Cancer at 34 Part 8: The end of Silence

This whole ordeal began with what I thought was a temporary case of laryngitis in November 2016. For the last two and a half months, I’ve been isolated and frustrated as I dealt with my limited ability to speak. At one point in December 2016, I was reduced to writing everything down on paper in a desperate attempt to “save” my voice. I also had to pound on the walls of the house in order to get my parent’s attention at times. I avoided social engagements and cancelled work obligations to avoid straining my voice further. After my vocal cord was paralyzed, friends said I sounded like Christian Bale’s Batman or a film noir gangster. Although humorous, some even said they began to forget what my real voice sounded like – a horrifying proposition!

That seems to finally be at an end. I had thyroplasty on February 17, 2017, when the doctor made an incision and inserted a piece of hardened Gore-Tex that forced my paralyzed left vocal cord back into contact with my right vocal cord. A previous effort to inject medicine into my paralyzed vocal cord provided temporary relief but ultimately failed. However, the thryoplasty result should be permanent and seems to have been immediate and significant. I can already talk and it’s nearly the same as it was before the cancer diagnosis. It might take a few weeks to readjust and relearn how to speak properly using my vocal cords instead of my neck muscles. The operation resulted in a pretty ugly incision right across my neck, but hopefully it won’t leave a permanent scar.

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February 17, 2017, was a long and unpleasant day. I couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch because my operation was at noon. However, I wasn’t hangry, probably because I was so tired. I’m still not sleeping well although I’m done with steroid. I was pretty resigned to the whole thing because I didn’t have much choice – either I had the operation or my voice would continue to wither. It was the third time I’d undergone surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the last six weeks, so I was pretty inured to the whole process. However, my dad and especially my mom were very anxious. It only got worse when the nurse twice failed to start the IV in my left arm.

But, Rev. Mitra from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church was again a great comfort to my family. She kept us company for almost two hours while we waited. I dozed off, but Rev. Mitra distracted them by talking about how we all love cats, among other things.

Unfortunately, I was awake for the whole operation because I had to be able to speak at the end so the doctors could be sure everything had gone smoothly. Again, I was sedated but only in a “twilight” state and I remember most of what happened. The doctor used a local anesthetic where he actually made the incision. Although it didn’t hurt, I actually felt the doctor making the incision and pulling my flesh apart. In addition, he forced a thin camera down my nose and used a horrible-tasting medicine to numb the back of my throat. I still gagged when the camera hit the back of my throat. Overall, it was a pretty horrible experience, but I didn’t have much choice other than to endure it.

In the end, it was worth it. It marks the end of almost three months of isolation and frustration. I had numerous frustrating phone conversations when doctors called to schedule or confirm appointments and they were unable to understand me. In frustration, I often flung the phone to my parents and had them deal with the situation. I also work as a freelance writer so I had to conduct my interviews via email instead of over the phone, which led to unsatisfying results. I also felt left out of conversations, although most people said they didn’t have any trouble understanding me in person. Speaking wasn’t painful, but it was tiring because I compensated by using my throat muscles to try and make a voice. I also got tired of explaining over and over again why I couldn’t talk. It’s been a long and exhausting process, but I hope this is this beginning of the end. The only downside is that I’m banned from Cross Fit for the next week or so, but I’m willing to make just about any sacrifice at this point.

I’ve also had to put my job search on hold while until this was resolved, so it will be great to finally start getting my life back on track. I’m working on an alternative/temporary teaching license but nobody would hire a teacher who can’t speak. Now, I can start applying for positions for next year and hopefully start lining up some interviews. Although there’s been a temporary setback in my cancer treatment (I had to stop my medication because it was damaging my liver), it’s great to finally speak again. I always took my voice for granted, but I hope this experience has ensured I’ll never do that again.

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