Whilst having a total laryngectomy does spell changes to your day-to-day life, it is still possible live an enjoyable life. 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.
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.
A total laryngectomy is a surgical procedure performed in advanced stages of cancer in or near the voice box.
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 stoma, instead of the nose and mouth.
You can read more about a total laryngectomy and how your anatomy will change in our ‘What is a laryngectomy?’ article.
Before the operation, you will usually meet your multidisciplinary team, which may include;
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 question or writing down the answers to your queries can be helpful.
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 throughout the UK that you can reach out to for information and advice.
We hold community groups called MyVoice events where you can meet others with a total laryngectomy in your area.
Here are some suggested questions you may want to ask:
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, this is one example.
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 many also wish to record the sound of your voice before surgery, for you and 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 hospital.
You may wish to pack:
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 about 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 gets 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.
You can read more about how to keep your stoma clean in our 'How to take care of a laryngectomy stoma' article.