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When a person is diagnosed with throat cancer, often the remedy is removal of the larynx - a laryngectomy. Unfortunately, once the decision to perform the laryngectomy is made, the surgery is done within days. This does not give the patient or his family much time to consider the life-altering implications of living without one's voice.

Some hospitals provide social workers to discuss the fears and realities of this situation. But many are not well versed on this specific problem.

After the patient is released from the hospital, it is important that you locate a local support group. The incidence of laryngectomy is reasonably high; therefore, many support groups are in existence, and you should be able to find one in your area. Contact your local V.A. hospital or a speech pathologist to help find one closest to you.

The support group will help on many levels. Without your voice, you tend to feel isolated, and there is generally a feeling of self pity. Being in a group of people who have gone through the same surgery will give you a sense of community. Also, many of these people had their laryngectomy many years prior. They tend to have a wealth of information on products that can make your life easier.

Once you have begun to heal physically, it will now be the time to think about an artificial voice. These instruments are called "electronic speech prostheses." They are generally wand-like tools that you hold to your throat while you very clearly enunciate words. The resulting vibration creates a robotic-sounding "voice." Again, your new acquaintances at the support group can assist you. Listen and try the various devices to find the one best suited to you. The Servox, by Siemens, is one that I have tested and it produces a nice clear tone. Steer clear of the real cheap instruments, as the tone is very muffled. You do tend to get what you pay for. Often your insurance or Medicare will pay for an electronic speech prosthesis, and many companies that you can purchase these from will do direct billing. Be sure to inquire about this as it can be expensive.

There is another way to produce voice after a laryngectomy is performed. This is called esophageal speech, and it is performed by burping up air and creating vocal sounds. It is often quite difficult to master, but those who are able to do so often find it less stigmatic than using a speech prosthesis. If you are interested in learning this, it will be necessary to locate a speech therapist trained in this technique.

There are a multitude of products available to laryngectomy patients. Women, especially, are particularly concerned about covering the hole in the throat where the laryngectomy is performed. This hole is called a stoma. There are many cosmetic coverings to choose from.