Whilst having a total laryngectomy does spell changes to your day-to-day life, it is still possible to live an enjoyable life. Talking to your family and friends may help you cope with what you are experiencing. It can also help to talk to someone outside of your immediate support networks, such as your Doctor or Speech and Language Therapist.
What is a total laryngectomy
The aim of a total laryngectomy is to remove cancer completely. The procedure involves removing your voice box – also called the larynx. After a laryngectomy, breathing happens via an opening in the neck, called a stoma, instead of the nose and mouth.
First reactions to being told that you require total laryngectomy differ from person to person. You may be feeling worried, fearful, or resigned; each person is different. Usually, once the decision that a total laryngectomy is required the surgery will be scheduled within a few weeks.
Before the operation
Before the operation, you will usually meet your multidisciplinary team, which may include; Specialist Nurse, Speech and Language Therapist and Surgeon.
Your surgeon will explain the procedure to you; it is important you understand what it involves and how it will affect you in the short and long term. Discuss and address any concerns or worries you may have with your multidisciplinary team, it can be useful to prepare questions to ask prior to meeting with your surgeon. Having a family member or friend attend the meetings with you who can assist with asking questions or writing down the answers to your queries can be helpful.
Here are some suggested questions you may want to ask:
- What are the expected side effects, risks and benefits of surgery?
- How can side effects be managed?
- What are the options for speech after surgery?
- How will I breathe after surgery?
- What are the chances of being able to eat normally?
- How to prepare for surgery?
- How long will I be in the hospital after the operation?
- How will the surgery affect work and normal activities?
- What support is available after surgery?
It can be helpful and informative to meet other individuals who have already undergone a total laryngectomy. They can share their experience and provide support. In many cases, you can request through your hospital to meet other laryngectomees or there are many local support groups that you can reach out to for information and advice.
After a laryngectomy
After the laryngectomy operation, you may have a number of tubes and dressings attached to you and you will probably feel weak or tired for quite a time. Your neck may be swollen, and you can experience some pain and discomfort for the first few days. The Doctors and Nurses will help to make sure that your pain is managed and that you are breathing safely.
While you are on the ward and before you are discharged the ward team will discuss with you what to expect on your return home and how to take care of your stoma.
You may find that for the first few months your lungs will be producing more mucus and taking care of your stoma may seem daunting, but it does get easier over time. Caring for your stoma and having a daily routine can help play an important part in helping to keep your stoma clean and free of mucus.
What to consider
You may also want to consider taking a notepad, or writing board as after surgery you will have to learn to speak in a new way. There are also many apps for smartphones that can help support text to talk. You may also wish to record the sound of your voice before surgery, for you and your loved ones to listen to, as your voice will change after a total laryngectomy. The hospital should talk through what you need to bring for your stay in the hospital.
Joakim is 58 years old. After receiving his cancer diagnosis the day before New Years’ Eve 2019, Joakim underwent surgery in mid-January 2020. Today, Joakim is back to his former work; restoring, fixing and tuning upright pianos and grand pianos. Joakim shares his story on how Provox Life help support him to breathe better, whatever he does.
Life after a laryngectomy can vary from person to person, this is one example.