"Did you suffer from depression, and if so how did you deal with it?"
If not we'd also like to know why you think you didn't.
I became very depressed in the time leading up to the diagnosis of cancer, because of what I call the doctor ladder. I knew things weren't right physically but was sent from one doctor after another and was told allergies, rightinoisis ,bronchitis and irritated vocal cords. Was passed back and forth till I finally found somebody to actually look and scope, then heard that I shouldn't have waited to seek treatment.
When it was found that I had bladder, kidney and throat cancer, luckily they were all different kinds not a spread, I just became mentally stressed out and started seeing a mental health pro, turned out to be a long trip but ok now.
Joe Hilsabeck – Edelsterin, IL
I was bothered with an overwhelming feeling that made me cranky and sometimes still does after nine years. It took energy to communicate, wear a plastic cover, cough and deal with all the changes. After several months, I talked with my internist and he gave me a mild antidepressant. This gave me almost immediate relief…not perfect but relief. Perhaps this was a type of “Sundowners” that nursing facilities have with their residents. Being up front with family and friends that being cranky was just a side effect and that it will get better helps. I’m an optimistic individual; however, one has to ask for help sometimes.
Marian Cure - Cedar Creek Lake, TX
I had my surgery Sept 2002. The cancer was found and removed all within about a month. I had no treatment before the surgery. My doctor told me that many times trying radiation and chemo only delayed and made it worst. That's para-phased he was more technical.
Anyhow prior to this my husband had died, brain tumor, my daughter 32, had a rare disease, that caused her to have strokes and she almost died. I had all kinds of financial problems, lost house and that's just a few things.
So when the ENT said it was cancer, we just about felt, "here we go again". So no, I can't say I really was depressed. It was just one more thing to handle with the help of God. I had the help of friends, family, and a couple of good clubs, in New Haven and Danbury who helped me cope. What I really miss most is that I can't swim anymore, but I'm still on this side of the grass, Thanks to God and a really terrific Doctor and medical team.
Linda Palucci – Kissimme, FL
I do not have a problem with depression. Never have. At 94 I have my share of problems, but handle them the way I always have. My first thought is, "It is what it is" and do what I can about it. Then I get busy helping others with theirs. I've been a WebWhispers volunteer for 19 years, and when you're busy helping others with their problems, you're too busy to dwell on your own.
Michael Rosenkranz – Plantation, FL
I did and still do suffer from depression 5 years after surgery. Not being able to communicate clearly or easily with my family (especially my children now 11 & 14) and friends is heartbreaking, frustrating, and infuriating. We adjust and try to be thankful to be alive. We try to have a sense of humor and patience with each other. Prescription anti-depressants have helped enormously for me. I try to focus on each day and not feel overwhelmed and swallowed by the knowledge that this is the way my life will be for the remainder. Cheers to all those who don’t battle depression. You can add jealousy to the list of my emotions!
Sarah Alessandro – Quincy, MA
2013 (original cancer 2008)
Yes, I had "situational depression" before (bad boss before retirement) and went off meds for it, and then since lary 7/15 I have resumed meds and they have increased the number and doses.
I wish it weren’t so, but I have been care taker for my wife for 36 years because of her physiological depression and tremor issues and she's so used to that she can't accept that I might need some care taking and she is in denial because she can't imagine life without me.
I had an episode in 4/17 of two growths on the lung which were removed and hospitalized for pneumonia two weeks later. I felt pressured to take her 100 miles one way for a medical appointment two days after discharge (she doesn't drive except locally) because to reschedule that would have involved another several weeks wait time and she didn't want to wait. Removal of lung nodes has decreased my lung capacity so I cannot do heavy exertion or lots of stairs or steep inclines.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Mark Reichenbacher – Hedgesville, WV
2008 & 2015
I had 26 days in the hospital ward after my laryngectomy in May 2016. Travelling to the hospital by air I went over where I was in my life. I was 74...had a very comfortable time compared to many...comparing my life to the many became crucial to my reasoning. I had been a professional singer. I had been an international Archer representing Zimbabwe in 1981 World champs. I moved to South Africa and made the SA men's team. Later I was a City Councillor in one of the world's famous cities, Cape Town. A full life....nonsmoker.....now losing my voice...but....the real BUT...I was going to lose the tumour, be cancer free...so I did a deal with my Lord....take away my cancer and I give up my EGO?.
Now, with no ego I have no regrets on my deal. I visit the Mall about 4 times a week and notice how many others have serious physical problems.....and all ages and that's just what you see....hundreds of others have unseen issues. I have no time for my ego. No time to be depressed. Just thankful to be free of C and otherwise healthy.
Oh my legs are not doing what they always did....getting out of a chair is hard work. But...every day is counted a blessing and a bonus. Depression? Why not celebrate what you have- not what you've lost. So much to celebrate..and time is short but it's about what I have - not what I don't. Let your ego go and you will not be depressed. Life even under these terms is a blessing.
David Statham - Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Full laryngectomy May 16
During the first couple of years after losing my voice I became increasingly depressed although I have to say it was a mild depression. What was bothering me most was losing touch with my grandchildren and great grandchildren (most of them 10 and younger). They loved the oddity of grandpa sounding like a robot, and trying to use my EL to sound like me but beyond that any kind of prolonged conversation with them was painfully short with many struggles to understand me clearly. I worked hard with my EL and did fine with the adults around me but not so well with the young ones. I knew I’d feel worse and worse unless I found a way to reach those younger generations. I’d done a lot of professional writing as a university professor in my early years and as a professional business consultant toward the end of my career and the idea of writing entertaining fictional stories occurred to me.
When I got the idea I knew I was going to use my grandchildren and great grandchildren as characters in the adventures. Once I started writing it is was as though I’d released the Genie from Aladdin’s lamp. The stories came pouring out of me and I’ve been writing them since the moment I started. I created what I call the Sam ‘n Me treasure hunting adventures series and wrote 47 short read stories (between 75 and 100 pages) using my grandson Sam as the main character with characters made up from family members, relatives and friends populating the stories as they unfold.
Then I got the idea of writing a series of 10 archeological mystery adventures (again short reads) with Sam and 2 of his cousins as young archeologists (Jr.’s in high school-progressing into their university years) solving one mystery after another in the world of archeology.
Things have worked out better than I’d hoped because now my grand and great grandchildren are of the age they’re enjoying the stories which delights me no end. I never imagined in my wildest expectations I’d find a pathway out of my depression like the one I’ve found through writing. I’m enjoying it immensely even though I’m aware the size of my reading audience will very likely be my family, friends and hopefully future generations of our family. What better footprint can we leave behind than something we’ve written.
If any of you fellow larys have ever thought of trying your hand at writing let me beg you to give it a try, it may be your pathway to a world of enjoyment too.
Branton Holmberg – Waun, WA
Lary since 2010
For anyone who loses a body part, resulting depression would be a completely understandable response and one that the patient’s team of doctors/nurses should be on the alert to diagnose. My team not only questioned me about my mental health following surgery, but during all of my subsequent follow up visits, either verbally or through written responses. They continue to examine that part of my recovery even though it’s been 4 1/2 years.
Was I depressed? No. Anxious about the future, yes! But I had a superb team at Seidman Cancer Center, University Hospitals in Cleveland and following surgery, they arranged for a home nurse to check me at my home as often as the nurse felt it was necessary. My two daughters flew in from out of town in separate shifts to help me organize the avalanche of medical supply deliveries, tube feeding and med schedules, and cook meals for my husband. I was so fortunate to have wonderful family support and friends that kept in constant touch by text, emails, visits, and phone calls to my husband. As I was retired at the time, I also had no pressure to return to a job.
I firmly believe that depression was held at bay for me because I was already on an anti-depressant before my diagnosis and surgery. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this type of medication to any future laryngectomee, (if your doctor approves - the lowest dose possible) just to take the edge off before surgery and after and even into the future.
Barb Gehring - Akron, Ohio
When I was I initially diagnosed I was more in shock than depressed and don’t think I fully understood the extent of change that I was about to experience. I was somewhat relieved at first that finally someone figured out why I was having difficulty breathing and talking. I didn’t understand the magnitude of my diagnosis until long after my surgery. The shock wore off and the exhaustion set in for the following few months as I went daily for my radiation treatment and many follow up appointments and tests. I did my best to keep my chin up and smile but there did come a point when I began to feel better and started to realize the full scope of what had happened.
As I was feeling better I started thinking about what the future would hold for me and the challenges I was going to face with my new ‘handicap’. I’m a talker... I’ve always been a talker... I talked to dozens of people every day at my job, talked to my friends, family and co-workers. Losing my voice was suddenly all I could focus on. I had many days of feeling sorry for myself and asking why me?
Depression didn’t set in until I was taking a road trip and put my favorite playlist on only to be hit with the reality that my favorite part of road trips was singing while I was alone in my car where, thankfully, no one else could really hear me. Anyone that knows me, knows I love music... no I couldn’t really sing but that doesn’t mean I didn’t sing... I started to focus more on what I had lost rather than what I had gained. No, my future grandchildren will never know my true voice and I’ll never be able to sing them a lullaby... it will be very unlikely for me to return to my former career due to the amount of verbal communication required to do that job... I can’t giggle... I can’t yell when I’m angry... I can’t do what had come so naturally to me my whole life - having conversations with people became a chore. I allowed the negative thoughts to take over and questioned my decisions that could never be reversed.
It was the people I met after this nightmare that made a big difference for me. My children... reminding me every day that I still needed to be here. It wasn’t easy but I began to force the sadness away with happiness that I will in fact be here when my babies finally have their own babies, that even though I can’t laugh with my voice I can certainly laugh with my eyes and my body language... I can also still very effectively express when I am angry or upset about something and it’s way more effective than yelling ever was. I can’t go back to my former career but it forced me to slow down and appreciate things that I hadn’t before. Yes, I suffered depression after my surgery but no, it didn’t consume me. I still have days where I ask why me, but I have many more days appreciating what the rest of my life has to offer and learning the hard lesson about life being too short before it was too late for me to enjoy it. Sure, if someone offered me my voice I would love to have it back but not at the cost of my future.
Jennifer Malkiewicz – Chesapeake, VA
I don’t think I really had depression after my laryngectomy which was done in October 2015, but more like frustration finding new ways to communicate with people. I never really allow myself to get depressed, as I realize there are many who are much worse off than I, i.e. our veterans who return from Afghanistan or Iraq, or even others around us.
Ron Boudnik - Manitowoc, WI
I don’t think I did. I was seriously so glad to still be alive and be with my family. My mother in 1984 wasn’t as lucky. It took time getting used to being like this, LOL I can remember trying to talk. Was able to return to teaching within a year of the surgery.
Sheryl Avery – Pasadena, CA
I had my laryngectomy in 2004, when I was 55 years old. I was of course depressed in the 4 or 5 days between the time I learned I had a tumor on my vocal cords and the date of my operation. I was working and raising my young son as a single parent at the time, so I knew it was important to press on and play with the hand dealt me. I believed most of all that I should show my children (daughter was away in college) that it's best to accept and deal with the hard knocks life sometimes give you and don't feel sorry for yourself. You are what you do, so by not showing depressed and morose thoughts, I stopped thinking depressed and morose thoughts.
My mother was a farm girl and I believe I got this attitude from the way she acted and the stories she told me of her life on the farm. Bad stuff happens so you gotta make the best of it.
As a laryngectomee I do about anything I want to; married a smart beautiful gal, swim, boat, hunt, fish, woodwork, yard & garden work, became an ordained minister and married my son, travel anywhere we want, go to the Y to exercise and weight lift. I also visit any pre or post lary I find out about. I know many larys who have the same attitude. I feel blessed and am having the time of my life!
Greg Smith - Windsor, CA
I never had any depression after my total lary because I knew it was do or die to have the surgery. The cancer was that invasive. However, there was a bunch of frustration getting settled into my new normal. Now that I'm there life is good. MY LIFE HAS BEEN ALTERED, BUT NOT EXTINGUISHED.
Bob Bauer, Class '08
I have never been depressed in my life, so I can’t tell anyone what they should do about it. I was blessed with a good sense of humor, and find something funny in almost anything.
Laughter is great therapy. A smile helps relax the muscles in your face. I also pray every day and night. Don’t get me wrong because that is just a personal thing with me.
As an afterthought I talked to my daughter, who is an licensed clinical psychologist. I told her about our monthly speaking out question, and asked her if she had ever seen me depressed, and she said no, but I may have had a "situational depression.”
Johnnie Dontos – Woodway, WA
Really had no reason to suffer depression after my radiation treatments because I suffered none of the side effects that were on the long list of such that they gave to me. Only hair loss was on my neck and I actually gained weight, and I did not do chemo, but being chained to a suction machine and mist humidifier really began to bear heavily on me along about the third month post-op, and six months out it had dragged me to depths of darkness I could not phantom.
Because (to me) this is no way to live life and I certainly had no desire to live life without being able to ride my Harley, and whenever I thought about that the mire of depression was all-consuming. Because every time I thought about riding (which is a thousand times every day) I could not see my way around those two blasted machines to get there. Certainly couldn't tote two electrified contraptions with me wherever I journeyed.
One night . . . the torment in my mind became unbearable . . . and I decide to soak in a hot tub after taking some muscle relaxers.
Ol' Lady was working and I figured . . . fall asleep and sink under water. Not like we can close our stoma's to keep water out.
Believe, don't believe, that is your discretion . . . but long about the time I was slipping under the influence of the drugs I heard a voice plain as day say: "Do you trust me?"
Thought is was my sweet Vicky Sue (although I confess it sounded NOTHING like her), but it was enough to jerk me back to my senses so I realized that I had placed myself and this cancerous journey into the hands of God Almighty before my operation that rendered me mute. And once I had finished coughing all the water out . . . I heard that same voice in my mind asking the same question.
Ashamed as I was . . . I could only mutter . . . "I know it doesn't look like it . . . but I do."
Cannot say there weren't any more dark days after that, because there were, but the grip of depression was lessening more and more every day.
Two months later I took my sweet Miz Heavenly Sugah in to have all her lubricants change and had her thoroughly checked out because she had sat for nigh-on two years by then. That be her name because she was given to me. Whole 'nother story that, but I've nary a doubt she is a gift from God.
Still hadn't broken free of those blasted machines altogether by then, but whee doggie I could go nigh-on ALL day without having to toy with them puppies! By the time the bike shop called me a month or so later . . . they were back in their boxes and in the closet. Exactly 1 year after surgery . . . I was back in the wind!!!
Oh, I put a windshield on her like Doc Goldman said I ought (just to bring an end to the Ol' Ladies harping about it), but that puppy came off three weeks later and I was as happy as a pig in a mud wallow. First day I rode her without that wind-blocking bug exterminator I was a grinning like a dog what just ate Sunday dinners pot roast. Smiling, howling, and dancing about like the blooming village idiot. So happy I didn't even notice the dark storm clouds gathering.
When I did I was so far out from the house I knew there'd be no getting home without getting wet and I could plainly see the wall of water moving in my direction.
First thing that popped to mind was Old Doc Goldman warning: "Won't be able to ride in the rain." And I thought: "I'm about to drown." as I looked frantically for a place to hide till it was past. 2nd voice I heard mentally was the same one I heard in the bathroom so many months before that asked: "Do you trust me?" "Of course I do." I replied as if I could be heard. "Then ride on."
There it was plain as the nose on my face. 'Whiteout'. So much water falling from the sky you could not see thru it. Being as I was on a Florida backroad there was nary a bridge in sight. No gas stations nor convenience stores. No place to seek shelter from this storm and I'm certainly not going to stand beside the road like an idiot waiting for it to pass, but I admit I could not keep from thinking as I rode right into it . . . , "I'm about to drown."
Got soaked to the bone in a nanosecond. If I'd have brought some soap I could've taken a shower . . . but I didn't drown. Never got a drop in my stoma!
Won't lie. Cuz cancer is a nasty disease and I had my 2nd bout November last year. Growth in my mouth. Had it removed. No radiation. Never chemo. Doing good. No depression. Yes, had some dark moments before it was removed (and some after that 1st drenching ride way back when), but nothing like those of my 1st post-op back in the beginning of 2007. Why they try to come upon me now days I just put my face in the wind and let it blow them off me.
Which is why I always proclaim . . . , God treats me far better than I deserve.
Troll - N.E. Florida
Class of 2006
After my diagnosis, everything happened so quickly I never really knew what to expect as I chose surgery opposed to chemo and/or radiation as I live such a distance for those treatments. I had no idea that I would be unable to talk afterwards. I thought the Dr. would just cut out the cancer part and that would be it. Actually neither the doctor or any of the medical personnel spoke or told me what to expect afterwards.
I spent a month in the hospital and then three weeks in a rehab facility where I was later shown how to care for my stoma and when I was released still wore the cannula as well as having a g-tube. Also I then had a surgery for a fistula before going to rehab facility.
My surgery was described as a radical neck dissection with lymph nodes also removed. I did not suffer from depression immediately perhaps because I was working to get well and the truth of what had happened did not hit me until much later. So it is now that I get depressed but it is contained like my laughter or crying. I can do neither one fully. Also, I am saddened even now as there was radiation to my neck and throat and I did not know that radiation keeps working, but I know now. Am 87 years of age. Live alone in senior housing in rural Nevada. Doing okay.
Virginia Johnson - Beaty, NV
I did suffer depression after surgery. I did well during the first part of surgery, and got my puncture for my prosthesis to talk, got the feeding tube removed, and could eat.
Then I had 37 radiation treatments. The first thirty were regular radiation and the last seven were higher power radiation Then they did surgery on my fore arm called a free flap at the time so they could use that tissue to close a fistula. That didn’t work so they had to remove my prosthesis and let the puncture close. This took a year and 35 under anesthesia surgeries. During this time my husband was very supportive. I don’t know a day he did not see me.
As I was healing my mother passed. Then one day my husband came home and said he couldn’t work anymore because his back hurt too much. They did some blood tests, X-rays and Cat Scan. My husband had five tumors the size of lemons throughout his torso. They tried chemo but his body wasn’t tolerating it so they had to quit. So there I was with my husband that had been with me through everything and I nor the doctors couldn’t do anything. Except watch him die.
Between my husband’s death and my recovering from my throat surgery I was depressed for a long time. I am now living up north where we had planned to retire and where my son and his family live. They don’t have support groups for laryngectomy up here. Also they do not have speech therapist who knows anything about laryngectomy up here. So I get most of my support from Web-Whispers and friends.
Thank you for letting me vent.
Karol Beaufore – Alpena, MI
It's now a bit over 25 years since my surgery and I can say that I have not suffered from depression during that entire time (at least as far as I and my family know). I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism as have many if not most of our elite group. This was about five years after surgery.
I'm firmly convinced that my lack of symptoms of depression were and are due to a number of factors. First, I don't think I'm genetically disposed to depression. Second, I have my family close by and see them regularly. Third, I'm actively engaged with my church community. Fourth, I am also engaged in the local community and they supported me strongly after surgery. Fifth, from the beginning I deliberately made all of the above groups an engaged part of my cancer diagnoses and the treatments for it.
I am, by nature, an introvert and self-sufficient. My late wife was an extrovert, even to extremes. By a combination of her pushing and shoving along with my own realization that I needed to be engaged with other people, I have made a continued effort to move outside of my comfort zone. It certainly helps that I am a fluent tracheoesophageal speaker using a hands-free valve with good success.
I can't guarantee that what works for me will work for all. But if you keep engaged with family and community even if it requires forcing yourself, get your thyroid hormone levels under control and seek treatment if depression shows, I think it will do wonders for your everyday enjoyment of life and peace of mind.
Carl Strand, Mystic CT
Radiation Summer of 1991, Laryngectomy February 10, 1993
You asked if I got depressed after my surgery and my answer is a resounding NO. Not for one minute was I depressed about it; I just accepted that that is the way life was going to be from then on. I have a very strong faith in God and I just figured there was a reason he had for having my voice taken away. One thing I have noticed is that it has brought me out of my shell. People used to call me "mouse" because I never said anything and now you can't shut me up. I figure my opinion is just as important as anyone else's, and I have never felt that way before. Oh one other thing I should mention that I can do now that I couldn't do before; I can sing on key!! Sorry to make this so long, but I told you, you couldn't shut me up.
Christine Pieper- Midlan, MI
I had a temporary fairly mild period of depression following surgery. It lasted on and off for a few months if I remember correctly. I was helped by a therapist who helped me realize that the depression was normal for what I was going through. This was a big help.
I think my personality has been effected by becoming a laryngectomy. I occasionally become discouraged when I am unable to participate in conversations with large groups in a noisy environment. I think the medical teams need to place greater emphasis on the mental impact of the surgery and do a better job preparing the patient for the possibility of depression and assistance if it appears.
Richard Sipp – Midland, MI
I didn't go through a depression, I'm not sure why not but all I thought about was that I was alive. My sister lived with me and talked to me all the time. She was good at reading my lips and my pen writing. I also had a part time job and kept busy and tried not to think about not having a voice for 6 months.
When I got my TEP, it was unbelievable that I could talk. Sure I have my problems with the TEP but I deal with it 1 day at a time.
Betty Belue – Winthrop Harbor, IL
Next month’s question is:
"What method of speech do you use and why did you choose it?"
Thank you for your submissions. Edits are used for length, clarity and to keep comments on subject of the month.
Staff of Speaking Out