The TV quiz king who was nearly silenced – by a 'golf ball' in his mouthEggheads' C.J. de Mooi's horror when he discovered a lump in his mouthWhat appeared to be a pea-sized cyst was a tumor the size of a golf ball



12:08 GMT, 16 December 2012

Telling it straight: C.J. de Mooi speaks out about his tumour

Telling it straight: C.J. de Mooi speaks out about his tumour

He has made a name for himself as Britain’s least graceful loser. C. J. de Mooi’s rant on The Weakest Link (he described his co-contestants as ‘idiots’ before adding: ‘I hope they, their loved ones and all their pets die horribly in freak yachting accidents!’) earned him cult status.

He later joined the experts panel on another hit BBC quiz show, Eggheads, and wrote a book called How To Win TV Game Shows.

Despite his straight-talking, it is perhaps ironic that illness once threatened to silence him.

C. J.’s problems began in 1998 when he noticed a small swelling on the left-hand side of the roof of his mouth.

He didn’t visit his doctor because he assumed it was a harmless ulcer. But eight months later, it was obstructing his speech and preventing him from eating properly.

‘I was a typical male about the
situation – I was scared and I didn’t want to admit I might be ill,’
says C. J., 43. ‘I didn’t even dare look at it in a mirror until it
started to press on my tongue.’

months later, the obstruction had swollen further, so C. J. went to the
A&E department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London.

remember sitting in the waiting room for hours, wondering what the hell
it could be. I’ve never drunk, never smoked and I’m a vegetarian,’ he
says. ‘I was utterly terrified.’

seconds of examining the growth, the doctor ordered a biopsy. C. J. was
kept in overnight for monitoring, and by the morning doctors had the
results for him.

‘The doctor asked if I wanted the good news or the bad news – naturally I opted for the former,’ he remembers.

‘He told me it wasn’t cancer. The
relief was indescribable.

’The bad news was that he would need the lump
removed immediately and that not only was the procedure risky, it would
require him being conscious throughout the operation.

‘The thought of having to be awake
during my own procedure made me feel sick, especially after I heard what
the surgery would entail,’ he says.

benign growth had originated in C. J.’s nasal cavity and as it had
grown, it had pushed through the bony palate (roof of the mouth), which
is made of cartilage.

At the time he believed it was the size of a pea,
but it was closer to the size of a golf ball at this stage because, like
an iceberg, the bulk of it was hidden.

remove it, surgeons peeled back the skin on the roof of the mouth and
sliced a hole 1 in in diameter into the bony palate to tease out the
tumour. The procedure took two hours.

Quiz king: C.J. de Mooi, second from left, appearing on BBC's quiz show Eggheads

Quiz king: C.J. de Mooi, second from left, appearing on BBC's quiz show Eggheads

Remarkably, C. J. – real name Joseph Connagh – was able to go home the same day and he claims the pain was hardly noticeable. ‘It was no worse than the dull throbbing that the lump had caused in the first place. Anyway, I was so relieved it wasn’t cancer, I overlooked any discomfort.’

The surgery, however, did not involve filling the hole. C. J. was advised to chew on the right side of his mouth and drink through a straw, and eventually, the cartilage and skin would grow back. However, it would take eight years before it was fully healed.

‘Nowadays, someone who had this procedure would be offered a variety of solutions to close up the hole, such as a prosthetic palate,’ says Mahesh Kumar, consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the Hillingdon Hospital in West London.

Mr Kumar warns people not to ignore growths because there can be disastrous consequences. ‘These tumours are often harmless but 50 per cent will not be – ignoring one is a risk not worth taking.’

Today C. J., who has moved from appearing in quiz shows into acting – he recently starred in a stage version of the thriller Deathtrap – remains spooked by his own incident.

‘My advice to anyone with any sort of abnormal growth is to get it checked out immediately, even if you’re scared,’ he says.