For 35 years James Haley smoked. After being diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, six months ago he had a laryngectomy. This procedure involves the removal of the larynx or voice box
The voice box has a dual purpose. Located near the 'Adam’s apple,' it's not only there to produce speech, but also to protect us from choking.
Prior to a laryngectomy the esophagus, which we use to swallow, and windpipe are separated only by the voice box. Once the voice box is removed during the surgery, the esophagus stays in tack but the windpipe is redirected and sewn to project air directly out of the neck. This leaves not only an opening or stoma in the neck, but also makes it virtually impossible to choke.
Although some people who have had the surgery opt to use an electrical device to speak, Mr. Haley has chosen to use a method where he covers the opening and redirects the air. This is something, which he says is not easy.
"It's harder to talk. I can't do much of that."
With a laryngectomy patients no longer breathe out of the nose but instead the air flows directly out of the neck, something that can cause some major life changes.
"If there's a pillow put over it there's no air coming in. So, they have to be very careful," says speech pathologist Heather Boldin.
"Obviously, you can't just jump in a swimming pool. But, it's sort of like people who have other disabilities and things and have overcome it. There's technology out there for it," says ear, nose and throat surgeon, Dr. Eric Bridges.
After undergoing a laryngectomy patients lose much of their sense of smell but can still be sensitive to elements in the atmosphere such as pollen.
However, even with this, patients like Mr. Haley say being cancer free, makes it worth it!