Text only

Communication Forum Scotland

You are here: Communication Forum Scotland | Talk for Scotland toolkit | Listen to the experts | Clifford

Listen to the experts


Clifford is a member of the National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs

Clifford  Audio Audio quote from Clifford

'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 diary.

'Let's compare some basic behavioural patterns.

'You can 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 conversation.

'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 same time.'