'
Mr Upfield will be cheered on at The London Marathon by around 30 soldiers from his former regiment.
Anyone wanting to donate can do so here. For more information about Scope, visit its website.
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