Laryngeal Cancer

Survivor never gave up

Vietnam veteran Larry Ford never gave up during his fight with Stage III laryngeal cancer and he came out of it stronger than ever.

 

I spent four years in the Air Force before joining the Army and graduating first in my flight school class. For 14 months I served as an armed helicopter pilot in Vietnam, escorting troop-carrying helicopters and providing fire support to the ground forces. I was shot down multiple times but came away with just a leg wound. For my service, I earned a Silver Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and 31 Air Medals, of which five were with the V Device for valor. Now I can also add cancer survivor to my list of accolades.

In early 2008, my voice became hoarse and wouldn’t get any better. I’d been a smoker for years, but I still felt this warranted a trip to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The doctor took one look inside my mouth at my vocal cords before picking up the phone to make me an appointment at the hospital. After an examination and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with Stage III squamous cell carcinoma of the voice box on the right vocal cord.

My health care team explained the treatment options very well. Together we decided to pursue a partial laryngectomy followed by 45 rounds of radiation therapy. When all was said and done, I could still talk and I was off to experience the rest of my life. That is until the cancer reappeared on the other side of my vocal cords 18 months later. I underwent another surgery, and this time, my entire voice box was removed. I had to eat through a tube in my stomach until an additional surgery made it possible for me to once again eat normally. I now breathe through a stoma in my neck, which is a little inconvenient but I’ve gotten used to it.

Overall, I responded very well to treatment, and now I just go in for checkups every six months. My only continuing treatment is a thyroid tablet, and because most of the lymph nodes in my neck were removed, I sometimes need lymphedema therapy on my neck.

I keep myself busy and remain very active. I love to fish, play golf and bowl. In fact, I just bowled my 23rd official 300 game in February.

I’ve also started sewing. After my first surgery, I was bored. I had retired the year before and needed something to keep me occupied, so I took up sewing. I first made some simple flannel lap blankets for my grandchildren, and then I started quilting as well as designing and making purses, wallets, tote bags and children’s clothing. My designs have won sweepstakes awards at county fairs and top honors at the Kansas State Fair. I also now teach sewing classes at quilt shops and workshops at quilt guilds. So far I have taught in four different states, and I plan to continue teaching as long as I can.

Through everything, I’ve learned that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was—both physically and emotionally. I can do anything I put my mind to, and I’m very proud of what I’ve learned and accomplished in the five years since my diagnosis, surgery and treatment. I talk about my cancer experience a lot, and even though it’s behind me, I try to discourage everyone I know from smoking so it doesn’t happen to them as well. Now, I just plan to enjoy the rest of my retirement with my wife and our dog and live life to its fullest.

Throughout your cancer journey, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

 

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