10 Year Anniversary

by Boris Jovanovic

Ten years ago in February 2000, just two years after we moved in US I was diagnosed with throat cancer. Only someone who was touched with cancer through his own experience or has had a family member diagnosed with cancer know what that means. In addition we just moved here and we were far, far away from being settled on the new continent. I sat and spoke with my wife Ljerka and we figured out that we have a serious job to do. We were both scared, but I promised her that I will fight for my life, for us and our children. She promised to me that she will do everything to support me.

I visited Dr. William Grist's office at Emory Clinic to hear a second opinion with the hope he maybe will say this is not a cancer, but he confirmed the diagnosis and offered me to "pull it away" on February 29th, my wife's birthday and a day after our 22nd anniversary. Anniversary celebration ended with packing a "hospital suitcase" and next day instead of having a birthday cake she spent hours in the Emory waiting room. But she told me that she have had the best birthday gift when Dr. Grist come out with the bright smile and information that surgery ended successfully.

But, my recovery was not as it should have been. Instead of seven days I spent seven weeks on the feeding tube, I was feeling very tired, rapidly losing weight and strength. During the radiation therapy my thyroid was seriously damaged and before it was diagnosed and treated I was feeling miserable. Sometimes I was questioning myself as to whether I will be able to keep the promise I give my wife that I will fight and win this battle for us and our children, but my family and friends helped me to keep fighting. Today, when I'm looking back on all of those ten years I think that most important job was done in the first year or two, and I want to thank for everybody who helped me during that time.

My doc William Grist did a great job removing the "thing"from my throat and providing me all kinds of postoperative care. He was always ready to see me when something was moving in the wrong direction, and it was a lot of wrong things in the first two years. He was also helping me with other health issues because in this time I have not had a primary care physician. Dr. Grist was also my contributor when I raised money for the American Cancer Society.

My speech pathologist Ms. Alma Owens first taught me to speak with the electro-larynx and later with TEP, even hands free!!!. When she came to my hospital room the first time and taught me how to use Cooper-Rand I had the feeling she was not just there to do her job. I believed she was trying to help me as a best friend, and she is really a best friend of every laryngectomee she worked with.

I also want to thank to Ms. Arlene Kehir, a nurse in Dr. Grist's office. When I called her for anything I was always sure she would call me back with the right information: my prescription is already in pharmacy, she made me one brief appointment with the doctor etc...

The second group of people I want to thank a lot are all those good people I met at the Greater Atlanta Voice Masters. I have dozens of very good friends I made at GAVM. They all mean a lot to me and I'm thankful for all fellowship and support I received from all of them. But, tonight I want to express special thanks to three of them. First GAVM member I meet was Mr. Jarell Yates. Before that I only knew my own reflection in the mirror, and I was not very happy with the mirror. That was in the room E-822 at the Emory University Hospital in March 2000. The nurse opened the door and let in this elderly gentleman wearing a US Navy cap. He had a broad smile and introduced himself as Jarell Yates with the Greater Atlanta Voice Masters. Jarell brought VOICE and hope to my hospital room. After that visit I was eager to leave this hospital room as quickly as possible, to get rid of the feeding tube and to start the battle for my life.

The next very important laryngectomee person in my life was Charlie Ruppe. When Ljerka and I first showed up at Wesley Wood Budd Terrace it was Charlie who welcomed us at the door, with his arms spread wide and with a broad smile on his face. He spent a lot of time with us and offered any kind of help we needed. I remember he told me that we will be never left alone. I will never forget how much his encouraging words meant to me. On one of the next meetings he told me his WWII story, and I told him about how my father got captured by Germans and spent four years in Austria and Germany as a POW. Those WWII stories made some kind of connection between us.

At the first few meetings I spent a lot of time with Judy Naglit. She came to the Masters just a few months before me. As a new laryngectomee we have had similar questions and problems. She warned me to check my thyroid because she was experienced the same problem. She also helped me to find a new job and was my boss for a few years. She was dedicated to visiting new laryngectomee patients and she urged me to do the same. I promised her that I will do it when my voice got better, but when she lost ability to use TEP and still visited new patients I started visiting people without waiting for a "polished voice".

Third, but most important group of people is my family. I was lucky to be a part of great family. My mother, my wife and children, brothers, sister and other relatives offered me and provided all kind of support. Living with the laryngectomy is not easy; bat living with a laringectomee is not easy either. This 10th anniversary belongs also to all of my friends and relatives and first of all to my lovely wife Ljerka. Our children, family, doctors, nurses, speech pathologists and many other good people helped us a lot but surviving the cancer for the full decade basically was a "two man job." And Ljerka was a great caregiver all this time.