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Communicating with confidence

For 15 years Narelle Vazquez (pictured), 65, from Northmead worked as a principal at Northmead Creative and Performing Arts High School.

Narelle heavily relied on her speech and voice to address students and staff at many school assemblies and cheer on her students during dance, music, and circus performances.

All that changed about four years ago when Narelle was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, involving her jaw, tongue and floor of her mouth.

Following a number of surgeries, radiation therapy and speech and swallowing therapy, Narelle is making huge gains; getting her back to thinking about the possibility of returning to her much-loved career.

As speech pathologists across the Northern Sydney Local Health District celebrated (see page 11)Speech Pathology Week (August 25 - 31), Narelle shared her patient journey from diagnosis to now where she continues to work on regaining her ability to speak and swallow food and drink.

Narelle’s main goal is to get back to school for term 4 which is just six weeks away.

"I love my job and the students – I just want to be back there with them and my staff,’’ she said.

RNSH’s senior speech pathologist, Danielle Stone, has been helping Narelle with speech and voice rehabilitation for the past year.

Danielle specialises in head and neck oncology, as well as voice disorders and said Narelle had come a very long way with her speech.

"As speech pathologists in a case like Narelle’s, we are there to provide specific skill-based training to assist people in regaining the muscle function required to speak, eat and drink," she said.

"The biggest improvements occur when the patient intensively practices exercises at home.

"When Narelle first came out of surgery she struggled to swallow and needed about two minutes to swallow a sip of water.

When Narelle first came out of surgery she struggled to swallow and needed about two minutes to swallow a sip of water.
Danielle Stone, RNSH’s senior speech pathologist

"With an intensive swallowing rehabilitation program, she has made great progress and is able to drink liquids and eat pureed foods.

"We worked hard to retrain her brain to work with her new anatomy.

"We work very closely within the oncology team and manage people like Narelle from time of diagnosis and for years after treatment as needed."

Speech Pathology Week seeks to promote the speech pathology profession and their work with the more than 1.2 million Australians who have a communication disability.

For information about Speech Pathology Week visit

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