May 19, 2017
Coping with a laryngectomy
BY Melanie Cavazos, Social Work Counselor
A laryngectomy -- or a procedure to remove the voice box -- can bring up a lot of different emotions and concerns. It can also raise a lot of questions: What will I look like? Will people stare? Will they be afraid to talk to me or touch me? How am I going to communicate without my voice box? Will people understand me? How will this affect my daily life? Will I be able to take care of myself? Will others know how to take care of me?
These questions may cause you anxiety and sadness before and after your laryngectomy. You may experience anger and frustration with the adjustments you are forced to make in your life. You may feel that nobody understands what you’re going through.
But rest assured, you’re not alone. There are things you can do to make this experience more manageable.
Things you can do to cope before and after your laryngectomy
Dealing with a laryngectomy isn’t a sprint. It’s something you have to prepare for and learn to cope with over time.
Try these tips to prepare yourself before the procedure:
- Research what takes place during a laryngectomy so you know what to expect. This will help ease your sense of uncertainty.
- Write down your questions and ask them when you meet with your medical team.
- Let your family and friends know you’re having a laryngectomy. This will eliminate any surprises.
- Alert local emergency personnel that you are a neck breather and may be unable to speak in the event of an emergency.
Tips for life after your laryngectomy
Adjusting to life after a laryngectomy is a process, and patience is essential as you and others adjust to your new style of communication. It may take a little more effort from everyone involved, but you can still communicate effectively. According to Deantha Gutierrez, senior speech language pathologist at MD Anderson, “Good communication is 50% the speaker and 50% the listener. Altering the communication system is going to affect both patients and their listeners (caregivers, nurses, doctors, therapists, etc.).”
Here’s what you can do to adapt and adjust during the days, weeks and months after the procedure:
- Find what works for you. Not all communication devices/techniques work for everyone. Your medical team is available to discuss which options are available for you. These include: electrolarynx (handheld device), esophageal speech (“burp-talking”), Tracheo-Esophageal Puncture (TEP), devices like tablets and keyboards that will speak what you type. You can also use a pen and paper.
- Connect with others: You are now part of a small, but unique community. Reach out to others who’ve gone through this. Use their experiences to help guide you in your journey.
- Live your life: Don’t be afraid to engage in your normal activities. You may have to make adjustments, but you don’t have to stop enjoying your life.
Help is available at MD Anderson and in the community
If you’re struggling with adjusting to the changes after a laryngectomy, help is available at MD Anderson and in the community. Here are some places where you can find help.
- Your MD Anderson social work counselor: Our licensed social worker counselors can provide both individual and family counseling to support you before and after your laryngectomy.
- Body Image Therapy Service at MD Anderson: Ask your MD Anderson physician for a referral to see our expert psychologist.
- Speech pathologists: A speech pathologist can provide specialized therapies to prepare patients prior to surgery and help patients regain their voice after partial or total removal of the voice box. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, one of our speech pathologists can help you through your recovery.
- Support groups: Both online and in-person support groups are available. Here are a few:
- Houston Medical Center New Voice Club meets every other month. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
- International Association of Laryngectomees
- Web Whispers
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
You’re not alone.
Social Work Counselor