Cancer forced Frankie to learn to speak again. Now he’s helping others find their voice

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Frankie Pace, a 45-year-old Caroline Springs man, had his voice box removed in 2021 in an increasingly rare operation performed by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s (SVHM) ENT, Head and Neck cancer team.

Two years later, Frankie is determined to help other patients going through the life-changing process.

The procedure, a total laryngectomy, cut out a cancerous tumor growing in Frankie’s larynx (voice box). Frankie now breathes through a permanent hole in his neck.

Frankie had a voice prosthesis placed in his throat, at the time of the operation, that allows him to speak. He speaks by covering the hole and blowing air from his lungs into it.

The device can be difficult to adapt to, requiring a patient to learn to speak through a different method than the one they have used their entire life.

“I didn’t speak for a few weeks while my throat was healing. The first time I spoke, my speech pathologist, Penny Chapman, was there to help me,” Frankie said.

“When I heard my voice, I fell to the ground in tears – I was delighted I could actually speak again.”


Pictured: Frankie with SVHM Speech Pathologist Penny Chapman.

While recovering, Frankie discovered how rare cases like his were – SVHM treats only a few each year. The procedure was previously more common due to higher smoking rates.

While health professionals are relieved less people are suffering from the condition, a consequential lack of awareness and experience can leave patients like Frankie feeling a bit “left in the dark.”

“I definitely felt pretty isolated because there were no other laryngectomy patients around me. The nurses and doctors were great, but I wanted to talk to someone who had been through what I was going through,” he said.

Frankie wanted to help others like him feel less alone and offered to become a mentor at SVHM. He has also been involved in support groups and the Laryngectomy Association since his recovery.

“I wanted to mentor other patients because of the experience I went through. I want to be that person to help guide them through it,” he said.

“I want them to achieve the fullest potential in their life moving forward as a laryngectomy patient.”

SVHM patient Doug underwent the same procedure and was Frankie’s first official mentoree at the hospital.


Pictured: Frankie mentoring Doug.

Since then, Frankie has also mentored Mandy – a patient who received a voice prosthesis in February 2024.

Speech pathologist Penny Chapman said Frankie was “an amazing and inspiring person and mentor to patients post laryngectomy at SVHM.”

“He is always so positive and caring and very generous with the time that he gives,” she said.

“Recent research conducted at SVHM revealed that it can take up to six months to adjust to having a laryngectomy operation, as patients are needing to self-care for their tracheostoma, mastering voice prosthesis speech and adjusting to an altered swallow.

“The mentoring process is so important to help assist them through this transition and Frankie provides them with hope, inspiration and education.”


Pictured: ENT Nurse Unit Manager Stacey Guzman and Frankie.