Geoff’s Journey through Head & Neck Cancer
I was nearing the end of my 15-year engagement with British Aerospace when I started getting a husky voice and was then hospitalized for a few days, due to passing out a couple of times. About a year later, I suffered similar voice problems and my voice would come and go. I made an appointment with my local general practitioner who immediately referred me to a consultant at my local hospital.
The consultant took a telescopic look down my throat via my nose and then said “You know what this is, don’t you?” I immediately knew and replied “Yes, I think so.” After various scans, x-rays and being prodded and poked, I was informed that the cancer on my larynx was T-4 which meant it was aggressive, was already eating my larynx and was now looking for somewhere else to go. We then discussed the options.
I was given a total laryngectomy in January 2009 and they also removed the lymph nodes in my neck and part of my thyroid. This all went well and I healed surprisingly quickly. And soon I was eating, drinking and talking again with confidence.
Some weeks after that operation, I was to endure 37 consecutive days of radio-therapy and weekly sessions of chemotherapy. This too went well although I did start to get nauseous and my neck was quite burned. I had to be readmitted to hospital as I was dehydrating badly. I overcame this hurdle and soon I was up and about and going about my normal daily routine. After a few months I started to suffer frequent problems with my speech valve in my throat and had to have it changed frequently.
Apparently, the effects of the radio-therapy had badly scarred the tissue inside my throat. I was in and out of the hospital over the next few years until 2014, when I was eventually unable to eat or drink by mouth, or talk at all for eight months.
It’s now over seven years since my laryngectomy and the hair under my arms or my chest has still not grown back! And when the sun shines hot, my neck starts to cook again from the radio-therapy effects. Prior to the radio-therapy sessions I was fitted with a PEG in my tummy to enable me to take food and liquid directly into my stomach. I still have the same PEG fitted some six years later!
Eventually, in 2014 my consultant referred me to a consultant surgeon in the Northeast of England where I underwent a Major Pectoral Muscle Flap. This entailed taking muscle tissue from my left chest / breast and flapping it into my neck.
This all went remarkably well and I was up and running again reasonably quickly. I was again able to eat, drink and talk. I can eat and drink, albeit slowly, and the food must be soft and small. GeoffBut… I am now unable to talk at all.
The Way Ahead
Another operation is necessary to realign my speech valve and it’s not sitting right and this is preventing me from using what voice I have left. However, my consultant seems somewhat hesitant as he’s said to me “That sometimes when we try to put things right, we can make matters worse.” That hasn’t instilled me with a great deal of confidence, but I completely in their hands. It may be that I will have to take the choice between eating and drinking or talking. I may not be able to have both. My choice would be to be able eat and drink!
So… my journey hasn’t finished yet!
GEOFFREY N. READ