Teen singer Carley Allison battling rare throat cancer
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Every few moments, Carley Allison plugs the tube in her neck with her finger so she can speak, rasping.
The 17-year-old aspiring singer has a rare form of cancer, a malignant melanoma on her trachea; fewer than 10 cases are known worldwide.
“I feel pretty normal,” she says, sitting in her Rosedale home. “I just have a hole in my neck.”
Doctors discovered the tumour, which left her with 2 millimetres of breathing space, in early February and gave her an emergency tracheotomy. She now breathes through a tube in her throat.
“It’s alarming for people to see it,” she says, noting she felt slightly embarrassed in public and used to hide her “trach” with a scarf. “People don’t want to look, but keep looking, you know?”
So Allison decided, rather than hide in her home, she’d start a blog about her fight. Last week, she posted a YouTube video of herself singing for the first time since her tracheotomy.
Her video has had nearly 1,500 hits so far, and Allison wants every person who watches it to donate to the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.
“My voice isn’t as strong as before, but it sounds OK to me,” she says, adding it’s uncomfortable to sing, and tingles, but is worth it if anyone donates. She belts out a cover of One Direction’s More Than This in her YouTube video, and sounds like a finalist on any singing reality show.
Allison, who has lost weight since her tracheotomy, sits with her legs crossed, a warm cardigan wrapped around her thin body as she speaks of her biggest fight yet: She will have surgery Thursday to remove the tumour.
“My biggest fear is that it’ll damage my vocal cords permanently,” she says, dwarfed by the large couch she’s sitting on as she nervously shifts her weight. “They know what they’re doing.”
Surgeons will cut open her throat Thursday, remove the nearly four-centimetre tumour and stitch everything back up — meaning no more “trach.”
“I had to keep asking and asking that it’d be removed,” she says, laughing. “I can’t wait.” Her laughs start a small coughing fit, and she smiles once it’s over, recalling the nickname her parents gave to her “trach.”
“They call it my ‘loogie launcher,’ ” she says, remembering a coughing fit that recently sent phlegm onto her mother’s shirt across a table.
After surgery, Allison will spend at least 10 days in hospital and then begin radiation treatment soon after. She still plans on attending university in September, and has applied to Berklee College of Music, a prestigious music school in Boston.
“I’m staying positive,” she says, adding her doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital are always available to reassure her. They’ve put up with her constant questions, she says, such as asking them repeatedly to make sure she’s “knocked out” Thursday.
Allison was conscious for her tracheotomy — doctors couldn’t risk the anesthesia swelling her throat shut — and she can’t do that again. “It was scary” she says.
Her father, Mark, brings over her “speaking valve” so she can stop using her finger to plug her tube and get ready to sing.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about the video,” she says. “I want to inspire people to help others.”