My cancer journey began in the fall of 2003 when my voice became hoarse. After a week on medication for laryngitis, my patient care provider referred me to an outside specialist. They diagnosed me with larynx cancer and suggested I see Andrew Heller, M.D., at VCU Medical Center. He started me on radiation immediately.
Though the radiation was difficult, within four months my voice was back to normal. Unfortunately, my hoarseness returned and Dr. Heller gave me two choices: remove the growth and face the possibility of it growing back and spreading or completely remove my larynx and have a better chance of a relapse-free survival. I chose to remove my larynx. I had no idea what was in store for me, and, mentally, I wasn't prepared at all.
After the surgery and while on the road to recovery, no words could express my frustration of not being able to show emotions. I felt trapped inside my body and just wanted to scream to let my feelings out. I was very lucky to have my siblings during this adjustment period, especially my brother, Dennis. He was by my side the entire time.
Learning to use the electrolarynx was extremely difficult. I was not able to apply the mechanism to my throat area to talk. The radiation had toughened my throat muscles and the sound I produced wasn't good enough for people to understand. I had to use an oral insert. The process of learning to use this mechanism was quite interesting. Many people went out of their way to avoid having a conversation with me, others talked very loud as if I were deaf, and I frightened little children and made them cry. I was devastated when I made children cry! However, repetition was the key to understanding. Once in Walmart, I went to check out with the cashier when I realized I had lost the mechanism stick. I could not speak to the cashier and she was wondering what was wrong with me. I survived that situation and even re-traced my steps and found my device.
I have had problems along the way, such as not being able to swallow my food. Another surgery was needed to enlarge my esophagus. I don't mind that I am also unable to smell or blow my nose!
Today, almost 10 years later, I am very much alive and doing very well. People's reactions do not bother me anymore. My family and I are much, much closer than we have ever been. My job involves talking a lot with the public and I do so with dignity.
VCU Massey Cancer Center gave me excellent health care. The nurses gave me the positive support that I needed and the team of doctors were awesome! My current doctor is Evan Reiter, M.D., and I wish to thank him for his words of encouragement, his attention to details and his sincere concern for my health. With help from all of the Massey team, I am able to carry on and cherish every day.