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FAQ12: Any advice for someone suddenly facing a laryngectomy?

By David Blevins, David6511@aol.com

Some time back I wrote the following to someone facing a laryngectomy or who had just had one:

To Someone Facing a Laryngectomy:

Despite all of the medical progress made, the word "cancer" is still pretty frightening.

But having dealt with radiation and then the surgical removal of my larynx, I think that some of the most important messages I would want to convey to someone facing a laryngectomy are:

1. This is NOT the end of the world. Cancer of the larynx has one of the highest cure rates for any cancer. The odds are WAY in your favor that this cancer will be removed, will not return, and you will live.

2. You will speak again, although the specific means you will use may not be known right from the beginning. One irony is that many laryngectomees can speak in several different ways. For example, before the cancer I could only speak using my larynx. Now I can talk using the artificial larynx and the TEP prosthesis. There are some of use who can also use esophageal speech.

3. Not only can you survive this, you can also "thrive." Although I certainly had fears about whether I could or not, I returned to my full-time job as a teacher, and I know lots of laryngectomees who work at jobs requiring that they speak including lawyers, preachers, auctioneers, salesmen, and other teachers.

4. While I certainly miss my old vocal cords I do not consider myself to be "handicapped". I think the word "inconvenienced" sums up how I feel now. I have a few more daily "maintenance" jobs to add to showering, shaving and brushing my teeth; but that is basically it. I also have a couple of additional things to remember to bring with me when I leave the house besides my wallet and keys.

5. It helped me so much to talk with other laryngectomees before the surgery and afterwards. I am also so glad that I joined my local laryngectomee support group, and also joined the WebWhispers Internet support group. I am now active in both, and in the International Association of Laryngectomees. It is helpful to know that you are not alone, that others have faced what you are facing and can help you through it, and provide you with living examples of how you can successfully survive all of this and move on to a full life.

6. Physical healing takes time. Healing from a laryngectomy is not measured in days or even weeks, but in months and even years. So do not assume that the problems you have early on after the operation will continue. You will get better and better; but gradually. It is fairly typical to also "mourn" the loss of our voices, and it takes awhile to get over the trauma of all of this. And mourning is perfectly ok, it is also part of the healing process. You might need some professional help to deal with the understandable depression this may cause. But do know that there is life, and a full one, on the other side of this healing process.

(7) If you can do so, try and retain your rights to return to your job after you have healed. Many employers will be ignorant about cancer survival and assume you will not be able to do whatever your job requires. And you may be pressured to resign or retire early. If possible, avoid making any option-ending decision at a time when you are vulnerable. You may have to educate your employer on what a laryngectomee can still do.

I am 95% the same as before my cancer. The 5% is really no big deal now unless I focus on that instead of the 95%. Part of the healing process involves an improvement to that 5%, but also changing your focus back to what you do have and can still do. There are actually several advantages to being a lary. Just a couple are that it is now impossible for you to choke on food, and it is impossible to snore.

Best wishes to you. If you are fortunate, you will get the support of good professional help and other laryngectomees who have traveled the path you are on. Please feel free to ask any question you have. And having a hand or two to hold while we travel in unfamiliar territory is a big comfort.


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