While having a total laryngectomy does spell changes to your day-to-day life, it is still possible to be happy and fulfilled. In this article, we will cover how you can help yourself prepare for having a laryngectomy, with things to think about before and after your surgery.
Dealing with the news
First reactions to being told that you require total laryngectomy differ from person to person. Undergoing a total laryngectomy can be an overwhelming experience, but you shouldn’t feel isolated. There are more than 100,000 people worldwide that have undergone the same operation. 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.
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 network, such as your doctor or speech and language therapist.
What is a total laryngectomy?
The aim of a total laryngectomy is to remove the 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 tracheostoma (or stoma), instead of the nose and mouth.
Before the laryngectomy
Before the operation, you will usually meet your multidisciplinary team, which may include;
- Specialist nurse
- Speech and language therapist
Your surgeon will explain the procedure to you; it is important that 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 question or writing down the answers to your queries can be helpful.
Questions you may want to ask prior to laryngectomy:
- What are the expected side effects, risks, and benefits surgery?
- How can side effects be managed?
- What are the options for speech 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?
- How often and for how long will there be a need for follow-ups?
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 laryngectomised people or you can reach out to a local support group for information and advice.
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Here is Tore's story
It all started with a small bump on the neck. A week after receiving a cancer diagnosis, Tore had gone through a total laryngectomy. Coming home after surgery, Tore was determined to speak again, and to go back to work. He achieved both and kept working for another 16 years before retiring.
Life after a laryngectomy can vary person to person, and this is the story of Tore.
After the 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 role in helping to keep your stoma clean and free of mucus.
- Larynx – The voice box, or larynx, is the part of the respiratory (breathing) tract containing the vocal cords which produce sound.
- Multidisciplinary team – A Multidisciplinary Team is a group care team of professionals from one or more clinical disciplines who together make decisions regarding the recommended treatment of a patient.
- Speech and language therapist – Speech and language therapists provide treatment, support and care for those who have difficulties with communication, or with eating, drinking and swallowing.
- Stoma (tracheostoma) – A stoma is a hole (opening) made in the skin in front of your neck to allow you to breathe. The opening is made at the base of your neck. Air goes in and out of your windpipe (trachea) and lungs through this hole.
- Total laryngectomy – Is the removal of the larynx and separation of the airway from the mouth, nose, and esophagus.
- Voice box – The voice box, or larynx, is the portion of the respiratory (breathing) tract containing the vocal cords which produce sound.