Karl’s Story

My cancer diagnosis was not expected! In July 2023 during a visit to my dentist for a cosmetic repair on a cracked tooth, a small cut turned out to be the only warning sign in my advanced cancer diagnosis. I do not drink, have never smoked, ate healthily and kept fit and active. I never had any of the warning signs for my cancer yet by the end of July my next six month were planned out as I had squamous cell carcinoma of the left mandible with spread into my lymph nodes and cheek.



Having been through a whirlwind month of checks, biopsy’s, CT scans, and a few MRI’s the treatment path was made clear, the cancer needs to be surgically removed and my face and neck rebuilt before likely requiring radiotherapy to ensure all right margins are treated and the best possible outcome achieved. To this day I am eternally grateful that I had Mr. Tim Martin and his Maxillofacial team at QEHB in my corner. From our first conversation while on a business trip to Chicago, to him delivering the unexpected diagnosis to a hugely “unlucky” person, I felt assured, at ease and ready to deal with what lay ahead. It was going to be major, life changing and some functions may never return, but it was the only treatment path to give the best possible outcome.


The surgery

It was brutal – which I knew it would be, 4 surgeries rolled into one, completed in a day. My only fear was waking up (something the anesthetist found out as I broke down to her around 7:45am on the 11th September). I would have a tracheotomy followed by removal of my jaw and affected tissues, a rebuild consisting of metal work in my face wrapped in donor tissue, skin and bone from my leg, which would in turn be covered in a skin graft from my shin. Recovery, although painful was on track and I returned home as planned. A few blips along the way, and a pulmonary embolism later resulting in another 7-day high dependency hospital stay… it was time for oncology!




I had never heard of the combination and was blinkered to the intensity of the oncology treatment path for Head and Neck cancer. I was prepared for radiotherapy but not chemotherapy and when I found out I was doing both together fight mode kicked in. Chemotherapy scared me and the stories you hear, I was fearful of its pending side effects. Luckily for me my body tolerated chemotherapy well and I did not suffer as most would expect.  Radiotherapy however was brutal! Daily treatments and tiring car journeys taking hours each day, being strapped in a cage and locked onto the bench every day while my face was blasted is not what I imagined. Weekly changes in ability to eat, sleep, talk (my mouth and lips collectively were a giant ulcer) were coupled with high levels of burns over my face and neck from the radiotherapy making it super uncomfortable. Despite all this I was positive throughout and intent on proving the teams wrong with the ability to tolerate said side effects, pending weight loss and need for extreme medication for pain! Please do not get me wrong, it was the hardest thing I have ever done, and hope nobody reading this ever has to experience it!



I am writing this 5 weeks after the end of my oncology. My recover is super-fast and not as expected medically, yet personally I am frustrated. It takes looking back at pictures and progress to appreciate how far I have come. Will life ever be the same again? I doubt it, but going through this has re-balanced my approach to life.


The mindset you adopt during treatment cannot be underestimated. I appreciate I am lucky that I have the ability to take the positive fighting approach to this… it was simple as it’s the only option in my mind, but not everyone had this, but its value is huge!

Cancer sucks, but 1 in 2 of us will have it (never really paid attention to the start before this) but what I do know is men are terrible at discussing issues and seeking advice or opening up… and this has to change, and for me personally, nobody knows about Head and Neck cancer and this needs to change also!


Karl Bickley

Nutrition and sports nut

Find him on TikTok @karlosbe




Karl Bickley

Never miss a thing when you join our mailing list!

Despite having the support of family, friends, and medical professionals, it’s normal to feel isolated and alone. 

However, you are not alone. You are now a part of a community who have gone through similar experiences and have come out stronger on the other side. What-Next is run by individuals who have either had cancer or supported someone with cancer.

We want you to know that you can overcome this challenge and live your best life along the way.

Want To Share Your Story?

If you're interested in being featured on our website, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at victoria@what-next.org or by using our form.