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John Gerrity, MA, CCC-SLP, in honor of Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month

April 18, 2022

What is your role within the Head and Neck Cancers Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital?

As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) my role is rehabilitative. In Smilow, my colleagues and I evaluate and treat swallowing disorders, provide voice restoration and treatment, and diagnose and treat patients who have trouble with articulation in the setting of their head and neck cancer. My goal is to help patients return to their prior level of functioning and to improve their quality of life.

Is there a piece of advice or support you try to extend to patients and their families? Words of hope?

For my patients, I would like for them to know that they have a whole team behind them that wants nothing more than to see patients get better. We are here to support patients not just through their course of treatment, but following their treatment as well. The diagnosis of cancer is life-changing, and we want our patients to know that we will always be there to support them.

What are some of the biggest challenges a patient may face after treatment for their head and neck cancer, and how are these managed?

Many patients who undergo treatment for head and neck cancer may have difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia. For patients receiving treatment, my colleagues and I provide therapy to make sure that individuals can safely get all the nutrition and hydration they need. Some patients need ongoing swallowing therapy after their cancer treatment is completed, and it is important for them to follow up with their healthcare providers and to bring up any concerns they may have related to swallowing.

How do you work with physicians in the Head and Neck Cancers Program to provide multidisciplinary care?

I am so fortunate to be part of a team that is made up of incredibly skilled, caring, and dedicated medical professionals. In Smilow, my colleagues and I work closely with physicians and other providers to manage swallowing and communication disorders. When it is determined that a patient will be undergoing surgery or other cancer treatments, the medical team refers them to speech pathology so we can complete a baseline assessment. The speech pathologist provides education on how a patient’s speech, voice, and swallowing may be impacted by treatment. The patient then works with the speech pathologist throughout treatment, and the SLP is always in close communication with the physician to coordinate care.

Submitted by Emily Montemerlo on April 18, 2022