Alumni Q&A: Interview with Communicative Sciences and Disorders Alumna Teresa Lyden

Teresa is standing, left, next to Peter LaPine, middle, and fellow alumna Anna Blakely, right

Teresa H. Lyden, '92 Speech Pathology graduate and Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for the University of Michigan's Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, works every day to improve the lives of those with speech difficulties.

MSU and ComArtSci invited her to share her Spartan alumni experience.

Q. When you look back at your life and work so far, what gives you the most pride?

A. My children, Caleb and Paul. They both served time in the Marine Corps (Caleb 5 years and Paul 4 years) and finished their active time as Sergeants. They are both in the process of furthering their education. Caleb is completing his second year at MSU and Paul is completing his first year at EMU. On top of all they have achieved already in their adult lives, they are both just good people. I could not be more proud of what they have accomplished thus far in their lives and I am looking forward to watching as they continue on their respective journeys.

Q. What inspires you to work toward your goals and accomplishments? 

A. Early in my career, and even now, I strive to be one of the best Head and Neck Cancer Speech Pathologists (SLP) working. The reason behind that statement is that I have always wanted to make a difference for the patients that I work with/treat. My goal has been to try and make their lives a little “better” as they go through the process of fighting head and neck cancer.

Q. Could you describe a day in your professional life? 

A. I work primarily in a clinical position, meaning that I evaluate and treat patients. However, I also participate in funded and non-funded research. Nearly every day there are surgeons/doctors in the clinic seeing patients. As such, I will see patients almost every day. My direct patient contact time varies from about 4-5 hours on light clinic days and 8-10 hours on heavy clinic days. I see patients alone and in combination with their surgeons depending on the type of patient visit.

My job is to evaluate and treat verbal communication and swallowing functions/disorders related to head and neck cancer: cancer from the nasal cavity down to the top of the food tube. This means that I may see patients that are pre-treatment, during treatment (radiation therapy and chemotherapy) or post-treatment and or surgery. The extent of deficit to communication and or swallowing function depends on the size of the tumor and the extent of surgery or treatment used to treat cancer. Regardless of the type/extent of surgery or treatment, most often there is some degree of verbal communication and or swallowing impairment associated with treating cancer. 

I help patients talk and swallow better. I do this by figuring out what the deficit is through evaluation. Once I have targeted the deficits (communication and swallowing) that require intervention, I then work to improve that deficit area by teaching the patient oral motor, swallowing and speech exercises/strategies to improve ROM, timing and strength. The goal is to assist patients in returning to the highest level of function (getting people back to eating and talking as close to how they were prior to their cancer diagnosis).
I spend approximately 4 hours per week completing funded research related to the evaluation and treatment of swallowing function in Head and Neck cancer patients. I also spend time nearly every day returning phone calls to patients (1-3 hours). Although not always on a daily basis, there is time spent collaborating on research projects, papers, chapters for textbooks, etc with colleagues in the OTO department, Radiation Oncology, Medical Oncology, etc.

Q. What are some of the greatest challenges working in your field?

A. I'd say trying to balance providing the best care to patients while seeing an increased number of patients and completing documentation in a timely fashion.

Q. What would you consider to be the defining point in your life or career? 

A. Receiving an unsolicited compliment regarding a patient’s level of communication efficiency from a pioneer in the field of Speech Pathology. This speech pathologist was the person that wrote the textbooks that I learned from when I was in college. I was at a conference and he had just spoken with one of my patients. He was so impressed with how well the patient was communicating that he came and told me so. At that moment I knew that I was doing what I was meant to be doing.

Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned along the way?

A. I actually have two that I would like to share. First, treat every person that you interact with as you would like to be treated. You never know what someone is going through. Sometimes a small act of kindness can make a world of difference to a person going through a very difficult time in their life. Second, every day is an opportunity to learn something. Do not miss out on an opportunity to learn because you think you already know everything you need to know.

Q. What opportunities did you have at MSU or ComArtSci that helped you get where you are today? 

A. Peter LaPine, Ph.D., who was my professor and is currently a professor at MSU, provided me opportunities to increase my knowledge and exposure to the head and neck cancer population in the classroom and in various clinical settings during my time at MSU. Post-graduation, he was my clinical mentor for many years. I would contact him when I needed guidance. He always was willing to help troubleshoot a situation. Without Peter, I likely would not have become a Head and Neck SLP. So, thanks to him for introducing me to and helping to guide my path toward the Head and Neck cancer population. He has direct involvement in my chosen career path. Shout out to one of the most incredible and outstanding professors at MSU! I couldn’t have done this without you, Peter!

Q. How do you give back to your community or motivate others to work toward the common good? 

A. I run a monthly support group and often invite SLP’s and SLP students to participate. In addition, I frequently have SLP students and practicing SLP’s shadow in the clinic where I work. l have lectured at both MSU and Eastern Michigan to SLP undergraduate and graduate students on the topics of evaluation of communication and swallowing deficits in the Head and Neck Cancer population. I have hosted several onsite educational events open to SLP students, SLP’s, other medical professionals and patients. I have lectured throughout the state and repeatedly at our state conference (MSHA) over the years.

Q. What are your future plans or career goals? 

A. Continue to provide the best clinical care that I can and complete research on communication and swallowing disorders in the Head and Neck Cancer patients in order to improve patient outcomes. Although a Spartan through and through, I am very proud to work at the University of Michigan in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and to be part of such an incredibly gifted and talented team of medical professionals.

Q.  What advice would you give to MSU and ComArtSci students? 

A. Stay focused and work hard to achieve your goals. Do not expect anything to be “handed” to you. Also, remember that as your life experiences change, your goals may change. Do not be afraid to continually update and modify your goals as you grow. You may start down one path and end up on a completely different one. During my Freshman year, I thought I was going to be an engineer. As fate would have it, I crossed paths with a person that majored in Speech Pathology and Audiology. After talking with her, I realized that I was more interested in her major than my own. That interaction changed my path completely. As the saying goes, “Do what you love and love what you do.” In the long run, you will be happier with your career.

Q. If you could offer a message of comfort or support, what would you say directly to students who are studying at MSU in these uncertain times? 

A. In my lifetime I have learned that even with an extended period of “cloudy” days, the sun will eventually come out and shine. Weather the storm because better times are coming. In the meantime, lean on family and friends to get through this. Even if separated physically, stay connected to people via social media, FaceTime, Skype etc. Remember that we are all being impacted in some way by the current COVID-19 situation and that everyone handles life stressors differently. So, be kind to one another because we are all in this together. Hang in there, the sun is coming!

Go Green!