FOR someone who has just lost the ability to speak fully Margaret "Santo" Spain still has plenty to laugh about.
Ms Spain touched down in Lismore last week via air ambulance from Sydney's Royal Alfred Hospital after undergoing life-saving surgery to remove deadly throat cancer.
It all started just four months ago when Ms Spain saw a doctor about what felt like a soy bean in her throat.
The GP was shocked by what he found, correctly identifying it as cancer before even taking a biopsy.
She was rushed to the Royal Alfred Hospital in Sydney where specialist surgeons with experience in the delicate task of removing the throat cancer were available.
A second biopsy delivered two blows. Firstly the cancer had spread fast and doctors would likely need to remove Ms Spain's larynx in the operation, meaning she would lose her voice.
Secondly the cancer was also found to be the extremely rare anaplastic cancer, which spreads so fast it's fatal in most cases.
"Usually people don't find out until it's too late," Ms Spain said.
Surgeons spent 10 hours removing the cancer after opening up her throat "from ear to ear" and cutting out several lymph nodes, her thyroid, her larynx, and her trachea.
Laryngectomy recoverees rely on a stoma in their neck to help them breathe and speak - another consequence is they cannot swim as water will travel into the stoma, potentially drowning them.
Being almost voiceless is a devastating and very permanent change, but Ms Spain - a well known natural child birth educator who ran the former Birth Education Centre at Lindendale for 10 years - has embraced her new life with optimism.
And she's happy to cover her stoma with a finger and push out just enough air to express herself.
"I've kept my humour throughout," she chuckled.
Son Oliver Tuck said the last few months had been a shock for everyone who knew his mum.
"She's been very helpful to a lot of people in her life... there's a lot of support for her in the community."
"For anyone else dealing with cancer, I feel for them and wish them well."
One side effect of Ms Spain's surgery was a painful shoulder condition which may have been caused by nerve damage.
It has meant Ms Spain is no longer able to drive her old manual car, but thanks to efforts by her son Oliver Tuck, family and friends came together to raise a few thousand dollars to try to buy her a small automatic.
They are now hoping a local car dealership might be able to assist by offering a discount used vehicle.
Messages of support can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org