By Tui Benjamin
A karaoke-mad mum discovered she had throat cancer when she could no longer hit the notes of favourite Tina Turner track Simply the Best.
Singing-obsessed mum-of-one Lucy Lodge, 31, got her first karaoke set as a six-year-old and enjoyed belting out hits by Tina Turner, Gabrielle and M People several times a week.
In 2010 her voice suddenly became huskier – meaning she could no longer stay in tune with the songs she loved – but she ignored this for nearly a year, thinking she had simply overused it.
But the following year Lucy, then 25, was diagnosed with aggressive stage four laryngeal cancer and underwent a gruelling six-hour operation to completely remove her voice box and larynx.
The insurance company admin worker, who had to learn to speak again in a new deep, gravelly voice by pressing a tracheotomy ‘button’ in her neck, can no longer sing but feels lucky to be alive.
Lucy, from Telford, Shrops, said: “I used to do karaoke most weekends and sometimes in the week too with my own karaoke machine at home.
“I had a good singing voice and had loved singing ever since I was a little girl, I got my first karaoke machine aged six.
“People always used to compliment me and tell me I should sing professionally.
“I always had a husky voice, but suddenly it changed quite a bit and went really deep. I first noticed the problem in September 2010 and in November that year I was singing Tina Turner’s Simply The Best to my mum and I couldn’t hit the notes.
“I suddenly realised I couldn’t hit certain notes I used to be able to sing. I thought I was going mad, but you can damage your voice through overuse and I just thought it was that.
“It was like I had a permanent frog in my throat, but it was cancer.
“Since my operation to remove my voice box I have a valve in my neck which is how I talk – I wouldn’t be able to speak without it.
“I had to learn to speak again from my stomach rather than my lungs. It was very difficult and I hated it at first because I felt like I sounded like a gremlin.
“Every time I spoke I just wanted to cry and I didn’t look in the mirror for 10 days after my operation.
“Singing was such a big part of my identity before this but I can’t sing anymore which breaks my heart. I have one video of me singing before I was ill and I watch it all the time.
“But I do feel incredibly lucky – not everyone is as lucky as I was.”
Lucy, who last year had son Keagan, one, with scaffolder partner Dave Preece, first visited her GP in August 2011 but alleges she was initially diagnosed with laryngitis and told to rest her voice for two weeks.
She returned and confessed her cancer fears to doctors – who she claims told her there was ‘not a chance’ she had throat cancer due to her age but agreed to do the tests to put her mind at ease.
Later the same month Lucy was diagnosed with stage one laryngeal cancer and underwent a six-week course of daily radiotherapy before being given the all clear in October 2011.
But the following month she began feeling ill again and in January 2012 returned to hospital for more tests – which revealed the cancer was back and had become stage four, the most aggressive.
At her initial diagnosis a tumour had covered a quarter of Lucy’s vocal chords but now both were completely covered by the cancer.
On Feb 1, 2012 she underwent a six-hour laryngectomy operation to surgically remove the whole of her larynx, or voice box, and create a permanent tracheotomy hole in her throat.
Lucy was left with a huge u-shaped scar which runs from one side of her throat to the other and needed 72 staples and now has no tissue or fat in her neck.
She spent 17 days in hospital and had to learn to talk again, using her stomach rather than her lungs and pressing down on her valve to make sounds by cutting off the air.
Lucy said: “When I was first diagnosed I was offered laser surgery but I decided to have radiotherapy instead because of my love of singing as doctors said the laser surgery could change my voice.
“When the cancer came back I begged doctors to do the laser surgery instead, but it was too aggressive so they had to do the laryngectomy.
“I was devastated. I knew deep down I would have to have the operation but it disgusted me. It made me feel sick.
“Doctors cut all round my neck from one side of my throat to the other, it was very gruesome.
“I felt like I had gone through all of that pain for nothing. I was so sad about not being able to sing and about how people would react to my new appearance. I hated my new voice and thought everyone else would too.
“If I had realised when my voice first changed how serious it was, I would not have waited so long.
“If it had been caught earlier, maybe it wouldn’t have been so aggressive and my advice to anyone would be if anything seems different get it checked straight away.”
A spokesman for laryngectomy rehabilitation charity Shout at Cancer, who Lucy worked with to create a documentary about her experiences, said: “We use singing and acting techniques in our workshops and we are very proud of our laryngectomy choir.
“We are in the process of expanding the UK cancer centres we are collaborating with. If you want to find out more about our activities or help to support our cause as a volunteer or with a donation, please visit our website here“