In The Beginning. I was coming to the end of my 15-year engagement with British Aerospace in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when I started getting a husky voice and was hospitalised for a few days due to flaking out a couple of times. After returning to the UK upon retirement I became bored and went to Baghdad, Iraq for a year or so to help to set up a Private Security Company out there. Again I suffered similar voice problems and my voice would come and go. And again I flaked out a couple of times, once on my flight home to UK. I put all this down to the dusty conditions of the desert. When back in the UK I saw my local General Practitioner who immediately referred me to a consultant at my local hospital.
The Diagnosis. 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.
The Operation. 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.
The Side-Effects. 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 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!
The Major Pectoral Muscle Flap. 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. I no longer have a left man-boob and had eighty metal clips stapled in my chest after the operation, since removed. 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. But…
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 am 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, without a doubt, would be to be able eat and drink!
So… my journey hasn’t finished yet!
Thanks. Without a doubt, I owe my life to the GP who first saw a problem and immediately referred me to a consultant. That in itself saved my life. And thanks too, to all the surgeons, medical staff and hospital workers who have been there for me for these past seven years.
Geoffrey N. Read
Monday, 25th July 2016