AT just 45, Maggie Bratton’s life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with mouth cancer.

The mum-of-two had smoked since the age of 15 and stopped the night before she underwent surgery to remove the roof of her mouth.

Now 62, she lives every day with its effects and has to use an obturator in her mouth – a piece of plastic which enables her to eat and speak.

The Northern Echo:

“I started smoking cigarettes when I was about 15. A lot of people smoked then and it was probably down to peer pressure. The risks of smoking weren’t as widely known then," she said.

"The day I was told I had cancer I was shocked. I had never even heard of mouth cancer. I never thought it would happen to me.

“I remember when I first got home and I just thought, how do I tell my kids? My oldest son was leaving for Canada the next day and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him and my youngest son was only 13, so he didn’t really understand at his age.

"It was really awful to see what my kids were going through. They didn’t want anything to happen to me. I wanted to be around to see them grow up."

Ms Bratton, who also has a grandson, still struggles to come to terms with how dramatically her life has changed.

“I remember being at the hospital the night before the surgery and I was still smoking at that stage. I went outside for a cigarette and I thought ‘what am I doing?’

“If I had one message to smokers it’d be don’t wait until it’s too late. I wish I has stopped smoking sooner, or I wish I had probably never started smoking at all. Smoking isn’t worth what I have gone through.”

Tony Osborne from South Bank in Middlesbrough was diagnosed with throat cancer on his 52nd birthday. Now 55, he breathes through an opening in his neck, known as a stoma, and talks using an artificial voice box.

The Northern Echo:

"I was stunned – I’d always thought of myself as fit and strong. I knew about lung cancer but I had no idea what was happening to my throat. I immediately thought why did I do it?

“The doctor told me if I wanted to live I had to have the operation straight away, which was a huge shock as I really didn’t want to have surgery before my son’s wedding in the August.

"I should have taken notice when my father and two brothers died from lung cancer. I watched them die, that should have been enough for me to quit."

The pair are speaking out in a bid to persuade more people to quit smoking as the habit is still the biggest cause of cancer, with around 44,100 new cases of the disease and more than 36,600 deaths a year estimated to be attributable to smoking.

In the North East, smoking is estimated to cause 2,400 new cases of cancer a year and more than 2,140 deaths from cancer every year .

Campaign group Fresh is re-launching the Quit 16 campaign, in reference to the 16 types of cancer smoking can cause, in the run up to No Smoking Day, which takes place on March 13.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “There are thousands of people like Tony and Maggie who are living with a smoking related disease and we applaud them for coming forward to share their story.

“Their stories do not make comfortable viewing, but campaigns are an important way to encourage people to stop, help people to stay quit, and give people reasons not to start in the first place."