Mike was diagnosed with Glottic Cell Squamous Carcinoma in 2016.
Mike George has been a keen motorsport enthusiast his whole life. Each year, he and a bunch of mates meet up at Bathurst for a weekend of speed and good times. 2016 was no different to any other year, except that after the race session, something was not quite right.
“I came back from Bathurst and I was struggling for voice, in fact I almost had no voice,” says Mike.
He went straight to his GP and asked for a referral to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. His doctor floated the idea he might just have bronchitis, but he was insistent. “I felt fit and I felt well and had just had a great race meeting, but my head was telling me something was wrong.”
Mike was diagnosed with Glottic Cell Squamous Carcinoma on his vocal chords and booked in for 30 days of radiation therapy in June 2016 and given the all clear at the end of it. During this time a family friend suggested he meet with a specialist they knew to get a second opinion. “Best thing I’ve ever done.”
By December what was clear was that the cancer was still growing. Mike was booked in for another biopsy in January 2017.
“One of the registrars, a delightful person, said ‘if we ring you Thursday and cancel Friday’s appointment I want you to go and buy a lotto ticket. If we don’t ring you, Friday’s going to be a long day for you.’”
That Friday he walked into the clinic. “Did you forget my phone call?” he asked. Her response was, “Today is your day.” As a couple, Mike and his wife swung from one personal high to a low. From one trial to another.
On January 25th 2017 Mike had a full laryngectomy.
During the lead up to the operation and his recovery Mike was provided with a wealth of information by his team, and did an immense amount of research himself. Almost to the point of having too much information. “The thing is, that was all theoretical. The reality was when you woke up with a neck full of metal staples and a hole in your neck. That’s when the journey starts. It’s life changing.”
“The first thing I had to do is get my mind right.” While in recovery, Mike got up every day and did a circuit of the ward. By week two he was walking six kilometres. “It was to get my mind working, it was to get my body working, it was preparing to get outside to start enjoying life to the very best of my ability.”
With the encouragement of a fabulous nursing and surgical team, and a fair amount of hard work, Mike was able to start talking again just ten days after surgery. After twelve and a half he was back at home ready to face the next steps.
Getting back into public life as a ‘lary’, as many people he has met call those who have had a laryngectomy, was not easy. People often stare, eating and drinking is always a delicate process and you have frequent bouts of coughing and sneezing. “You need a windscreen wiper on the inside of your car”. It impacts every aspect of daily life and each lary has his or her own unique set of challenges.
“The challenges are the effects it has on you, your self-confidence and your relationships.”
Mike attended support groups and found many of the other larys attending were struggling, not only with the changes, but also the cost of the Heat and Moisture Exchanger (HME).
HMEs are essential pieces of kit for larys. They help reduce mucus production and coughing by humidifying and filtering the air breathed in, consequently greatly reducing the risk of respiratory infection. Unfunded the cost can be as high as $100 a week and at the time only NSW provided funding in Australia.. With the help of some very good friends, Mike formed a strategy to get HME funding and give larys a voice. This led to the formation of an advocacy group called, of course, the Larrikins.
Thanks to lobbying from the Larrikins, from July 2018 HME’s have been covered in Victoria and Queensland followed suit in July of 2019, but there is more work to be done to achieve HME funding for all states.
Mike is also passionate about educating emergency service staff on how to resuscitate larys in an emergency situation.
While many larys have seat belt covers and stickers on the windscreen explaining they are a neck breather to ensure their safety, on one occasion when talking to a training officer for paramedics, Mike was shocked when he asked how he would resuscitate him if the need arose and the trainer responded that he would place a thumb on Mike’s stoma and try to give mouth to mouth. This would most likely kill him.
If someone with a laryngectomy is in an emergency department and their voice prosthesis has come out, they can no longer communicate. How can they then ensure the staff know how to treat them? Mike was even at a random breath stop and the police officer suggested placing the breathalyser in his hole which again could have devastating consequences.
These are the challenges larys face. This drove Mike even harder to raise awareness.
Beyond Five is more than honoured to welcome him as our Community Ambassador for Victoria. If anyone is going to give larys a voice, Mike is a clear, strong choice.
“The challenge for 2020 is to help everyone living with head and neck cancer whether they're a lary or not, we need to raise awareness so people are diagnosed earlier and we also need to lobby government to get dental care covered as it is a key issue for head and heck cancer treatment”
Go get ‘em Mike.
Thank you Mike for sharing your story.
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