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Laryngectomee Stories

Stories told by fellow laryngectomees

I saw a kid the other day with purple hair, tatoos, baggy pants (the total punk look) he had pins and rings in his ears, nose, lips, tongue and who knows where. I was standing with a friend of mine, who said to the kid "why would you purposely punch that many holes in your self?" The kid lit a cigarette and said he just likes being different "the more holes the better". 

My friend pointed to me and said "as far as holes are concerned this guy has you beat". The kid looks me up and down blows out some smoke and says "yeah right" I held up my index finger which got his attention and said "keep smoking and you may catch up with me" pointing toward my neck. I took off my scarf, and the kid's jaw dropped. I put my scarf back on and said one word "cigarettes", and flagged down a cab.

It began as an innocent trip, a few friends heading up to hike Mount Washington.  Problem is, we never do anything the easy way; whether it's jumping out of a plane or white water rafting, there's always a twist. 

This time, the twist was Bob (he always does things with a twist or is part of the twist).  Climbing up to the top of Mount Washington Peak is no easy task, for anyone.  When we started the climb from base camp up to the summit there were 5 of us.  Three of us had climbed the mountain before, Bob the laryngectomee, neck breather and I had never experienced the task at hand.  Despite not being able to breathe through his nose or mouth, he and I climbed and to the summit at 6,288 feet above sea level.  

He was cold and out of breath through much of the climb and was determined to continue no matter what.  I stayed close to him, usually 10 to 50 feet above and in front.  It was a beautiful sight cresting the mountain and seeing the observatory at the summit.  

His wife had nervously driven to the summit and was there to greet us.  Hot soup awaited us at the top and beer and champagne were enjoyed on the windy steep descent by car a few hours later.  Bob gives me all the credit for getting him to the top, but told him I only stayed with him, I didn't carry him.

The Geezer League

My name is Bob Herbst and I'm 61 years old. I had my total laryngectomy on March 20, I998 and came out of surgery with a right side radical neck dissection. I couldn't look straight ahead or to my left without moving my torso. My right side was so tight that my head was positioned just off my right shoulder. I was actually a hazard on the road, not seeing everything on my left. My wife made me go to a Physical Therapist. We called her the "Pain Nazi" (I can say that since I'm German, and not always politically correct LOL). She pushed all of her clients to the breaking point and the vast majority are much better off for it. "No pain no gain". Looking back now, I can say she was a god- send. She had me moving my neck almost an inch farther by the end of each session. Today I can almost imitate the head swivel of a barn owl!

Okay. So after fixing that, my friend Ron Leclair decided I needed to get to a gym and build/rebuild some muscle tone. He put me on every torture machine in the building and had me do everything that I could lift, pull, hoist, push and/or stretch. Then onto to the tread mill, where he ran 6 to 7 mph like it was nothing and I, a former high school runner, tried to maintain a 3 to 3.6 mph jog.

Today I am a long time member of Planet Fitness. I try to go once a week, but it ends up being only 2 or 3 times a month; still it does wonders tightening and firming muscles that you didn't know you had, and getting your heart beating. I now jog 2 minutes at 3.6 mph, then speed it up to 6 mph for another 2 minutes and repeat that exchange for an hour. When I get off the tread mill my legs are rubber; I look like an old dish rag and I'm puffing air through my stoma like the little engine that could. People tend to give me a wide berth on my way to the locker room. Ron also entered me into several 5k charity runs, and I have never come in last (close to last, maybe, but not last).

At 55 I semi-retired. My wife, Lesley, a recently retired nurse, had been playing golf with a clutch of other nurses. She kept asking me to go with her and try golf. When I was growing up I thought golf was something only rich kids, business wheeler dealers and old ladies played (except for Arnold Palmer). Boy was I wrong! For one year I shared ladies' clubs with my wife and we played little courses in Connecticut.

I did not think golf was going to be something I would stick with. After one year of playing with ladies' clubs off the men's tee, I was convinced it was time to buy a cheap set of men's clubs. I was loving being out doors and whacking that little ball almost where I wanted it to go. We became snow birds and were asked by friends if we wanted to join a couples' league (only nine holes)and play every Friday afternoon. Neither of us felt we were good enough to be in a league, but we were talked into it. Because we had little experience Les was given a handicap of 30 and I was given a 20, again for nine holes, not eighteen. As it turned out we both needed all of those strokes. Week after week we got better and more comfortable with the game, the league, and the people. We were in our middle to late 50's and were the youngest couple in a league of 30 other couples. We are still playing on most Fridays with Dave, age 92, Bobby, a 93 year old woman and Clara, age 96. My handicap is now 10 and Lesley's is 27 for nine holes. Dave and Clara almost always beat us. They both have a cold beer after the game while all the scores are tallied up and we are all very social. Dave plays golf 5 days a week; the other two he tends to laundry and grocery shopping.

I affectionately call this group the Geezer League. I am no longer its youngest member; at 61 there are now 4 people younger than I. The moral of the story is "use it or lose it". Exercise while doing something you enjoy, even if it is just walking. Most of these people find that golf and the socialization that comes with it increases the length and the quality of life. I asked Clara, Bobby and Dave separately what was the secret to their longevity and all three said having a place to go see friends, using their body, being outside with god's creatures, and the game of golf kept them young. I wish you all could meet them.

I am now a total golfing convert. I can no longer swim, snorkel or scuba dive, so golf has become my favorite way of keeping healthy and alive. Most golf courses are beautiful, manicured, and picturesque places to be and it's a great way to meet new and interesting people. It's never too late to try your hand at golf if you are ambulatory and can walk and chew gum at the same time! I never touched a club until I was 55 and I hope to be playing at 90, like my fellow Friday Geezers.

Bob Herbst.