‘Porkchop’ one of 2007 Relay honorary cochairs
by Hawkins Teague
May 01, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With a missing voice box, James “Porkchop” Hopson might not be able to talk the way he used to, but he still enjoys his life and, through that enjoyment, serves as proof that cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Hopson is one of this year’s two Relay For Life honorary cochairs. Dannye Wagner, one of the Trigg County Relay cochairs, said that every year, team captains nominate someone for the honor and the votes are tabulated. Wagner said the only criteria are that the people be inspirational examples of cancer survivors. Admittedly these people aren’t too hard to find.

“I don’t know one person who is a cancer survivor who I’m not inspired by,” Wagner said.

This year, all the previous cochairs have invited to the event as guests of honor, Wagner said.

Hopson, who is known to many simply as “Porkchop,” was diagnosed with throat cancer in October 2005. He wasn’t feeling well and at first thought he had the flu or a bad cold. After a doctor in Hopkinsville examined his throat with a camera, though, it was clear that it was much more serious. When he went to Louisville for surgery, the doctors told him that they might have to remove part of his voice box. When he woke up, he was shocked to find that they had removed the whole thing.

Not only that, but he lost all his teeth. He said this was he hadn’t taken care of his teeth, which made them a better conductor of radiation than they would have been if they were healthy. Since having the teeth would have made chemotherapy a lot more risky, they were removed. After six weeks of radiation, Hopkins also had third degree burns.

The biggest change in Hopkins’ life, of course, was adjusting to having a hole in his throat. He said that he had to learn how to talk again as if he were a newborn. Through trial and error, he learned how to talk by pressing his plastic trachea with his thumb. He had to get used to breathing in the right amount of air for what he wanted to say. He had to figure out exactly how much pressure to apply to the trachea too.

Several life changes related to his missing voice box were less obvious. He said that he can’t smell or taste, but that the hole in his throat acts as a nose since he breathes in and out of it. He can’t produce much saliva, which means that he can’t eat dry food. When he eats vegetables and chopped meats, he has to moisten it by pouring water on it.

Because the back of his throat is exposed to the air, the cold, dry winter air can be painful if Hopson isn’t careful. It took him a while to get used to covering his throat with his hand when he went outside. He also had to keep a humidifier in his house to keep comfortable.

Some might despair at all these radical changes, but Hopson almost shrugs them off. Even though he recently had an appointment to get a tumor in his hand looked at, he doesn’t seem too distraught. He said it isn’t that different from getting old, though he hasn’t experienced that yet, being only 59.

“When you have cancer, you’re forever going back to the doctor,” Hopson said stoically.

So what caused Hopson’s throat cancer? He admits he used to smoke, although he said he doesn’t like to talk about that. He also used to work in a Hopkinsville car factory containing asbestos for 30 years. He can’t say for sure whether that was one of the causes, although he suspects it didn’t help.

For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.
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