Listen to the experts
Clifford is a member of the National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs
'Hello. My name is Clifford Hughes. I'm a
laryngectomee, and a proud grandpa. My grandson Calum
loves bedtime stories and if he could write a limerick about
me, he'd say something like:
My grandpa's a silly old goat.
He talks with his thumb in his throat.
His voice is so deep
It lulls me to sleep
And off into dreamland I float.
'One in every thousand cases of diagnosed cancers is
laryngeal or voice cancer.
'My cancer and, inevitably, my voice were removed in January
2001. A crucial part of the operation is to implant in the
throat a small valve made of silicon. To speak, as Calum
pointed out, I close my air hole with a thumb or finger, and air
passes from the lungs through the valve to the mouth.
'But I can't speak to you if I meet you at the supermarket
and I'm carrying a bag of shopping in each hand, or if we bump
into each other at a conference lunch when I've a glass of
Chardonnay in one hand and a plate of sandwiches and sausage
rolls in the other.
'And don't expect me to respond fluently to your phone call
if I have the phone in one hand and a pen with which to take
notes in the other. Or, if I have to turn over pages in my
'Let's compare some basic behavioural patterns.
sneeze. Bless you! You can blow your nose. I need to blow my
throat, and generally I try to find a private place to do it,
though I can operate behind the neck-cover (a type of cravat) which I wear.
'I can talk to you sitting quietly, but put me
into a crowd in party mood in a room with a reverberant acoustic
(imagine, for example, a Hogmanay party!) - I simply
cannot project my voice sufficiently to engage in meaningful
'There are some misconceptions which try the patience of the most tolerant 'lary'. Recently, at a unisex hairdresser, I couldn't compete with a symphony of hair-driers so I mouthed, "How much?" My hairdresser whispered back, "Four pounds", and waved four fingers in front of me! We have to be patient when the assumption is made, "Can't speak... must be deaf" or "Can't speak... must be stupid".
'Larys, because they cannot breath through the nose, have no
sense, or only a vestigial sense, of smell. Is the toast burning?
Have I overdone the aftershave? Is gas escaping? As a Church of
Scotland minister, I remember one Boxing Day taking a service at
Seafield Crematorium. I can still remember the smell from the
water treatment works. But don't ask my opinion on it now.
'It's not all doom and gloom. Just think. I can no
longer snore! I can't choke on my food. If I run over a skunk -
I can't smell it! I've no allergic reactions to pollen. And I
can kiss my wife without coming up for air and tickle her neck
with my breath at the same time!
'So, if you want me to give my opinion, I must have a hand free to
speak. And I'm happy to speak to a room full of people, but only if
there's a good PA system and people don't all speak at the