In January 2019, I had a sore throat and a extremely croaky voice. After several tests and scans it was discovered that I had a cancerous tumour on one of my vocal cords. In early February 2019, I started chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It was during my first round of treatment that I was introduced to the wonderful staff at the Canberra Cancer Centre which included: front desk staff, nurses, radiologists, doctors, nurse practitioners and the speech pathologists. It was here that I met Anna for the first time. Anna advised me on the swallowing issues I was having and assisted me on some of the other side effects the radiation treatment had caused. It’s fair to say that at this point of my cancer road I still had a limited knowledge of the valuable care and assistance a speech pathologist could provide. What I thought a speech pathologist provided and what they actually provided were light years apart.
Post treatment I had two clear PET scans and thought that I’d beaten the cancer. However, during the one-year check-up, in February 2020, my oncologist saw a small white spot when he put the camera down my throat. I had a biopsy the following week and it was discovered that the cancer had returned. I was referred to St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney and seven days later I had a partial laryngectomy however, it was unsuccessful, so I went back into surgery and a full laryngectomy (removal of the voice box) was performed. During the operation a voice prosthesis (VP) was inserted into my windpipe which would give me a voice to communicate with. In total, I spent of 40 days in St Vincent’s hospital and it was during this time I was introduced to the speech pathologists and the role they would play in my recovery and discovering my new normal. While in hospital they were instrumental in teaching me how to eat, swallow and talk again. All things I’d taken for granted until I lost them.
When I finally returned home to Canberra, I was put in contact with the Larykins which is a social group of people that have had a laryngectomy or care for a Lary. The Larykins provide a voice for Larys through: advocacy, education, encouragement and communication. The Lead Larykin, Mike George, told me that the relationship I’d have with my speechie will be the second most important ongoing relationship I’d have, after the one I have with my partner. Never was a truer statement uttered.
The Speechies at Canberra Hospital, Anna and Pip, are exceptional. They are critical to my wellbeing and quality of life. They provide me with ongoing education on matters like: how to maintain my stoma, general health and wellbeing, and VP maintenance that’s are so important to a Larykins quality of life. Anna and Pip are the link between me and the other services the hospital provides such as the ear neck and throat doctors. The Speechies perform medical procedures such as VP replacements when a VP fails and leaks. The value of this procedure cannot be underestimated as a leaking VP means that fluid is leaking from the throat into the lungs of the Larykin. A leaking VP has a massive impact on a Larykins life. It prohibits simple things like drinking a glass of water or enjoying a cup of tea. Speechies are the angels that change the VP and return life to normal.
Having your voice box removed is a hard road to travel. Speechies are essential to a Larykins wellbeing and them finding their new normal. With out the wonderful Speechies at Canberra Hospital my journey would be a lot harder.