Saturday 17th November 2018

November Notes #2. 2018.116.

November Notes #2. 2018.116.

This month, 5 years ago, a unique and amazing event occurred.

I did not know how much this event would affect me 18 months ago.

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse: Comprehensive Cancer Hospital opened in November 2013.

I am incredibly grateful for the vision of both the late Professor Chris O’Brien OAM and his lovely wife Gail, AO.

Chris, who was to die from brain cancer in 2009 before the hospital started, had a vision based on his experience as a Head and Neck surgeon and then a patient with cancer. That there needed to be a place like a ‘one stop shop’ for cancer patients and families as there was so much to manage when someone is diagnosed with cancer without more added to the stress such as visiting as number of different places for treatment.

For Gail, on receipt of her AO said however, the award is a reflection of the community of which she feels lucky to be a part. “I could not be more proud of our independent, benevolent hospital and the care we give our patients,” she says.

Her words are a tremendous reminder to all of us of the importance of Chris O’Brien’s mission. With this award we are encouraged to strive for the best at all times, and to continue to turn your support into a positive force in the fight against cancer.

A chance meeting here I had longed for. I met the late Prof Chris O’Brien, Gail.

Even though I cannot be there for this week of Open Days and Celebration, I am there in spirit.

From my first, scared and very tense visit of over 2.5 hours on Thursday 18 May 2017, through to major surgery on 6 July 2017 and my excellent recovery in ICU and on the wards, through to check-ups and tests and then for more day surgeries on 15 November 2017, 6 February 2018 and 16 May 2018 it is always a rich and inclusive experience to be at Lifehouse. Of course, I have been back for follow-ups and to chat with people I would now call friends. Who knew that would be how I would interact with a hospital and having cancer! Not I!

This one session, held on Monday 5 November when I have to be at Westmead  to see the prosthodontist, features my Head and Neck Surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark who was trained by Professor Chris O’Brien. How fortunate am I!

Jonathan said ‘he was stoked’ about how my teeth/mouth worked out.

Eventbrite for Organizers's photo.

NOV5

Innovation and technology in cancer surgery

Public

More here about the week of celebration, innovation, care and sharing from Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.
My little collage and tribute to wish Chris O’Brien Lifehouse congratulations on 5 years of helping patients like me!

Do you know of the great work done by the late Professor Chris O’Brien? He became, as his family remembers, the unexpected ‘star’ of the long-running T.V. documentary called R.P.A. That’s short for Royal Prince Alfred – the hospital opposite Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Thank you to you all at Lifehouse!

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne who also  knows a lot about the work at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, here for Lovin Life linky.

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One Year After My Major Cancer Surgery. 2018.59.

One Year After My Major Cancer Surgery. 2018.59.

This space, Denyse Whelan Blogs, has been a life raft to the outside world and a connection from me to you, the readers and fellow bloggers. I am aware that since my first May post “I have Cancer” there have been a significant number of posts about this cancer and me.

In reaching the 1st year anniversary of the major mouth surgery on 6 July 2017 last Friday, 6th July, I decided that whilst there will be occasional updates, there will be a general easing away from the focus as I get to look forward to a broader life view.

However, I cannot predict when that will be, as a year ago I might have been given the impression that my recovery, i.e. surgeries and healing to gum and jaw readiness for implanted teeth might be 8-9 months. I am in my 13th month now. My mouth has needed a 4th surgery and a second skin graft taken to enable the lip the be more prominent and for there to be enough space for teeth to go in. THIS is why I am on a drive every.single.week until mid August so that my excellent prosthodontist can do the best first stage of teeth for me. Implants remain much further away.

I wanted to do a snapshot of how it has been for me as I have recovered and some of the ways in which I have been able to adapt and adjust to life with no teeth on top, 8 on the bottom, and a skin graft inside my mouth, along with a bone made into a jaw.

Life went on…after hospital but I needed to adjust significantly to home life as I was restricted with movement: a boot on the leg where the surgeons had removed my fibula and skin/flesh for my mouth. I also could eat with difficulty and there were some tears via trial and error. Over time I learned how to better cater for myself after sending my husband on early day missions for soft foods like jellies and mousse. I admit I still find the eating restrictions hard but do what I can to keep up nourishment as I need protein each day and some iron-rich foods. Since late last year I started cooking mini-meals and freezing them.

I am not someone to sit around for long and once I could drive, 6 weeks after surgery, I set out for small drives to be used to both managing the car, and that I was stable on my feet when I got out. I soon re-engaged with shopping. Even though I had not enjoyed shopping before the surgery (I was anxious and I was not interested in clothes or books or even browsing) I found my shopping mojo again when I knew I needed a focus for each day. Along with the enjoyment I have always had for being near the beach or finding places to photograph, going out every day became must-do for my emotional health. I dressed well, had a photo taken and went out to chat with people I met and have a coffee and do some art.

For the first part of 2018, being holidays everywhere, I waited out the time before planned third surgery in February by distraction, activity and going to the beach as well as out for coffee. I had also had a second surgery in November 2017. It was always hoped that the February one would be my last or maybe that was just me??

The February surgery saw my mouth healing well and the prosthodontists took my stent off. This was short-lived (darn it) because my surgeon wanted it back on. Alas, the reason it was needed was the area between my upper lip and jaw was very tight and in fact left no room at all for the addition of teeth. I found out, much to my disappointment that a 4th surgery, and skin graft to make the inside of the mouth even roomier would be on in mid May.

This is where I am at now, almost 8 weeks from that time. The stent is doing the job. It has been mighty sore and uncomfortable at time but my fortnightly, now weekly visits to the prosthodontist at Westmead sees this being removed, trimmed and re-fitted. It can take over 2 hours. Nevertheless I am a very co-operative patient and I want it to work too. Over the coming month and more I will be at Westmead for longer visits and with luck on our side, the first fitting of a set of false teeth for the upper gums.

Thank you if you have read this far.

I was of two minds about posting this. I said to my husband “I am sick of my posts about cancer and recovery” and his comment was “then other people might be too.” However, I also decided that it was IMPORTANT to me to keep the update and to mark this occasion of ONE YEAR since the first surgery and that’s why this post is here. So much of my recovery has been, and still is, mental. It is about attitude, some courage and a willingness to see this through. I have been, at various times angry, impatient, teary, frustrated and downright “over it”.

However, I am MUCH better at picking myself up, dusting myself off and starting all over again…

Denyse.

 

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

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My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 2. 2018.46.

My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 2. 2018.46.

I recently wrote Part One of the Anniversary of my cancer diagnosis here.

The second part is actually a bit harder to write.

I am grateful of course for my cancer being taken via surgery but I seriously had no idea that to recover and be implant-ready would be up to and well over a 12 month period. This is because, as I understand it, bodies heal in different ways and react like that too. I also know that this mouth reconstruction of mine necessitates a lot of work by the multi-disciplinary team of medical, allied health and dental experts.

I am ever-grateful for this team.

With Prof Clark & Cate Froggat, Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant

I know that my Professor Jonathan Clark  leads the Head & Neck team and he is also working with the training of other doctors just as he learned as a resident with the late Professor Chris O’Brien at Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital. From the Westmead Oral Sciences comes  my Prosthodonist, Dr Suhas Deshpande and his colleagues including Dr David LeinkramDr Matthew McLachlan. Dr Deshpande’s Nurse, Ofelia has seen me through some emotional times and is a very kind person. Norma at the reception desk at Westmead Oral Sciences always has a smile for me and a welcome that’s bright.

Associate Professor Ardalan Ebrahimi was the first person I saw on May 18 2017 and who examined me and put together, along with Professor Clark what would be my BIG surgery in July 2017. A/Prof Ebrahimi was kind enough to respond to my 2 detailed emails pre-surgery and saw me post-surgery in 2017 along with  Justine Oates Head and Neck  Nurse Practitioner who re-dressed my wounds and ensured continuity of care once we were back home on the Central Coast.

In my 10 days post Surgery #1, I was cared for by a number of professional nursing staff firstly in ICU with Dr Tim  then on Level 9 North of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse where Jason was the NUM. I will single out registered nurse Roan as he cared for me most early mornings and made sure I got out of bed to get some sunrise shots!

From the Head and Neck team who were part of my first surgery was a team of doctors including Dr Laura Wang & Dr Rahaul Jayaram who saw me most days in hospital.  Allied professional staff  at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse were physiotherapist Leah ensured I could walk post July surgery after fitting my right leg with the boot, dietitian Jacqueline gave me lots of guidance for eating post mouth surgery and the speech therapist Emma made me drink a cup of water (ahh!) and speak ( not a hard task given my propensity to talking!) to ensure I was going well before leaving Chris O’Brien Lifehouse last July.

I thank the wonderful anaesthetists and anaesthetic nurses who ensured not only that I went to sleep  but that I woke up with no dramas. One was Dr Murray Stoken and another is Dr Paul Goonan. On 16 May I was cared for by Dr Stephanie McInnes. 

Of course I have the excellent and fabulous Cate Froggat, my Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant who is the gentle and smiling person looking out for me in the operating theatre and in post-op consultations.

How could I not mention Julie and Priscilla…a hug and smile each time I see them, those who keep all of us seeing Professor Clark organised with compassion and care.

Once I was home, as I have outlined before, I was also in the care of the Central Coast Public Health Community Nursing Team for around 2 months and Eileen was amazing with her knowledge and advice.

My dentist Dr Alistair Brown saw me for a mouth check last October and to clean the remaining ((and oh so important to me) 8 bottom teeth. He was the person who initially referred me to Dr Stef Calladine, oral surgeon,  who did the biopsy last May and broke the news to me over the phone that I had squamous cell carcinoma. I will always be grateful for her caring manner and more importantly for referring me to a place I had heard of called Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and to a specialist I had not, Prof Clark.

My GP. Dr Owen Greene. What a caring and understanding man he is. I saw him sometimes up to 4 times in a week when I was recovering from BIG surgery #1. He reassured, he checked on me and he continues to do so, letting me know you are doing really well. His office staff and pathology people ask how I am going tooIf I pop into the chemist next door, Tim the pharmacist is always asking how I am going too.

There are those that I cannot mention all by name but have been integral to my diagnosis, surgeries and recovery times:

  • staff at the various Imaging places in Sydney and on the Central Coast
  • staff at the Admissions Desk and Pre-Surgery Desk at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse
  • the nursing staff pre- and post-op in the recovery areas
  • my psychologist from the READ clinic in Erina saw me a couple of times and was most kind in her assertion that I was doing well without any more need for her services.
  • the social media account for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse @chris_obrien_lifehouse & the art programs at COBLH @arterieatlifehouse (Instagram)
  • those lovely people who welcome me to their coffee shops like Randa at Fibonacci Wyong  and ask after me, along with my fabulous hairdresser Tiffany, our great podiatrist Sean who came to the house to treat me when it was easier for me, and our Property Manager, Naomi, who was delighted to see me recently. Kyla who makes the most delicious cupcakes always asks how I am going when we catch up. In fact, I won a generous voucher recently and as cupcakes are something I CAN eat, this is just the best!
  • the Beyond Five Organisation: Nadia for her reaching out for me to help with publication of my story written by Kirsty. Check my photos here to see the fundraising ribbons. World Head and Neck Cancer Day in July 27. I wear my ribbon and blog about Head and Neck cancer because not many people know about this cancer. I do now!

Then definitely NOT last nor least are my friends and family. Those who connect on-line too. My blogging friends, my instagram friends and those from Facebook and Twitter. I love connecting!  To know of so much love, concern and care being out there for me after the diagnosis and through recovery in the year it’s been is marvellous. Thank you for reading my posts, checking out my Instagram pics and ‘liking’ the blog Facebook page.

Each day in 2018 I made a commitment to myself to do at least these three each day:

  • get dressed in an #outfitoftheday and go out – for a coffee, a browse, a shop or just to look at a view
  • go into nature or observe nature and then capture this in a photo
  • make something creative, be it a mandala or a pattern or just so art fun.

I cannot single any one person out from family and friends….other than this person:

My husband. There for everything for me. Always. Love IS what keeps us together…and has done for over 47 years.

Sending everyone my love and gratitude.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 1. 2018.44.

My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 1. 2018.44.

Writing this post I feel a surge of gratitude for my cancer diagnosis.

Weird?

Well, for me, BEFORE I knew that there was a nasty cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper front gums, I was anxious, fearful and this had been building up for the 3 years since just before we left Sydney to come and live on the Central Coast. My life was reduced to managing a sense of fear any time I needed to leave the house. Whilst it was not quite crippling, because I have a very determined edge to my nature, it was not how I liked feeling. AT. ALL. Blog posts here and here tell more:

In early May 2017 after a series of medical and dental examinations, CT scans, X-rays, a biopsy for gums that were not only NOT healing after the teeth and bridge had been removed  but were growing ….the news came through about WHY. The posts about my cancer can be found here.

Words are few but pictures tell much of my story. Away we go. Oh, and I AM someone who takes lots of pics and am grateful to have this record.

Part One.

In the lead up to the first Anniversary of my diagnosis I had thought this post could be a ‘thank you’ one.

I did not realised until late March that I would need a 4th surgery. However, I accept that the mouth still needs more work ….and I am trying not to whinge too much about the fact I will be having the ‘mouthguard/stent’ in for much longer AND another skin graft….because whingeing is not cool. This post is going live AFTER my 4th surgery on 16 May 2018.

I have accepted that there is no real END time with cancer.

I will be having checks until mid 2022. Then, as with most head and neck cancer patients, there is more to come, such as management of my implants over time. See this wonderful Australian-based  support site: BeyondFive here.

So, no “thank you and farewell post” for Part Two. Just more gratitude and let me show you who those people are and why I am grateful!

Part Two is scheduled to go live on Tuesday 29 May 2018.

Denyse.

In many ways I hope, that as I am a teacher AND a learner, anyone who knows someone with Head and Neck Cancer might find my posts helpful. It is one of the reasons I blog: to share, to learn and to connect! My page above has my other posts relating to my cancer story.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

In the overall scheme of things (OSOT as my husband says) this up and coming surgery is “just what it is”. My mouth has not healed the way it might have – nothing to do with my health. Apparently the previous stent, added during surgery in early February 2018 just was not on for long enough I was told last week by Professor Clark. I was also told, that some more skin will need to be harvested from my fabulously (my word!) giving right leg for that to happen. OK. Sigh.

My right leg is such a good one: here’s a collage of how much it has helped….and healed! I am one lucky lady.

But I still found the news harder to absorb because of the details. I knew the surgery was necessary after the Professor and my prosthodonist talked then let me know before Easter. What I did not know was that I would be having ‘the stent, the stinky stent’ in for MUCH longer than before. I had a little weep about that on the way home because I know how that felt in my mouth for the few weeks last time.

So…what’s a blogger to do? Write about it and add a photo or three.

On Tuesday 1 May, following that visit in the afternoon, I wrote this post on Instagram and I admit it was to write it out rather than let it sit inside my head and I received the love, support and care from many. I have always been buoyed by this because I am socially and physically isolated here on the coast, and having friends on-line helps greatly!

Of course my husband is the best listener and advisor. My extended family gets concerned about me too but I like to think I am confident about how things go for me.

Today I was here at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Camperdown in Sydney, for my pre-4th surgery consultation with my lovely Professor. This is the view down to the ground floor from Level 2 as we were waiting. We heard the piano being played beautifully later & I got to meet the lovely art-making person & make a card. It is a most welcoming and caring place to be even though why most of us are there is not for a reason we choose.

Today I learned that I will need more surgery, the addition of a stent (mouth guard) as I had in February for only weeks …will be in my mouth for months this time. This is not a pleasant thought but without it, the gums and mouth area will not stay in place for my (future)implanted teeth. . My memories of this last time was that it is uncomfortable, gets stinky & will impede eating even more. And it hurt at times. I will need more visits to Westmead in the weeks following the surgery for the prosthodontist to take the stent off & clean around it & put it back.

Additionally I learned that my lip will need more skin. My right leg will be the source of a second skin graft from the thigh. This experience last time meant a bandage on for 2 weeks, no showering and after that time, to have a bath and over time the bandage and the healing patch will come off.

To say that I am a bit disappointed is true but…… surgeries such as mine are new, they require skills and knowledge gained each time a patient is presented. So, wondering how to manage my thoughts and feeling about this, I decided that writing it helps; as does showing appreciation for all that has been done for me so far and helped me recover from the nasty news last year that I had Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper gums.

The day I have my 4th surgery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse will be Wed 16 May 2018 (day surgery)

That is one day short of the first anniversary of my cancer diagnosis on Wed 17 May 2017.

Read about that here if you are new to the blog

I was on Level 2 (where I stood today)  the very next day, 18 May 2017 to meet both the Professor and Associate Professor who would be doing my major surgery in July 2017.

That it is almost one year is both scary and amazing.

Thank you friends here and on FB for your support, kindness, messages and love.

This is what I know I will be looking like again. I guess it helps me to understand more. I am disappointed but I also trust my professional team implicitly and know what they learn each time they do this kind of complex reconstructive surgery is likely to help others.

I am dealing with this positively and with courage. I am going to wear this more, I think!

I will be spending more time batch cooking as I know I have to eat as well as I can but I also know the restrictions.

Thanks for reading thus far! I know this cancer story of mine is quite dominant at the moment which I believe is linked to The One Year Since Diagnosis coming up.

Do you remember certain days/times of year for different reasons?

I sure do.

I have always been like this.

I know there have been quite a few posts about this cancer and surgery but I am grateful to be able to blog about it and hope that you can have patience with me as I continue to get towards my goal of…..implanted teeth!

Thanks to all who read and comment. I am buoyed every time as I said in that Instagram post last week.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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Six Months On. #OOTD*. 2018.38.

Six Months On. #OOTD*. 2018.38.

#OOTD* = Outfit of the Day. Used widely as a hashtag on Instagram.

The story starts:

Last year, on 30 October, I began (most unconfidently) to accept a self-made challenge to post of Photo-A-Day of me in a daily outfit for 32 days leading to my 68th Birthday.

Here is the first post:

There were some very encouraging comments. I continued as I am someone who when she starts a challenge, she finishes it! Or so I thought.

Early in 2018 I wrote a post explaining where my reticence had come from the ‘show off myself and clothing’. It has/had been a LONG time since I had actually been proud of my appearance but it did make me take a leap of faith to carry out this so-called 32 post challenge.

I was inspired by some blogging friends too: Jan Wild here, Em Hawker here, Carly Findlay here and Kimba Likes Here

The story continues until my 68th Birthday.

I noticed that by choosing and wearing an outfit of the day, and going somewhere for a coffee (solo is fine for me!) and a browse was improving my mental health. I had a reason to get up and get going each day. I have to admit, I enjoyed the browsing…and the canny-purchasing too. I had to admit to buying properly fitted bras. That took some courage and then once I did that, I felt even better.

I was joining in outfit challenges here with Nikki Parkinson from Styling You. I liked the comments. I know I am no spring chicken but it did my gum cancer emotional self-care a lot of good as I continued doing what I did.

The story goes past the 32 posts on Instagram! 

I admit this was (and still is on 90% of days) fun and I loved the challenge. When I put it to friends on Instagram whether I should continue to answer was a mixture of YES and DO what you want to do.

I wanted to continue. My shopping habits continued. Yet I needed new clothes. It had taken me a LONG time to admit to myself that I could spend money on clothing and accessories because I had been very used to rejecting that I could self-care.

Having cancer actually helped me.

How?

I was determined to get out every day. No.Matter.What. It was always something I was glad I did even if it might have been a short drive to have a coffee and come home. I also take an art kit with me and spend sometime reflecting on what’s been happening.

Special times in the story.

In the months before deciding to become part of #ootd I thought about my eldest granddaughter’s 21st birthday. I used to be concerned I could never travel to Sydney because of my fears. In a post here for anyone who has not read this. And this is the follow-up post about me conquering fears and anxieties.

Healing times as part of the story.

The outfits of the day are helping me manage my recovery from cancer. I recall the photos and can notice my mouth – 3 surgeries to date and one coming up! The daily publication of an instagram photo allows me to see myself which may sound odd. But until I do view the photos – of course, I preview them but they are never photo-shopped, just cropped – I often do not realise the improvement seen  by others mostly my husband.

When I travel to Sydney to visit Dad or see my specialist dental team or my surgical team, it is another good reason to choose an outfit of the day to aid both my confidence and demeanour. It actually does help me to lookgood to feelgood.

What else about the story?

From time to time, I give myself even  more of a challenge! To post a photo where my arms are seen for what they are. To post one of me in shorts and even one day, in the water at the surf. I do these to remind myself that to be true to me, I cannot continue what I used to do which was censor what was published in a photo. The result has been that others may be inspired to give up some of their old thoughts about sleeveless items and how they appear in photos.

Today, 1 May, is the day I am visiting Sydney to see my professor about surgery #4. This was not expected back in February as it should have been the last one. However, my mouth and the way it has healed had other ideas. There is not any room for my implants to go in so I will be hearing today, what the surgery will entail. I am guessing: cutting, stitches, stent back in, and possibly another skin graft. Sigh.

Will I be choosing an outift to wear that day to help me feel confident and in charge…even if inside I am a bit worried and fearful. You bet I will.

It will have RED in it somewhere….my go-to colour for adding to my inner confidence.

Watch for me on Instagram. I have a private account (I was hacked in May 2017) so ask for a follow. @denysewhelan

I hope to see YOU try the #ootd too.

I know Leanne has decided to do this more. Here is her link.

And yes, the story will go on after this 6 months mark.

I am needing and wanting to do this actually. In fact, in the recent article published here: telling my story, there is something said at the end.

Oh, and when I appear for my next surgery, early a.m. on Wed 16 May, I will ensure I wear a better bra for my photo unlike in February for #3!!

And how could I not make a tribute to this man…..the instagram photographer. He knows to tell me when a bra-strap is showing…he has, of late, been quite cheeky and he makes me smile broadly. But then, I have no top teeth so it’s a pretty grim look, then he simply looks at me with love in his eyes and I smile. That’s the secret.

I use these hashtags for my daily outfit posts: blue: relate to blogging, red: to outfit of the day, green relate to cancer, mine in particular.

#denysewhelanblogs

#babyboomerblogger

#everydaystyle

#outfitoftheday

#dresswithpurpose

#ootd

#lookgoodfeelgood

#cancersurvivor

#headandneckcancer

#hncspecialistteam

#squamouscellcarcinoma

#cancerintopgums

#notHPVrelated

#mouthreconstruction

#prosthodontist

#chrisobrienlifehouse

#humansoflifehouse

#beyondfiveorg

Do you dress each day with intention?

How do you find yourself feeling when you dress to meet each day in an outfit chosen by you?

Tell me more in the comments!

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

 

 

 

 

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Changes To ‘MY’* Cancer Recovery Plan. 2018.30.

Changes To ‘MY’* Cancer Recovery Plan. 2018.30.

Are you a planner?

Are you someone who is pretty well organised ahead of time for: birthday cards to be sent, lists for shopping to be made, appointments made and kept…and attended…should I go on?

Well, I am.

It is part of my DNA I reckon!

Yet, as I wrote here only last week, there I was saying I was becoming used to uncertainty.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday  28 March 2018 I got an inkling things with my cancer recovery were not going according to MY* plan. That is, what I reasonably anticipated given the information I had prior to each surgery and after it. OK, I admit it: once I hear a time frame I tend to believe it and stick to it.

Do Read on.

What Plan Did I Have?

Not for the year I mention..but you get what I mean!

A linear, calendar one of course! That’s how I have been used to life moseying along. I know, I am supposed to have embraced uncertainty but I admit, like 99% of us humans, I am digging the certain …the plan….the ‘being sure’.

  • 17 May 2017: Cancer Diagnosis Received by a telephone call from the Oral Surgeon who took the biopsy the previous week.
  • 18 May 2017: Meet With Head & Neck Surgeons at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse* Camperdown in Sydney for Overall Diagnosis and Plan For Radical Surgery.
  • 24 May 2017: Meet with Prosthodontist at Westmead Oral Services who will oversee and make all to do with my ‘newly reconstructed mouth’ during and post surgery.
  • 30 May 2017: Second Visit to Prosthodontist and CT scans readying my Professional team to make decisions about parts of my leg to be used for reconstructive surgery in my mouth.
  • 6 July 2017: Big Surgery: #1. 11 hours.
  • 6 July-15 July 2017: Recovery in Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.
  • 15 July – 27 July 2017: Recovery at Home, Treatment of Leg Wounds by Community Nurse, Visit to Surgical Team, A/Prof Ebrahimi and Justine Oates – Head & Neck Cancer Nurse Specialist.
  • 28 July 2017 – 21 September 2017: Recovery at home, visits by Community Nurse decreasing and in mid August I began driving again as ‘boot’ on leg was off. Independence increased.
  • 21 September 2017 – 9 October 2017: Continued wellness returning, eating always a challenge but doing what I can to prepare meals for me, seeing our GP for support (from July actually!) for any concerns I had inside my mouth. If he had any concerns, I could contact Prof Clark.
  • 10 October 2017: Visit to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to see Prof Clark. Told 2nd Surgery would likely be before Christmas.
  • 11 October 2017 – 5 November 2017: continued independence and back into life as best I could. Started my Outfit of the Day pics!
  • 6 November 2017: Visit to Westmead for planning for next surgery. I admit, I often do not exactly understand the ins and outs of my surgeries… even though it is well-explained. I sometimes have to ask my husband about it. I blame being spatially-challenged and that it is all happening inside my mouth! 
  • 8 November 2017: Phone call from Prof Clark’s Practice Manager, Julie who is awesomely patient with ME that my 2nd surgery is next week! OKayyyy. And it is a day surgery only.
  • 15 November 2017. Leave the Central Coast at 6.00 a.m. to get to COBLH* by 9.00 a.m. We made it. But I confess my anxiety was high and tears on the Harbour Bridge in peak hour traffic were evidence of that. Surgery around 2 hours at 11.30 and we were on our way home by 3.
  • 15 November 2017 – 20 November 2017: Recovery at home. More stitches and re-arrangements in my upper mouth was OK. Pretty painful as nerves seem to have been affected by it did recede. But, a skin graft was taken from my right thigh to add extra skin inside my flap to grow to help my upper lip reconstruction. Visited Prof Clark at St George Hospital. I was going OK but one side of the opened then stitched ‘flap’ was showing some silicon (should not have) so “keep an eye on it”. We did.
  • 29 November 2017: weird but wonderful event. I could have a LONG bath…previously I could not get my leg wet…and over time in that bath, undo the bandage and let the wound covering get wet. It did, and I did this over the next few nights. Until, it eventually came away leaving pink new skin.
  • 5 December 2017: To Prof Clark at COBLH. The flap area did keep retreating somewhat and the silicone was showing. Prof Clark cut a bit off. Then he asked my husband to take pics inside my mouth and send them to him from time to time.
  • 6 December 2017 – end of December 2017. I admit I was worried about the flap and what that might mean but Prof Clark eventually said, things are OK and you can stop sending the pics. Phew. It is VERY hard to get pics inside the upper mouth!
  • January 2018: Just the usual at home activities and going out for a coffee & buying clothes (shh).I knew a 3rd surgery was ahead but unsure when. However, it was to my surprise that I found it would be on 7 February 2018.
  • 6 February – 7 February 2018: No drive down on the day of surgery this time, meant after an overnight stay in the same street as COBLH I could walk with my husband up to Day Surgery admissions by 6.30 a.m. and was in theatre by 7.30 a.m. having said hello to Dr Deshpande (my Prosthodontist) and being blown a sweet kiss from Cate Froggatt who is the Chief Nurse working alongside Prof Clark.
  • 7 February 2018: Back in Day surgery by mid morning and got dressed to go home. Was sporting two foam pieces with stitches attached out of my nose, above my lip…that WAS a surprise. Mouth was its usual uncomfy place but with added hardware. More abutments had been added to my ‘new jaw’ and a stent (mouth guard) covered it all. OK. Hard to get used to. It was uncomfy and eating even more of a challenge.
  • 14 February 2018: a hot and long drive to see Prof Clark, and the helpful Priscilla looking after my IPTAAS forms, and then chatting with Cate about my blog. She had read it and was recommending Nadia at Beyond Five check it out. My foam pieces and stitches came out. Yay. Sent home knowing then I would not see Prof Clark again till a cancer check on 22 May 2018 but would see a LOT of Dr Deshpande.
  • 23 February 2018: to Westmead where Dr Deshpande’s colleague (who had also attended my surgeries) Dr McLachlan removed the very stinky stent. Dr D had a broken hand so my mouth was observed by him and anything that needed to be done was by Dr McL. They were so pleased with the health of the gums, they said I could have the stent off. Cue smiling and hallelujah!
  • 26 February 2018. Disappointment but Prof Clark deemed that the stent go back on. For the reasons of keeping the gums in check. I needed to remember this is about getting my mouth right!
  • 1 March 2018. To Westmead and both Dr D and Dr McL observed and cleaned the area and put the stent back with gel only. NO gauze.
  • 1 March – 6 March 2018. In pain. A lot. Where the stent met my inner cheeks. I rang Dr D and he told me to return the next day.
  • 7 March 2018. Dr D reduced the edge of the stent and it was back on and I was in much less pain. Phew.
  • 15 March 2018. To Westmead where stent was removed for impressions to be made for the ‘false teeth’ to be made in wax to get an idea of how my smile and position of upper teeth will appear. At this visit, Dr D reiterated his concern that my mouth is too tight to take the implants.
  • 28 March 2018. To Westmead where the fruits of Dr D’s labours in the time since last visit had me happy (after some initial reservation) to see my smile again.

So what has happened since last week is that on Thursday before Easter, I was told by Dr D (after my phone call from Prof Clark’s Priscilla booking me in to see him early May) that in consultation with Prof C, the fact that my mouth was too tight would mean a 4th Surgery on 16 May.

I was sad. I was a bit over it all but I also knew deep down this was probably going to happen.

What now?

12 April 2018. To Westmead to have my upper false teeth fitted to the abutments for me to get used to the teeth in my mouth for the next month. I am unsure that they will help me with eating but we shall see. I am certainly pleased that Dr D wants me to try these teeth as he believes there is a social benefit too.

1 May 2018.  To COBLH to see Prof Clark, wearing my ‘new but temporary teeth” and for him to check out the area ready for vestibulplasty #3 and surgery #4.

16 May 2018. Planned Day surgery. We will come down and stay the night before. From what I am told by Dr D the plan will be for me to recover for 10 days at home (with the potentially stinky gauze under the new stent. Sigh.

22 May 2018. Post- op Check up at COBLH with Prof Clark. Hopefully all is well and any stitches that need removing are. Unsure if I will be wearing the foam blocks again.

Late May 2018: Westmead for stent to be removed, gauze taken out, area cleaned and impressions made for …the implants. Eventually I will have the implants but it will depend on the healing.

May into June 2018: Keeping the stent in all the time with visits at intervals to Westmead.

June into July 2018. As above, with a view to impressions and so on for implants.

What have I learned about planning and cancer?

  • That each person’s body heals at its own pace and it may not always be what the optimum is.
  • When I learned about the surgery I would be having, in May 2017, it was set out that from surgery (it ended up being in early July) to implanted teeth, is usually around 8-9 months.
  • What is my forecast now that a 4th surgery is planned?
  • It is close to 12 months from the first surgery.
  • In fact, this 4th surgery will be one day short of the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed.
  • I accept that I have the best people caring for me who have my best interests at heart.
  • I accept too, that despite my planning and the fact “I do all I can to heal well” sometimes bodies do what they do.

Last Wednesday was a highlight of HOPE. I think every cancer patient wants HOPE.

Mine came unexpectedly when I saw myself SMILE again. It was better than I ever imagined.

In light of my selfies and all the record-keeping I have been doing in processing who is this Denyse now…I made a small video of my face…and smiles and more from my 65th Birthday to last Wednesday. It is good for me to see the progress. I hope you can check it out too.

I know this was a long post and if you read all the way, thank you!

It was helpful for me to write it and to make the little vid.

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie Purtell for I Blog on Tuesdays here.

Joining with the linky called Midlife Share the Love with Sue and Leanne here on Wednesday.

And lastly but never least is Leanne’s Lovin’ Life link up on Thursdays here.

 

 

 

 

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My Cancer & Surgery #2. 2017.128.

My Cancer & Surgery #2. 2017.128.

I know I have written about the cancer I was diagnosed with on quite a few occasions. It still mystifies me, as it does the medical and surgical teams, how I got cancer at all. However, through the reading I have done – little via Dr Google – mostly from this site as recommended by my team from the Head and Neck Clinic at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse it appears that I have a rare cancer or at least it is most unusual one for me to get. I like don’t like that I am that special. 

The condition I was diagnosed with was squamous cell carcinoma in the upper gingiva. I have also seen it on the operation report as verrucous carcinoma upper alveolus. Whatever is the difference..and they are all contained within my upper part of my mouth it has meant a long surgery written about here and even longer recovery in hospital here and at home here.

WHY IS HEAD AND NECK CANCER DIFFERENT?
Head and neck cancer is incredibly complex and diverse. It includes more than 10 different cancers that can affect a person’s mouth, tongue, salivary glands, skin or voice box.

In the past, smoking was the most common cause of head and neck cancer typically affecting areas like the mouth, throat and voice box. However, today in Australia, many head and neck cancers are due to other causes. For example, the human papilloma virus is the most common cause of tonsil cancer, which is rapidly increasing in incidence.

Skin cancers on the face are mainly due to sun exposure and may extend to the eyes, ears, nose and salivary glands. For many other head and neck cancers, such as thyroid cancer, the cause is unknown. Source: Beyond Five.

I had been told following my first surgery that there would be two more surgeries to come. I was not happy about that but needed to accept that to get a ‘working mouth’ back it would be necessary.

I had a check up with Professor Jonathan Clark at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on 10 October 2017 where he found all my recovery going well and no new issues with lymph glands  – there never had been any cancer found there but this was my first 3 month post-op cancer check. He said my next appointment would be to have a CT scan of my mouth to see how the bone (from the leg) with the added implant bases were settling, to see the specialist dentist at Westmead and then to wait to see when the second surgery might be.

The CT scan went well. The visit back to Westmead was fine now I knew the dentist so well and he is extremely kind and comforting. He explained how my future 2nd surgery would go and what would be achieved. OK. Done.

But when would it be? Before I had a chance to even think about getting mentally prepared for surgery in the coming days a phone call came from the Prof’s practice manager that it was to be DAY ONLY (what?!) surgery on Wednesday 15 November. So, that was something different. To go home on the same day!

We (ok, I) had a nervous drive to Sydney that morning, in peak hour traffic, leaving here at 6.00 am and arriving in time for the pre-admission of 9.00 am. Then my prep was fine and I was wheeled to surgery (same theatre as last time as it is where the Prof prefers to work) ready for 10.30 and there was a delay. I am not good with waiting. However, a trip to the loo, a chat to the anaesthetist and then to Prof and I was wheeled in at 11.30. I do not remember waking in recovery but I know I went OK and was back in the day surgery area feeling well (as you can after 2 hours surgery!) and by 3.50 pm ready to leave with my husband for the drive home. I was a good recoverer.

It might seem strange but for me the surgery in my mouth has never been well-understood by me. I say it is because I am spatially challenged AND that the changes are within me. So I have some troubles feeling what is going on in my mouth because using the tongue is always something that tends to magnify. I have also been in MUCH more pain than I recalled from my first surgery. So, on Day 5 post surgery the Prof wanted to see me and down to St George Private Hospital we went. It was a longer drive and on a not great day but I dealt with it pretty well and hardly did any front seat driving. My husband is a saint putting up with me.

A ten minute consultation (on time!) and we were back on our way home. 5 hours driving in one day. However, the Prof did not seem perturbed by my levels of pain and discomfort most of the time. I also cannot eat as well as I could (and that was limited then too!) after my first surgery some weeks down the track. So, I have been a relatively unhappy recoverer this time. Parts of the stitches on one side have come away, and some of the places where he put stitches feel strange. The purpose of this surgery was to open up part of the flap (the roof of my mouth taken from my leg) and inspect the condition of the 5 implants…which are WELL- EMBEDDED! Good news.

Then he and the specialist dentist put the abutments (screws) on the implants and added some skin from my right thigh to help the implants become adapted to my mouth. I am not explaining it well. Sorry. However, the added pain including nerve shooting types through my lip are driving me cray cray. I was so concerned I even sent the Prof a photo of the inside of my mouth. Can you imagine how hard that was for my poor hub to take?

I am sparing you these photos.

As I write this I have not heard back from him (yet) but I have sent more recent pictures today after his practice manager rang me. The thing I am finding (and have found since I first found out about the cancer in May) is that things are not well-explained AND unless I am ready with questions I get a very short appointment. We have been around surgeons a few times and know they tend to go in, do what they do, and go out again. I am hoping what I am feeling is normal. But it remains somewhat stressful for me. I see him again on 5 December and then the third surgery (I am not sure of its details) is scheduled for early February. But that could change I suppose.

UPDATE  1: The Prof sent me a brief email late Monday saying the photos of inside my mouth looked OK but to keep an eye on things and he will see me next Tuesday. My husband, who ‘gets what is going on in my mouth more than me’ is reassured that it is OK. Sigh.

I was feeling pretty low about it all on Saturday and it is hard. However as I write it is Sunday and I have managed to have a better day thanks to a regular intake of some food and medication for pain. I am somewhat better mentally now, Monday and have managed to eat something at meal times.

UPDATE 2: The nerve pain is likely to be coming from one of the implants my GP tells me and should settle. It is already somewhat (phew!) and yesterday I soaked in a bath for 20 minutes to allow the top covering of my donor site wound to come off and for the skin underneath to continue to re-generate and so far that is going well!

 

Have you had surgery?

Have you had cancer?

It can be so hard once you are home and there is no-one to ask. At least that’s what it is like for me.

Thanks for reading. It has been a LONG post.

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie for I Blog on Tuesdays and with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky on Thursdays.

 

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