FAYE Brown says she is not often speechless, but following diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma in her mouth in October last year, she only had a few weeks to digest that an operation would soon affect her talking and swallowing.
‘My operation was one month after diagnosis, and involved removing the lining of my cheek, replacing it with tissue from my lower leg and using bone from my fibula to reconstruct my jaw.
‘I also had a tracheostomy, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to speak after the operation, but consultations with a speech pathologist before surgery, during the subsequent chemotherapy and radiation therapy and in follow-up just last week, had me feeling well-prepared and in control,’ says Faye (pictured, left, with Megan Watson: Senior Speech Pathologist).
This week is Speech Pathology Week, which shines light on what is, for many, a crucial aspect of preparation and rehabilitation in cancer treatment.
Dr Jacqui Frowen: Clinical Lead Speech Pathologist says despite its title, the discipline is about far more than maintaining the ability to talk clearly.
‘While communication is very important and can have a profound affect on quality of life, our most common intervention — conducted via videofluoroscopy, a moving “swallow x-ray” of the mouth and throat — is to gauge if people can swallow safely after cancer treatment.
‘If food or drink is not ingested properly it can end up in the lungs and cause a chest infection or, at worst, severe aspiration pneumonia which can be fatal, so assisting with techniques which may be as simple as as tucking down the chin or holding the breath before swallowing can be vitally important.’
Jacqui says one of the most satisfying parts of her role is helping people after laryngectomy surgery.
‘After the larynx, or voice box, is removed, we need to see people regularly to help them learn how to talk again, without their vocal cords, which often involves a small voice prosthesis, inserted to divert air from the airway to the reconstructed throat.
‘As ongoing management is required to maintain a voice prosthesis, we have life-long relationships with these people over many years, relationships that are very strong and extremely rewarding.’
This year, Speech Pathology Week focuses on the more than 1.1 million Australians who confront the challenge of not being able to speak and aims to increase understanding of communication disorders and how they impact on people’s lives.
Source: Peter Mac