Colin Ellis: I knew smoking caused lung cancer but I never thought I would get cancer of the vocal cords at 52
“People think the hard part is the cancer diagnosis, but the difficult part is living with the aftermath. I have been living with a tracheostomy after being diagnosed with advanced cancer of my vocal cords, seven years ago. It affects the majority of your senses; speech, smell, taste as well as your physical and mental health,” said Colin.
A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening (stoma) through the neck into the trachea (windpipe). It helps a person breathe after having surgery.
At the time of his diagnosis, Colin was just 52 and a successful Operations Director for a large company, happily married for over 30 years with three grown up children and is now granddad to 10 grandchildren.
“I was a big character, usually the loudest person in the room and a born talker. My job as a Director of Operations meant communicating was a key part of my role. I was constantly talking. I had to give up the job that I loved. Losing my voice was like losing my identity but I have no one to blame but myself as it was purely through smoking.”
Colin started smoking at the age of 16, as a young Electrician working in the local mine. “Back in the day everyone smoked and I quickly progressed to 40 cigarettes a day. I then started smoking cigars, the big King Edwards. I, however, smoked them like cigarettes, inhaling them and I ended up smoking 20 cigars a day so it was worse than cigarettes.
“Having vocal cord cancer has affected every area of my life. My view is that when you are born everyone has a stamp on their foot which says what they will be; engineer, teacher - mine said talker. But there is only myself to blame – I gave my voice away by smoking to the extent that I did;” he said.
In 2010 he started having bouts of losing his voice completely and suffering from sore throats and shortness of breath. Initially thinking they were the results of drinking and smoking sessions with his friends but the length of time taking to recover his voice was getting longer so Colin went to see his GP who put it down to being overweight and snoring but his symptoms got worse and worse.
“On my eventual diagnosis in August 2012 I was told that without a tracheostomy I had three months to live. I was operated on very quickly resulting in me having no choice but to go cold turkey on the cigars and the nicotine withdrawal was horrendous. I haven’t smoked for seven years now.”
Colin added: “The impact of smoking and having had cancer means my wife is now my carer. My grandchildren have never heard me speak properly and I have gone from being a very social person to going out very occasionally as it is difficult to speak and be heard in a noisy environment. I cannot be the dad and granddad that I wanted to be and that is all down to me and my smoking.”