Finding a voice to help those with throat cancer
A Lancashire grandad, who had his voicebox removed after being diagnosed with throat cancer, sings in a choir for patients after laryngectomy.He tells AASMA DAY how he can do everything he wants and live a full life despite having no voicebox
Jim Brewster has always loved talking, so when he was told he had throat cancer and needed surgery to have his voicebox removed, he was reluctant to go through with it.
But after trying other treatments, things reached a point when Jim had no other option and was told, without the operation, he would only have about one week left to live.
Jim, 62, who is married to Gillian and lives in Chorley, explains: “I was diagnosed with throat cancer about three years ago.
“I had suffered from a sore throat for about six months but I ignored it as it didn’t really affect my life, apart from giving me a bit of a squeaky voice.
“I had suffered sore throats on and off for a few years so did not really think anything of it.”
Jim, who is self employed and works in graphic installation, spoke to a colleague who had suffered a similar sore throat for months and had it cured with laser surgery.
Jim thought he might need similar treatment, so decided to go and see his own doctor.
However, he wasn’t prepared for what he heard. Jim, who has three children and six grandchildren, recalls: “My doctor told me he was making an urgent referral to hospital as I had throat cancer.”
At hospital, Jim had it confirmed he had throat cancer and he went on a clinical trial for three months and had radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
However, his windpipe was destroyed by the strong treatment and Jim had trouble breathing and swallowing and was rushed into hospital.
In February 2015, Jim realised he had no other option but to have his voicebox removed.
Jim says: “Initially, I did not want to go ahead with the treatment. I asked the doctor what the other option was and he said if I did not have the surgery, I would only have a week left to live.
“I knew then I had no choice but to have the operation.”
Jim had the 10-hour surgery and made such a good recovery, he was able to go home in just five days.
Jim wasn’t allowed to talk for four weeks and remembers feeling very frustrated.
He had a valve fitted and now breathes through his neck and uses his mouth for eating and drinking.
Jim says: “I am very lucky as I can talk very well. When they put the valve in, they asked me to try counting to three and straight away I counted to 10.
“As soon as I got home, I was talking on the phone and speaking to everyone.
“I far exceeded what a lot of patients can do.”
Jim wants people to know that. even though he has had his voicebox removed, he can do everything he did before and is able to work and talk.
He says: “The only difference is that I have a hole in my neck which I breathe through.
“It isn’t easy. For every breath other people take, laryngectomy patients have to take seven breaths - that is the type of pressure we are under.”
Jim is even able to sing and is part of a choir of people who sing despite having had their voiceboxes removed.
Jim explains: “Dr Thomas Moors, founder of Shout At Cancer, set up a choir for people who have had their voice boxes removed.
“He works with the ear, nose and throat team at Preston and I have done beat boxing in London and went to London to sing in the choir at an event.
“I think some people have a misconception that people who have had laryngectomies cannot live a normal life.
“I enjoy singing in the choir and I want to show the public that we can do everything we could before we had our voiceboxes removed.”
The choir will also be going to Belgium later this year for an event.
• For details about the Preston and Chorley Laryngectomy Group, which supports patients who undergo surgery to remove their voice box, visit: www.headneckcancerpreston.weebly.com/ or call Kim Winterton on: 01257 453012.