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Positive story: The Opera Singer and The Thyroidectomy

Feb 08, 2012 - 1 comments










I am a professional singer.  A high spinto soprano.  Before I had my Thyroidectomy on Jan 13 I scoured the internet for good outcomes for singers.  I found very few.

I wanted to let other singers to know that there can be a very good outcome.  

First I started with interviewing ENT Surgeons.  I live in the suburbs of Chicago so I am lucky to have several prestigious teaching hospitals within an hour of me .  

I settled on Dr. Guy Petruzzelli at Rush.  He was amazing.  He was honest with me that a thyroidectomy could end my career.  The issue is not the recurrent laryngeal nerve.  This is the nerve that controls the voice folds.  Most people worry about this one getting hurt.  Dr. P assured me that he had done more than enough thyroidectomies in his life time that sparing that nerve happened more often than not.  In his practice he has less than .5% with permanent damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

As a singer the nerve that is provides me with my voice is the superior recurrent laryngeal nerve.  This is nerve controls the muscles that allows a singer to be a singer.  It creates the high notes, the power and the control.  This nerve is also differently placed in every person. It is an anatomy issue making it harder to find and protect.  He told me that he would use every trick in his book to keep me a high soprano, but that there was risk.

Scary.  but I had to move forward.  My diagnosis was non toxic multinodular goitre with inconclusive results for follicular cancer.  I was already feeling that it was making my singing more difficult. And the possibility of cancer was just too much to ignore.

I decided that I trusted Dr. Petruzzelli and he was the one for me.  

My next stop was to find another ENT who specialized in voice and swallowing disorders.  The Bastian Institute was my first choice.  The majority of the Drs and therapist there are trained singers themselves.  I made an appoinment to find out what my steps should be for rehab after my surgery.  They did a baseline scope on me and put me through my singing paces.  Then we talked about the surgery.  Dr. Richardson told me that my choice of surgeon was spot on and that he highly doubted that I would have any issue recovering my voice.

His one bit of advice was to remind everyone I came in contact with on the day of surgery that I was a singer.  The biggest issue was to ask the anesthesiologist to use a tube no bigger than 6.5 to  

If three weeks after surgery I was not getting back notes in my high range I should call him, but he doubted that would be the case.  He gave me some simple exercises that my teacher and I should use as I started back to practicing and sent me on my way.

A week prior to my surgery I made a call to Dr. Ps office to make sure his staff had received Dr. Richardson's report on my voice.  I also made sure that it was noted in my records what my profession is and that the anesthesiologist was also notified.

The day before my surgery I got phone calls from each of the departments that would be involved.  They were all aware that I was a singer, but they also told me that I should leave nothing to chance and keep saying it until they put me under.

I must admit that the night before I went in I slept fitfully.  I was afraid that I would wake up after the surgery having lost the thing that makes me unique. My heart was lightened while I was getting prep for surgery.  Every nurses I came into contact with already knew my story.  Dr. P came in to let me know that he was humbled that I had put my trust in him and that he would everything he could.  To make it easier, he told me,  my incision would be larger than normal.  I was perfectly fine with that.  That was something I was totally willing to give up to make sure that I saved my voice.

I was wheeled into the OR and then the next thing I remember I was in recovery.  My throat was sore, but not bad.  I could speak and that made me smile.  Dr. P warned me not to be a hero.  To give it time before I attempted to see if my voice had survived.  He wanted me to give it at least a week before I attempted anything above E5.  I promised I would.

I went home the next day.  My physical recovery was easy.  I actually felt better than I had all year.  I waited a week as promised before I tried to squeak out a high note.  Dr. Richardson had told me not sing in the beginning, but just to do light sirens.  He said to not push it and to stop when I met resistance.  One day 7 I was able to get up to A5.  I knew right then and there that I was going to get my voice back.  I pretty much left it alone at that point.  I didn't do any vocalizing until week 3.  Now at 4 weeks I can sing up to a D6.  That is actually slightly higher than I was singing while dealing with the goitre.

A Thyroidectomy does not mean the end of an professional opera singers carrer. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

PS:  It turns out that all of the nodules that concerned the Drs were benign, but they did find a 4mm papillary cancer.  It is considered an incidental microcarcinoma and no RAI will be required.  Just blood work and ultrasound follow ups

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by sjksingout, Jul 31, 2012
Wow - like you, I've been scouring the net for information on this surgery and recovery of singing voice after a thyroidectomy.  I have been diagnosed with papillary cancer.  (I too am a high soprano and am very concerned about my future and career!)  I am seeing a surgeon Thursday who was recommended because he "works on singers."  Very nervous about this but your post was a great help.  Also anxious to find out if some things will be better after the surgery since I've had goiters and a cough off and on for quite awhile before this diagnosis.  Thank you!

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