DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And it's time again for StoryCorps. We're hearing from people across the country who are participating in this project. They're sharing stories about their lives. Rene Foreman came to StoryCorps to talk about her voice. In 1999, she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Surgery eventually saved her life, but it also took her voice.
Today, she uses an electrolarynx to speak. It's a small device Rene holds against her throat so people can hear what she's saying. She answered questions about the experience from her daughter Michelle.
MICHELLE FOREMAN: How do you feel when people turn around and look at you?
RENE FOREMAN: It aggravates me. I was in the gym the other day, and I was talking to somebody. And there was a woman, and she turned around and she said, at the top of her voice: What's that funny sound? And I turned around, with my hands on my hips. I said, that's me. And she wanted to shrink into the ground. I felt so good.
MICHELLE FOREMAN: That's one thing that I love about you. You do still stick up for yourself.
RENEE FOREMAN: I'm not a shrinking violet. But, you know, there's some good sides. When people phone me to solicit and I say hello, they think I'm playing a joke on them, and there's this long silence.
MICHELLE FOREMAN: You told me that when you answered, they said: Is this a computer that I'm speaking to? And you said, yes.
RENEE FOREMAN: People are really very kind once they realize what the situation is. I may go into a restaurant once, and if I go back there a year later, and it's the same woman at the front desk, she'll say, where have you been? We haven't seen you for a while. So I feel like a movie star.
I remember the night before my operation. I was scared. I asked you to stay, and you slept in the bed with me, in the hospital. And then you left New York to come and be with me for a year. How did you feel about leaving your job and your friends and your life?
MICHELLE FOREMAN: I didn't even think twice about it.
RENEE FOREMAN: I'm really very blessed in my life. I am happier now, without my voice, than I've ever been with my voice. It's a small price to pay for being alive and enjoying life. So I am very happy where I am now.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: Rene Foreman, with her daughter Michelle at StoryCorps in Los Angeles. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can get the project's podcast at npr.org.