What is a laryngectomee?

A LARYNGECTOMEE is someone who, usually because of cancer, has had their larynx or voice box surgically removed. Cigarette smoking is recognised as a principal cause of this type of cancer. Laryngectomees permanently lose the capacity for normal speech, but can use other methods to speak, as described below.

 

What are the physical changes?

Generally, the physical changes are not immediately noticeable. The larynx, which sits at the top of the trachea (windpipe), is removed. An opening, called a stoma, is created at the neck collar line, below the chin, and the trachea joined to the stoma.

As there is no longer any connection between the lungs, nose and mouth, the Laryngectomee breathes, coughs and sneezes through the stoma. Eating and drinking continue orally, as usual.

 

What are the changes in lifestyle?

LARYNGECTOMEES can do most things they did before the operation.

Swimming is an exception because water can easily enter the stoma and the lungs. Their sense of smell is diminished as air does not pass through the nose.

Heavy lifting and straining are difficult as the breath cannot be “locked-in”.

Watch John Czadrik’s story

John Czadrik, a member of LANSW, is featured in the New RPA television program produced by Channel 9.
The story follows his journey, from diagnosis to surgery and recovery.

Owing to the inclusion of medical procedures and surgery, viewing is restricted to ages 18 years and over.
Click on the link if you want to watch the video.

How does a Laryngectomee communicate?

VARIOUS alternatives are available, including compact handheld devices that produce a tone in the mouth (either via an oral tube or via a vibrator applied to the neck), which the Laryngectomee can convert to speech using the lips, tongue, palate and teeth in the usual way. These devices however, cannot produce variations in tone. The clarity of speech is very good, and the listener will become accustomed to it quite quickly.

There are two other methods — oesophageal and tracheooesophageal speech.
The first involves “swallowing” air, then expelling it to produce vibrations in the oesophagus wall and pharynx and converting the vibrations to speech in the usual way.
The second method uses a plastic valve inserted in a hole surgically created between the trachea and the oesophagus. The valve enables the Laryngectomee to use air from the lungs to create vibrations in the oesophagus and convert them to speech.

Both methods create speech that is usually lower in pitch, and although softer, tone variation and quality are good.

How can you help a laryngectomee?

There are many ways you can help. Mostly, they require more than a little patience and sensitivity.

Permanent loss of one’s voice is quite traumatic, and the use of new methods of speech outside the immediate circle of family and friends is not easy. In the early stages, the attitude and reaction of strangers can affect the person’s confidence in speaking in public.

Some basic guidelines are:

  • Give the laryngectomee time to speak. Speech may be slower than usual and more difficult to start.
  • Always look the speaker in the face. It makes it easier for both to understand with the additional benefit of some simple “lip reading”.
  • Never pretend to understand if you don’t. Say so and ask the speaker to repeat what they said.
  • If the Laryngectomee uses a speech aid be patient and courteous. Don’t dismiss them as some sort of crank, particularly on the telephone. Laryngectomees have only lost their voices, not their minds. If necessary, ask them to repeat what they said and listen carefully. If you are in a business, it would be helpful if you asked telephone reception staff to be aware of the possibility of such calls.
  • Loss of the larynx has no effect on hearing, so it is not necessary to raise your voice when speaking to a laryngectomee
  • And cancer is not contagious so you need not worry about having contact with a laryngectomee, any more than you would having contact with someone who has had their tonsils or appendix removed.

Watch Mike George’s story