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Inspirational choir gives voice to overcoming surgery for cancer

PUBLISHED: 10:02 06 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:02 06 December 2016

Andrew Beaumont of Beccles who is singing with the choir at the Shout at Cancer Christmas Concert, after having a laryngectomy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Andrew Beaumont of Beccles who is singing with the choir at the Shout at Cancer Christmas Concert, after having a laryngectomy. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

Most people take the art of speech and song for granted.

A laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the larynx, commonly known as the voice box. During the procedure the trachea (windpipe) is brought out through a surgical hole in the front of the neck and stops the connection from the lungs to the mouth, with patients forced to breathe through the neck. The most popular way to restore speech after this procedure is the placement of a valve that connects the rear of the windpipe with the oesophagus. When the stoma, (the hole in the neck), is closed off manually, the air has to escape and pushes itself through the valve and subsequently makes part of the gullet vibrate, which creates a sound. This sound gets shaped into vowels and consonants by the throat, mouth, tongue, teeth and lips.

But members of a new choir who are visiting Norwich tomorrow (Wednesday) have worked tirelessly to get their voices back after battling cancer.

The Shout at Cancer choir is made up of inspirational individuals who have had a laryngectomy, an invasive surgical procedure to remove their voice box due to the disease.

The Christmas concert, which will take place at St Stephen’s Church, is being co-ordinated by national charity Shout at Cancer, to promote head and neck cancer recovery in Norfolk.

Funds raised from the event will help to establish a new partnership between the charity and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, with the aim to begin a Head and Neck Cancer (HANC) support group and a similar locally-based choir group in the Norwich area.

Shout at Cancer is dedicated to helping people rebuild their lives after a laryngectomy and is the only charity in the world that implements breathing exercises, singing and acting techniques in voice rehabilitation for patients.

It was started by Dr Thomas Moors and as part of the therapy he set up the choir, which has 10 members from all over the country, including Beccles man Andrew Beaumont.

Dr Moors said: “The surgery affects the quality of life in many different ways. Patients have to overcome changes in smell, taste and swallowing. They also suffer from altered neck movement and difficulties in building up abdominal pressure. It does not come as a surprise that they often fall prey to mental health issues and social isolation.

“We take it a step further and try to support the patient and family through different psychosocial mediums. We use concerts and other social activities to engage the public and educate on the layered impact of this invasive surgery. The hole in the neck and the change in voice is just the tip of the iceberg.

“The choir is a way for people to overcome difficulties in a beautiful way by expressing a message and also getting more support and funding for more research. It’s a chance to get rid of ignorance and awkward reactions, which makes it much harder for people to deal with.”

Erica Everitt, tracheostomy specialist practitioner at the NNUH, said: “Having a local laryngectomy choir like this would be fantastic to raise awareness of head and neck cancer in the Norfolk area. It would be great to give support to local laryngectomy patients, by hosting workshops where they can learn different breathing and articulation techniques. The choir would also enable patients to socialise with other laryngectomee’s and support each other through their recovery.”

Andrew Beaumont is a member of the Shout At Cancer choir and has been instrumental in helping to set up the partnership between the charity and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. He is one of only two members of the choir from Norfolk and Suffolk and travels up and down the country to make concert rehearsals. Mr Beaumont, from Beccles, has been a patient at the NNUH for the past 11 years. He was diagnosed initially with cancer of the adenoids and three years ago found out he had tongue cancer, where he lost 60pc of his tongue and the part adjoining his larynx and his vocal chords. He said: “For the most part I taught myself to speak again without any formal training, but I met Dr Moors in May 2014 at a laryngectomy forum and I have supported Shout At Cancer ever since. In May he asked me to join the choir. Together we have persuaded the hospital of the benefits of this therapy and procedures. There aren’t very many of us, even worldwide, and we want to do what we can to enlighten people, whether publicly or professionally. It can be a very lonely life and the charity helps to improve people’s voices, speech and annunciation and breathing techniques. People are taught to breathe from the abdominal and pelvic muscle region.

“It takes a lot of effort and hard work to sing but it is so rewarding to see something being achieved.”

Entry to the concert at 7pm is free, with a suggested donation of £5 at the door.

Cakes, mince pies and mulled wine will be available to purchase on the night.

■ Shout at Cancer is looking for local voice coaches and/or music or acting organisations in Norfolk to collaborate with on projects.

■ For more information visit www.ShoutatCancer.org or email Andrew Beaumont at andrewbeau@icloud.com

Do you have a health story? Email health correspondent Nicholas Carding at nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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