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World Head and Neck Cancer Day - Neville's Story

27 July 2023

July 27 is World Head and Neck Cncer Day. Held every year, this day aims to raise awareness about head and neck cancers to the general public and acknowledge the impact it has on people affected in our community. Head and neck cancers describes a range of cancers that begin in the head and neck region. Cancer can occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and salivary glands down through the throat.
On this Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Day, we want to share  Neville's story with you, who, after being diagnosed with a rare throat cancer is finding his voice again.

Neville and Family

Neville is a father, grandfather and husband of 23 years to Fran. An outdoors enthusiast, his passions include bushwalking, camping and spending time with his extended family. Neville is also a patient of Peter Mac after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma.

Neville's diagnosis came as a shock to him and his family.

I first noticed a change in my voice in October of 2021, I felt like I had a bubble in my throat that I could not clear. 

A test detected an abnormality on Neville's trachea, so Neville's doctors pursued further testing. Whilst Neville was waiting, in December he began to bleed from his oesophagus, and so he went to his local emergency department for more testing.
"Due to COVID restrictions I was alone. It was here I found out that I had a growth on my voice box that had protruded through my oesophagus and was most likely cancer. I was admitted to the ward for further testing."

Neville Posts Three Image 

The test results confirmed the tumour was cancer, but it did take weeks before I learnt the type I was dealing with. I was being prepared for a total laryngectomy and fitted with a feeding peg ready for post-surgery.

A laryngectomy is a surgery to remove part or all of your larynx (voice box). For people affected by a head or neck cancer that requires a laryngectomy, they will need to learn new ways to breathe, speak and swallow.
"The 20-hour operation involved an ENT to remove my oesophagus, voice box, glands, 50% of my thyroid and lymph nodes, and plastic surgeons to rebuild an oesophagus with a skin graft from my thigh and voice prosthesis. An expected 3 day stay in ICU turned into a 3 week stay and further surgery due to a massive infection and leak in my new throat. I was given hyperbaric chamber treatment and intensive antibiotic treatment for the raging infection.
"When I finally got to the ward I had so many hiccups. The new oesophagus leaked, I could not even swallow my own saliva in an attempt to let the hole close. I ended up with blood clots on my lung and in my pic line and neck due to immobility with the skin graft. It was 8 weeks of being on a ventilator, peg fed, intense antibiotics and being immobilised.
"After learning to breathe on my own, walk again and swallow I finally got to go home 3 months later."
During Neville's treatment, he received over 30 rounds of radiation and extensive follow up care from his dedicated physicians. He credits his recovery to the incredible support of his family and his team of specialists and nurses.
As a part of his ongoing recovery, Neville has to have a follow up dilation every 3-6 weeks to stretch his oesophagus and works with a speech therapist regularly.

I cannot smell, my nose is obsolete, my main communication is through lip reading, simple sign language and some simple sounds I can make.

Surrounded by a loving family and supportive friends, Neville is redefining how his life looks after a cancer diagnosis. Now 18 months on from when he was diagnosed, Neville is home with his family.

Neville And Fran

He’s had a career change from his previous role in a glass factory, instead now joining his wife Fran to work in a small retail business.
Neville credits his survival to the incredible cancer research that Peter Mac's team has undertaken over the years that helped to inform his own cancer care.
"I am so grateful for the support of my family and my team of specialist and nurses. The research that Peter Mac do has saved my life, they are the leaders in my specific type of cancer and provided so much guidance to my medical team during treatment. If you are ever in the position to donate to Peter Mac, please do."

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