My name is Theodore Thomas and this is my cancer story.
In November of 1982, after suffering from a sore throat that would get so bad by the end of my work shift that I could barely talk, and never seemed to go away, I went to see an ear, nose and throat doctor in Price. He checked my throat and made an appointment for me at the University of Utah Medical Center. On November 16, after having a biopsy done on my throat, the doctor informed my wife Fae, that I had throat cancer. She broke the news to me when I woke up in the recovery room. Fae was very upset but I remember telling her not to worry, everything would be okay and that we would beat this.
I was working at Trail Mountain at the time and after I returned home, I went to tell them that I had cancer, and it would be about six months before I would be able to return to work. That was 22 years ago, and I still haven't returned to work. Back then, the "C" word was a dirty word and I felt like I had the plague. None of my coworkers wanted to be around me for fear my illness would rub off on them.
A week after my biopsy, I started radiation treatments. I had 35 treatments, five days a week, for seven weeks. During this time I stayed with Fae's sister and her husband in Salt Lake so I wouldn't have to travel. The radiation shrank the tumors but did not kill them, so I had to have laser treatments. Between 1982-1986, I had three more treatments on my throat.
With the laser they were able to reach the tumors on the right side but not on the left side. In the summer of 1986 my doctor told me that I would have to have surgery. I told him that my wife wanted me to go to Cedar City to the Shakespearean Festival. He told me to go and enjoy myself because that would be the last time I would enjoy being able to talk.
When I went in for my surgery, they removed all of my voice box and made a trachea hole in my neck. I had to learn to breathe through that hole. After about a week in the hospital, I got to go for a stroll down the hall. A woman I met in the hallway commented on how many tubes I had coming out of me.
One of the hardest things I had to do during that time was eat. Because my throat was open and healing, they fed me baby food through my trachea hole. Finally, after three weeks in the hospital, I got to go home, but I couldn't talk, literally.
A month later they put the prosthesis in my throat and I had to learn to talk. In order to speak, I have to cover my stoma with my thumb; this blocks the air and forces it to go up my throat and through my prosthesis. The first time my 4 year old grandson, Griff, watched me do this he had to copy me, and for a long time after that he would not talk without putting his thumb on his throat.
About that time I was learning to talk again, the transformers cartoons were popular and there was a toy on the market that would transform your voice when you put it in your mouth and breathed words. Fae bought a couple of these and I used them to help strengthen my throat muscles. My grandkids all had a good time learning to talk with them too.
After I had my surgery, I discovered that there were other people in Emery County who had had larynxectomies. I am the only one still living.
I have had some interesting experiences over the years. One time when I was in the hospital, I was taking a drink and the nurse standing in front of me ducked so that she wouldn't get sprayed (water does not spray out when I swallow).
When I had a mild stroke a few years ago, the EMTs kept trying to put oxygen on my nose (I don't breathe through there). Little kids are very curious often ask me what happened to my neck.
I am a total neck breather, even though I have a mouth and a nose, I don't use either to breathe. When I first got my trachea, I was afraid to shower for fear I would get water down my throat and drown.
Learning to live with this type of cancer has been very difficult. With the love and support of my wife, kids and grandkids, I have survived for 22 years. If there is any advice I would give to others, it would be not to wait. If you think something is wrong, have it checked before it is too late.