After your operation

You will usually be taken back to the ward after your operation. You may be looked after in an intensive-care or high-dependency unit at first. The doctors and nurses can make sure your breathing is safe and your pain is well controlled. This is usually only for a few days.

After your operation, you will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. This is an important part of your recovery. It’s important to do regular leg movements and deep-breathing exercises. A physiotherapist will explain these to you.

Breathing and speaking

After a total laryngectomy, you will start to breathe through the stoma straight away. You may need extra oxygen to help with your breathing for a short while. The nurses give you oxygen through a special mask, which fits over your stoma.

You might notice you have mucus in your airway and that you cough a lot in the beginning. This should settle within a week.

Your nurse will use a thin, flexible tube (suction tube) to remove the mucus until you get used to the changes in your breathing. The nurses and physiotherapist will also give you breathing exercises to help with this.

You won’t be able to speak at first, but you can communicate by mouthing words, writing or using a communication chart.

Plenty of man-size tissues are needed to begin with, as coughing up mucus is predictable. I also found open-necked shirts easier so you can get to the stoma site quicker.

Chris

Pain

Your doctor or nurse will explain to you how any pain will be controlled or prevented after your surgery.

You may be given pain relief through a syringe connected to an electronic pump. The pump is set to give you a continuous dose of painkiller (analgesia).

You may also have a hand control with a button to press if you feel sore. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). It’s designed so you can’t have too much painkiller, so it’s okay to press it whenever you’re uncomfortable.

Always let the nurses know if you’re in pain.

Drips and drains

You may have several drips and drains in place for a few days after surgery. You will be encouraged to get out of bed and move around from the first day after surgery, so you will be given help with these.

You will have some thin tubes (wound drains) that drain fluid from your operation site and allow your wound to heal. Let your doctor or nurse know if these are uncomfortable. They are usually taken out 2 to 4 days after surgery.

A drip going into a vein in your arm will give you fluids for a few days. You will also have a feeding tube for liquid foods and medicines. You should be able to eat and drink again once your throat has healed, usually after 1 to 2 weeks. You will need to build up your eating gradually. The hospital dietitian can give you advice about this.

Coping and support

It can take time to recover from surgery to the larynx. Some people are worried about the change in their appearance after a laryngectomy. You may feel embarrassed about your stoma. This can affect your confidence and may be distressing. It often takes time to adjust and come to terms with learning to speak in a different way and to breathe through a stoma.

It can help to let your family and close friends know how you feel. Your doctor, nurse and speech and language therapist at the hospital can give you advice and support. They may put you in touch with someone in your area who has had a laryngectomy.

The National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs and the Cancer Laryngectomee Trust can put you in touch with your nearest group and give you information.

After my laryngectomy, it was a new world. When was I going to feel normal again? But with help and support, I learned to speak again, which was huge.

Stewart

Back to Surgery explained

Before your operation

Before you have surgery, members of your MDT (multidisciplinary team) will talk to you about what will happen.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.