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Voiceless, Hungry, and Determined at Sixteen

2014-08-19 15.31.31[Editor’s note. This Patient Story is the first of a two part series written by a member of the NFOSD team from a written interview with patient Angelica Hunsucker. All content stems directly from responses to documented interview questions and has been approved in written form by Angelica.]

An Introduction

Imagine having a delicious family meal with laughter, conversation between bites, and clinking utensils transform into sustenance in the form of liquid vitamins and nutrients poured into your stomach through a tube. This liquid diet has replaced my memories of favorite foods and social meals for the past ten years. My name is Angelica Hunsucker. I’m a twenty-six-year-old disabled mother of two beautiful little girls. This is the story of how my whole world was turned upside down at age sixteen.


In the fall of 2003, I remember suffering from a constant cough and intense pain in my throat. Whenever I ate or drank anything – even water – I felt excruciating pain as if I was trying to swallow razor blades. I wrote this off as a bad cold with a sore throat, as I had just had a bad cold the month before.

The pain persisted, and I began to seek help. Repeatedly I was sent home from the hospital with nothing more than cough medicine. I was still in school at the time and I began to miss a lot of class, especially when I began coughing up blood. I didn’t like going to school and interrupting the class everyday because of my illness. Most days I stayed home from school because it was too hard to be there with the coughing, pain, and not being able to swallow anything during lunch. Missing school ultimately saved my life, as an event where I passed out and couldn’t breathe led to me returning to the hospital. Upon admission to the hospital, I was quarantined for fear that I had Tuberculosis.

Receiving a diagnosis

I awoke following a biopsy to find out that I had been living with squamous cell carcinoma, a throat cancer. I can’t say that I was scared to hear this diagnosis; I was more relieved that I had an answer to why I was so sick. I felt like finally everyone would get off my back – I had a reason for the way I was feeling. I had been accused of using drugs after losing 40 pounds in three and a half months from not being able to swallow. Now, I finally had some peace.

After my diagnosis, I never spent a day alone. All of my friends were supportive and encouraged me to continue to fight. My mother spent every day and most nights with me.

Moving Forward

Doctors began radiation therapy every morning for four weeks and chemotherapy every Tuesday for three months. I honestly don’t know why they did all that, because when all of that was done they went ahead and performed a total laryngectomy. This procedure removed my larynx, or voice box, leaving me unable to speak and altered the pathway from my mouth to my lungs for breathing as well as my ability to swallow. My doctors also attempted to reconstruct a new esophagus for me, and although it closed after about two weeks I’m grateful for that brief period when I was able to swallow again.

I was given a few months to live. I didn’t want to accept this prognosis. I didn’t want to waste time talking – I wanted to start treatment immediately. It’s now ten years later and I am completely cancer free. My fight isn’t over though – I am still striving to regain the ability to swallow, to speak, and to go back to school. I have goals outside of my medical recovery. I want to be able to share a meal with my daughters and talk with family and friends. I want to pursue my career goal of opening and running my own bed and breakfast. I’m not done yet.

Angelica is currently fundraising to travel from her home in North Carolina to Sacramento, California for a procedure that may allow Angelica to swallow again. Please visit her fundraising page in order to support her efforts.


[Editor’s note. We welcome your thoughtful comments! Name (at least a first name and last initial) and email address are required. The email address will not be displayed with your comment. We moderate all comments.]


Food for thought:

1. Have you experienced difficulty obtaining a proper diagnosis in the past? How was your situation similar to Angelica’s?

2. What is one thing that you learned from Angelica’s story?

3. Based on your experience, do you have any advice that applies to Angelica’s situation?

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