updated 1/15/2012 10:47:46 AM ET 2012-01-15T15:47:46

What Kirstin Flick thought was a common sore throat turned out to be a rare tumor.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

So rare that doctors have said she may be the only person in the world to have it.

On Nov. 4, then 19-year-old Flick visited a Fargo ear nose and throat specialist, who found that her throat irritation and difficulty swallowing was being caused by a mass at the back of her throat, near her vocal cords. She needed surgery immediately.

Doctors removed most of the tumor but found the mass was a cancerous tumor called synovial sarcoma, which had wrapped around her voice box.

Flick was referred to a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Synovial sarcomas are considered somewhat rare tumors in the medical field, and doctors there had never heard of one attaching to the voice box.

"(Sarcomas) occur mostly in the arms and legs, and treatment is generally amputation in those cases," Flick said.

Synovial sarcomas are very aggressive and do not respond to treatment.

"Really, my only option was to remove the tumor completely, which meant removing my larynx," Flick said. "So, I had six days between the news and the surgery because I already had two surgeries trying to get the tumor removed. They were afraid it would spread."

In three weeks, Flick had undergone three surgeries.

Today, Flick is back to her home in Fargo and cancer free. But, she must breathe through a hole at the base of her neck, called a stoma, and speak through voice prosthesis.

Flick recently spoke to The Forum, a news website in North Dakota, through text messages as she is still getting used to the stoma and prosthesis. She sometimes swallows a lot of air through the soma, which can make her nauseated from speaking.

Before the laryngectomy, Flick was a full-time college student and worked full time as a certified nursing assistant. She plans to return to Minnesota State Community and Technical College in the summer for nursing.

"I've always wanted to help people. I actually surprised myself at how much I enjoyed being a CNA," she said. "Being thanked for making someone's day just because you made them smile is undoubtedly one of the best feelings."

The Warroad, Minn., native said her scar is healing well and she is feeling more and more like herself, but public outings are still a challenge.

"I'm still sensitive when people blatantly stare at me in public and that sort of thing," Flick said.

Although she has had to slow down, Flick said she isn't stopping. "Adjusting to the talking has its ups and downs just like all learning, I suppose. The body is extremely adaptable."

It is Flick's adaptability that has been impressive to her partner, Morgan Grumley.

Grumley, whom Flick credits for aiding in her recovery, said Flick has become an even stronger person since the surgeries.

"She's had to fight so hard just to stay alive," Grumley said. "She's a different person now. She's a better person. She's doing much better than I ever thought she would. She's happy and she's stable, and she's cancer free."

Grumley has organized a fundraiser for Flick next month in hopes of raising money to help with Flick's medical bills as well as her education in the future.

Grumley said she doubts Flick will be able to return to working and attending school full time like before.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments