Helen Spear is a Principal Speech and Language Therapist employed by Gloucestershire Care Services and based in Head and Neck Cancer Care, Speech and Language Therapy at Gloucester Royal and Cheltenham hospitals.
As Helen explained, laryngectomy patients have to re-learn basic skills most people take for granted: “With a laryngectomy, the voicebox is removed and patients are left with a permanent stoma – or opening – in the front of the neck. Our role is to help people manage to breathe and speak again through the stoma using an artificial voice prosthesis or other methods of voice production or communication.”
“On average, we see twelve new people per year who have to have a laryngectomy. Surgery takes place typically within four weeks of diagnosis, so patients have to make a huge adjustment in a short time. We see patients before surgery, often in a joint session with someone who is already living life after a laryngectomy. This is important because it helps patients understand what to expect afterwards and the ways they will communicate and eat again.”
Therapy starts within days of surgery, as Helen explained: “We start working on communication and swallowing within one or two weeks of surgery to give patients time to heal. Working in a team including the consultant, dietitian, clinical nurse specialists and in- and out-patient nurses, patients are supported to learn to voice and swallow again. Support from this team is long-term with our work being around voice and swallow management when the voice prostheses wear out or when things just do not go quite right.”
Technology in speech prosthesis has continues to progress with new, improved equipment coming onto the market. Helen added: “People have a much better choice in products to help live with their condition. A networking and support event like this allows patients to keep abreast of what is out there and discuss with other laryngectomees old and new what works for them.”
The networking and support event will include a talk by Head and Neck Cancer Consultant Surgeon Charlie Hall from Gloucester Royal Hospital, as well as the opportunity to discuss stoma care, speech prostheses and related products with medical equipment companies including Forth Medical and Platon Medical and suppliers Countrywide and R Care. The companies are sponsoring the event to provide refreshments.
Invitations have been sent out to all the people with laryngectomy in the area known to the Gloucestershire Care Services Speech and Language therapy team. If you are living with a laryngectomy and have not received an invitation but would like to attend, please contact the speech and language therapy team on 08454 228105.