By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
STERLING, Ill. — For nine years, Lynn Meyer has been a laryngectomee. She does not cough, sneeze, breath or talk as she once did. She says she still has a good life, but life without a larynx is a rough one. She said “Not Without a Voice,” a Clinton support group for laryngectomees she helps organize, tries to offer help and support to people without their voice boxes.
Meyer, 53, was born and raised in Sterling. She was the only daughter of five children. She said she also was the only one who smoked. She said she was exposed to smoke for most of her life. Her father smoked, she smoked ever since she was 18 and for years she worked as a bartender. Meyer said she knew cigarettes could be harmful to her health, but had only heard of people getting lung cancer from it. She never knew a person could get larynx cancer from it and never really knew for sure what a larynx was.
Meyer moved out of the state and built a life and a family. For 20 years she remained out of the area, except when visiting her family. Then in October 1999, she returned home for her father’s funeral. At the time, she was being treated by her doctor for what he thought was an upper respiratory infection. After she returned to North Carolina, Meyer proceeded to experience more problems.
“I called my doctor when I had been back from Illinois to North Carolina for about two weeks and I said ‘I can’t swallow.’ And he said ‘Come in and see me.’ So I went to see him and he went up my nose and down the back part of my throat,” said Meyer, adding, “And he said ‘I see three little spots. I don’t know what it is, but we will need to do a biopsy.’”
Meyer went to get the biopsy in early February 2000, right around her 44th birthday. She clearly remembers returning to the doctor and getting the results.
“And as soon as he put his hand on my shoulder, I knew. Before he said a word, I knew that I had cancer. I didn’t know where, but I knew that that’s what he was going to tell me,” she said. She was told she had a lump on each of her vocal chords and one on her larynx and would need the vocal chords and larynx removed.
“When he told me that, I thought my whole world had fallen out from under me,” said Meyer.
At the time she was going to school to be a paralegal and would not be able to continue since she would be unable to talk. She also would have to quit bartending, which she loved, because she could no longer be around smoke.
“So those were my first concerns. How was I going to live? How was I going to talk? How was I going to spend time with my grandchildren,” she said.
Her surgery was scheduled for March 23, 2000, and her family came to North Carolina for support. She said she smoked up to 15 minutes before the surgery because she knew it would be her last chance. During the surgery, her vocal chords, larynx and lymphnodes on one side of her throat were removed. The lymphnodes were going to be to see if the cancer had spread and if she would require chemotherapy or radiation. Her windpipe was also cut and bent. When she woke up, Meyer said her throat was extremely sore.
Meyer said she was lucky to not require chemotherapy or radiation. This allowed her to recover more quickly and eventually talk better. She has a tracheoesophageal puncture (TEP), which allows her to talk and breath. She said some people in the past, or those who cannot have the TEP, have used hand held electrolarynx devices.
Even with the good news that she would not need chemotherapy or radiation, Meyer said she still faced many adjustments, some of which concerned little issues she had never even thought of. One thing Meyer had not realized was that she would never blow her nose again after the surgery. Everything a person does through their mouth and nose, breathing, sneezing, blowing their nose, coughing, a layyngectomee does through the puncture area in their throat. Meyer said she would have blown her nose 100 times before the surgery if she had realized this. She also would of had recorded her voice — something she now encourages people to do before having their larynx removed.
“Because you’ll never again remember what your voice sounded like,” said Meyer.
Shortly after her surgery, Meyer decided to move back to Sterling to be near her family. She said at the time, she felt totally lost and there was no support group in the area. She began traveling to Rockford, Ill., and became the president of the New Voice Club there. However, she said she really wished a club existed in this area. Then one day, she received a call from LaNore Guillory, a speech and language pathologist at Mercy Medical Center, about creating a support group for laryngectomees and their loved ones sponsored by Mercy’s rehabilitation department.
On July 15, 2008, “Not Without a Voice” held its first meeting. The group meets from 2 to 4 p.m. every third Sunday of the month at Mercy North Hospital. Meyer said the group offers support, friendship and advice. She sends out a monthly newsletter and arranges for guest speakers to attend the meetings. Recently, the group held a bake sale and began selling homemade quilts to raise funds. She said these funds can be used for members who may have difficulty purchasing supplies and necessities. Meyer also is working on creating two Web sites, www.notwithoutavoice.net and www.notwithoutavoice.com.
While Meyer said the group has several members, she said they are looking for more people to join, especially those who have been living without their larynx for 20 or 30 years. She said they would love to have their friendship and wisdom.
“The older people who don’t need support anymore because they’ve been lartyngectomees for 20 to 30 years, they don’t know we exist. And all I want is for them to come and share, maybe their insight,” said Meyer.
By Samantha Pidde