My long journey began in late 2009 when i developed a continuously sore throat. I visited my GP and was diagnosed with acidity from the stomach and prescribed tablets.
Around six months later, there was no improvement. I was sounding husky to the point that when I spoke to my daughter on the phone she asked if I had a cold (I’d not mentioned it to my daughter before thinking it was nothing) When I explained the situation, she Googled ‘continuous sore throat’ and we were shocked to discovered that this could be a symptom of throat cancer.
After a six month delay, we felt we had no time to waste, and so sought a private appointment with an ENT consultant at our local hospital in Crewe. I saw my GP to inform him of this (and seek referral) at which point he acknowledged that he couldn’t rule out cancer.
Within 5 days, I had my private appointment at Leighton Hospital (this was 18th May- my wife’s birthday). After my examination, I was told at the following appointment that I had a large mass on my voice box. I was quickly referred to the ENT department at Aintree hospital in Liverpool (the regional specialist centre for this) and was admitted for a biopsy. The biopsy results showed that I had stage 4 throat cancer. My consultant explained that my best option was a complete laryngectomy.
My laryngectomy was scheduled for 21st June 2010 (just a month after my initial consultation). In the week before the operation, my wife, daughter and I had sessions with the Macmillan team at Crewe’s Leighton Hospital, along with a visit from an inspirational laryngectomee called Mick. These were invaluable- we were better prepared as to what to expect, what support we’d have and encouraged that life can go on- just in a different way.
The day before my operation was Father’s day- we all enjoyed a (rather muted) lunch out after which my family took me on the hour long trip to drop me off for my operation. On Monday 21st June, I had the operation which took the majority of the day- it truly was the ‘longest’ day for my family. The operation resulted in the removal of my voice box as well as numerous neck glands- the situation had been worst than the consultant had previously expected, but the operation went well.
Post operation, I was in Aintree hospital for 3 weeks but luckily had daily visits from family and friends. Initially after the operation, I was frustrated to not be able to talk or make myself understood. I resorted to writing things down- although this too was difficult for those around me as my handwriting can be hard to read- we laugh about this now! However, I was determined and I adopted a positive attitude to learning to speak and eat again.
After 3 weeks, I was allowed home with a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy scheduled. I attended Clatterbridge Cancer Centre on the Wirral (around an hour from home) on a residential basis from Monday to Friday with weekends at home if I was well enough. I had 34 daily sessions of radiotherapy and 2 sessions of chemotherapy over a six week period, with daily visits from my wife which helped sustain me. These finally finished in early September- a couple of days before my 67th birthday.
Once home, I started the road to recovery. I had lots of appointments to help me on my way- with speech therapists, physiotherapists and the lymphedema nurse along with regular check-ups with the ENT team at Aintree hospital. It was a steep learning curve for both my wife and I, as my wife helps me to keep the valve clean and operational.
Four years on, I still attend periodic checks with the ENT team in Liverpool and have my valve changed as required at Leighton hospital. My wife and I also attend the local Head & Neck Support Group, which we would highly recommend. I also act as a buddy, as required, to others about to have the same operation- it’s good to try and give others the encouragement we had in those first few dark weeks.
I truly believe that my positive attitude had a significant impact on how I am, today- I can communicate well with the outside world and I can eat most things (as asked at my ENT check up’s), even nicely cooked steak!
I have a lot of people to thanks for getting me this far…the Macmillan team at Leighton Hospital, the ENT team at Aintree (under the leadership of Mr Lancaster), the staff at Clatterbridge to name but a few (and not forgetting Google!). Finally I cannot thank or put into words the support that my family and friends have given me in this, my long journey.
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