Vocal Cord Cancer Fighter Shares Her Journey

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“Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.” -Hubert Humphrey

Ashley was diagnosed with vocal cord cancer in June 2017. She is fighting her disease for the fourth time.

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The Diagnosis

“I was diagnosed with cancer in June 2017. I went to an ENT after having a hoarse voice that progressively got worse over the course of at least several months. Biopsy results were positive for squamous cell carcinoma on my vocal cords, stage T2. I later found out that I actually had mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a salivary gland cancer.”

The Journey

“I started radiation treatments about a month after my diagnosis. Radiation kicked my butt. After 29 treatments I was sure I beat the beast. At my 6-month follow up appointment, we saw growths on my right vocal cord. I wasn’t too surprised because I had felt pain in my throat on the right side for a couple of weeks before the appointment. I had another biopsy and my doctor confirmed the cancer had returned.

He recommended a total laryngectomy. I sought out three additional opinions at top-rated hospitals. I ended up having a supracricoid partial laryngectomy, where they removed my vocal cords and some cartilage. The surgical pathology results showed that I had mucoepidermoid carcinoma, which would explain why radiation wasn’t effective. Recovery was tough, but after 3 months I was able to successfully swallow while protecting my airway and had my feeding tube removed.

At my 4-month follow up appointment we saw growths in my throat again, just below the cartilage that was previously removed. A biopsy confirmed that I was facing my second recurrence. On September 10th I had a total laryngectomy where they removed the rest of my larynx, took tissue from my forearm to reconstruct my throat, and gave me a permanent stoma through which I breathe. Because of the persistent and aggressive nature of my cancer, I decided to go through more radiation and chemo treatments. My body handled the treatments like a champ but in just a few short months, a CT scan and biopsy showed that the cancer was back again. I am starting immunotherapy and praying that it works.”

Motivation to fight cancer.

“All of the support and encouragement from friends and family has given me strength to continue with this fight. Making friends though online support groups who have been through the same things has been super helpful.”

Biggest hindrance

“It is discouraging when treatment after treatment fails to stop the cancer from returning. My body has otherwise been strong and I hope it continues to fight with me.”

Message to other fighters

“Treatment is hard. Recovery is hard. But you can make it through this. Lean on those around you who want to help. Take it easy on yourself and listen to your body; rest when you need to. You may also go on an emotional rollercoaster, where you have both highs and lows. That’s okay. When you’re done with it all you’ll realize you’re one tough cookie.”

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