Volunteers help others find their voice

Volunteers help others find their voice

women at conference table
The free laryngectomy support group provides education, support and cameraderie for patients who have undergone laryngectomy.

Janet Sechrist, Jen Thomas and Jenny Shao have made it their mission to give a voice to people who have had their larynx, or voice box, removed due to cancer or other causes.

During the day, the three speech pathologists treat patients with a variety of speech difficulties. Outside the office, they donate time and voluntarily run a free support group for patients who have undergone a laryngectomy. They call the support group the Blue Hen Speak Easy.

Laryngectomy is a surgical procedure in which the whole larynx or voice box is removed and the stoma, an external opening into the larynx, is made permanent.

“The Speak Easy is a good outlet for discussion and an opportunity for new patients who have had this procedure to gain advice from seasoned peers who are prospering,” says facilitator Janet Sechrist, M.A., CCC-SLP, a Christiana Care speech-language pathologist.

Only 57,000 people nationwide live without a larynx, many of them young people in their 40s and 50s. Most continue to work post-surgery despite the unique challenges of communicating in a non-traditional way.

Monthly meetings of the support group focus on peer fellowship, education and support. Information about essential communication devices and supplies that improve breathing, swallowing and communication challenges is also available.

“As professionals, we feel compelled to share what we know. As citizens, it feels good to help people in our community and watch them help each other,” say Jennifer Thomas, M.S., CCC-SLP, Christiana Care speech-pathology clinical supervisor.

Gene Broderick, who attends the support group, says that the meetings ease the isolation she sometimes feels. “It’s nice to know I’m not alone,” she says.

The Blue Hen Speak Easy is Delaware’s only support group dedicated to improving the lives of persons who have lost their natural voices because of laryngectomy. The group features frequent guest speakers on a variety of topics. Meetings are held the third Thursday of every month at 4:30 p.m. in the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center’s small conference room. Attendance is free and open to anyone who has had a laryngectomy, their family members and caregivers.