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This Throat Cancer Survivor and Laryngectomy Patient Cheers on the Phillies as a Hostess

A laryngectomy to battle throat cancer didn’t stop Barbara Kuhn from pursuing her dream retirement job – being a hostess for the Phillies.
Barbara in Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game.

Barbara Kuhn will greet fans for up to 81 baseball games at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Phillies.

I will never be able to speak again. That’s all I kept thinking to myself when I heard I had a cancerous mass on my throat, after already winning my fight against throat cancer several years before.

My surgeon told me I needed a laryngectomy, which meant I would need surgery to remove my larynx – my voice box. As a result, I would have an opening in my neck that would allow me to speak through a valve or “button.”

Just weeks before hearing this news, I thought the hoarseness I had was from a cold or from talking. Back then, in 2010, I had to talk with a lot of people in my job as a supervisor at JCPenney. That’s why I waited so long to go my doctor, who would then refer me to a head and neck surgeon, Dr. David Cognetti at Jefferson.

Dr. Cognetti was awesome — so caring. On my follow-up visit, when I found out I would need the laryngectomy, he introduced me to a patient who had already received one. Wayne was in the Buddy Program for cancer patients at Jefferson, where they pair up a trained cancer survivor with someone who was just diagnosed. If it weren’t for Wayne, I don’t know what I would have done. He made me feel so at ease and said, “You’re gonna live on.” And since he had gone back to work and did everything he wanted to do, I thought, “I can do this, too.”

After my surgery, in and out of the hospital, I had a lot of help. My daughter and sister-in-law were a big part of my recovery. And so was Addie, one of my great speech therapists, who worked with me over several sessions. She showed me how to talk with the button on my neck and how to care for my prosthesis (which maintains the opening). She was very reassuring and made me feel that it was going to be OK.

With all the caring I received, I wanted to share and give back. So, soon after I recovered, I joined Jefferson’s Buddy Program to help other patients, as Wayne had helped me. I also started going to the laryngectomy support group at Jefferson and met other patients — such nice people. Today, my best friend is one of those patients.

That was all just the start of the amazing new experiences this journey has given me. One of the most exciting things about my life now is that, after I retired in 2017, I landed a job at the Phillies as, of all things, a hostess! That, of course, requires a lot of talking. This year, 81 games’ worth of greeting the fans. I show people to their seats, talk with them, and make sure they’re having a good time. I even see Dr. Cognetti at a lot of games and I go find him to say hello.

As Wayne told me I would, I keep on living – and living well. I’m more active now and I do more things than when I was sick, including a big hiking trip with my daughter just recently. I want to push myself to the limit and nothing is going to stop me.

When I was released from the hospital and had to manage my way through a new way of speaking I went around asking everyone on the street, “What time is it?” I loved every chance to practice, and I haven’t stopped talking since! I have a lot to say – about being positive, giving back to others and enjoying life.

I’m thrilled to have my voice back, and now I’m happy to say that I can’t shut up!

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Patient Perspectives