Sunday 24th February 2019

But It IS Still About Cancer. 2018.103.

But It IS Still About Cancer. 2018.103.

Since spending much of last Tuesday, 2nd October, at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse (my cancer hospital) in Sydney, I have been affected by the fact that the reason I am in need of regular visits is because I have cancer. Specifically a Head and Neck cancer that was removed from my maxilla and upper lip named:

“Hybrid squamous cell carcinoma showing features of both verrucous squamous cell carcinoma & conventional squamous cell carcinoma”

On Tuesday I got a copy of the Histopathology report from 6 July 2017 surgery. It was ‘less confronting’ to read from this distance of time but it did have words in it I found hard to read.

With no risks per se, other than age, it seems my cancer took hold. I reckon it was there for many months before it was discovered after having my bridge/teeth removed when the gums were so sore and growing over the teeth (my request to do so in January 2017 was not heeded until April 2017). Diagnosis came in mid May 2017.

Why am I writing this now?

Because after all the surgeries (4 in less than one year), and many, many visits back to Westmead for my prosthodontist to make my mouth ready to accept the upper prosthesis of teeth, I thought I was almost done.

I am not.

Cancer is and will always ‘be there’ and in fact, my Professor and lovely Cate, reminded me “It IS about cancer” and that is why I come back for check ups and need to be vigilant myself about any changes.

My day of catching up, meeting people and doing my trip to Sydney independently was wonderful and I am so grateful that all of these people care about me and helping others with cancer. But it came home, forcefully, and is affecting me today with some sadness;

Cancer is always there. I had let it hide for a while behind everything else I was doing. I appreciate you reading this far! It is important, always, once I have something impact me as this has, that I share.

My husband is a wonderful person I can chat with always and I saw my GP to update him as a de-brief.

But before I go on, I had a TREMENDOUS day on Tuesday, noteworthy too because it was the first time I had driven myself to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Asking Others For Their Thoughts.

I asked around  facebook friends who I know are through the active stage of treatments for their thoughts and some kindly replied with these words.

From S.:

“I’m past the ‘active’ part of my treatment, I’ve had surgery and radiation. Now I take a once a day tablet to prevent recurrence and I got 12 months all clear. But some days I feel just awful with fatigue and other side effects. I spend whole afternoons sleeping on the couch. I don’t feel like myself and it’s really hard when people say ‘oh you must be back to normal now’. I’m not back to normal and I don’t know if I ever will be. The weight of expectation (my own and others) feels so heavy and overwhelming sometimes. Depression, anxiety and feeling down even though you survived cancer feels inevitable and like I am lacking gratitude for my recovery. I’m not, it’s just hard”

From V.:

For me post cancer treatment is a mixed bag. I’m so grateful for my recovery but the fear and uncertainty for the future is still there. It’s a monkey on your back forever and you have to find a way to live with that monkey. The monkey is very loud and cheeky at times. Other times I give my monkey a time out and she sulks in the corner. At my recent follow up appointment I sat in a waiting room full of women ( I had early stage breast cancer).   They all had that haunted ‘how in the hell did I end up here’ look on their face and you just bravely smile at each other without any need for words.

From S.:

It’s my cancerversary on Tuesday so I’ll be blogging about it too! I don’t think the cancer shadow ever goes away but I try not to let the worry of it steal my joy of today.

From M:

 The elation of hearing the words “all clear” faded more quickly than I imagined and in its place was anxiety. Having been so closely under the microscope for so long,  I felt anxious that the cancer might return and it wouldn’t be spotted. Over time, this does ease and I look forward to my six-monthly check ups for continued reassurance that all is ok.

From M in N.Z.:

It’s normal to have a slump in mood after treatment ends. I availed myself of the Cancer Society psychologists who are trained to help us deal with the transition from treatment to the new normal.

I also went to the NSW Cancer Council website and found this article about ‘after the cancer treatment stage’.

Can cancer be a positive experience?

  • Many people find there are positive aspects to having cancer. Some even refer to the disease as a life-changing experience.
  • Cancer may cause you to re-examine your life choices, and may motivate you to travel, take up new activities or make lifestyle changes (e.g. starting exercise or quitting smoking). This shift is often gradual, as even positive change can take getting used to.
  • After treatment, some people want to help improve the cancer experience for others through advocacy or volunteer work.

Read more at https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/15289/b1000/living-well-after-cancer-45/living-well-after-cancer-back-to-normal/#sUFxCMjbDj1ZGQz4.99

New friend to me, and known to many is journalist and M.C.  Julie McCrossin, who is now 5 years down the track from her Head and Neck cancer diagnosis and she sent me here, to her podcasts for the Cancer Council, and this one of fear I listened to again.

Liverpool Hospital Head and Neck Patient Support Group listening to Dr Ben Smith, Ingham Institute on cancer recurrence anxiety. Learn more about managing anxiety. Listen to The Thing About Cancer Managing Fear podcast cancercouncil.com.au/podcasts/episo… @beyondfiveorg @CCNewSouthWales http://feeds.soundcloud.com/users/soundcloud:users:314217701/sounds.rss

Julie said “I find the fear catches me unawares, like on my recent birthday”

Thank you friends for sharing.

So, I am not unique.

Always good to know.

And I can share my worries and fears with others who ‘get it’.

Having cancer never really ends, but I am always grateful for the friendships and new experiences I am having as a result of cancer.

Thank you one and all.

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie for I Blog on Tuesdays here and with Sue and Leanne here on Wednesdays.

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Two. 1954-67 Schooling. 2018.26.

Telling My Story. Chapter Two. 1954-67. 2018.26.

 

Photo of Me on my 67th Birthday 30.11.2016.

The day before I was diagnosed with upper gum cancer I published ‘the first’ of a fore-shadowed series of posts about Telling My Story.

The response to the post of 16 May 2017 was well-received and I am glad I made a start. Here it is. I have included, from that post of almost a year ago, the introduction:

Recently I decided to begin Telling My Story.

Initially it was school-career based in a memoir genre. Then I wanted to tell what had happened in my life once I’d reached 60 and what I had learned. Where I am at now it a mix of all of this! I am going to start here: the beginning of my life, and interspersed with my career will be aspects of my life and how I have grown and changed…over and over!

I hope you will find something of interest. I know essentially I am doing this for me as it helps. However, as a blogger, I would like to think it has enough appeal for you to enjoy too.

I admit it was a pretty full-on time from 17th May 2017 and my mind was in quite a few places where blogging took a lesser priority but I knew I wanted to keep on doing this story of my life. I am finally ready to dive deep and remember where I was and what I want to say next!

Fast Forward: 2015 I returned to my old H.S. and presented at my last ever teacher professional meeting. I was retired in full after this!

Primary School Years. 1954-1961.

I began Kindergarten in September 1954, the term of my 5th Birthday. I loved school from day one and as it was in the same street as our house, I soon walked to school independently. I had to do a transition year (common then & in 1956 (the year of the Melbourne Olympics) I was a student in Year One. Mum and Dad asked my teacher if my left-hand writing should be changed and she said no. Thank you! I did well in school – the classes were large and there was some serious competition between me and two others for placement in the year. At the end of 1959 our lives would change. We sold our house in Wollongong and my brother and I started at our new school in Balgowlah Heights and got to know both a new area and new schools. This time there were many more kids in my grade and I settled into somewhere around the midlife. It was a big deal for my parents to move away from friends and family but Dad’s promotion was the prize and we settled into the almost-water side suburb and got on with new friends, sports and so on.  It was in 1960 in Mr Duffy’s 5th class that I knew I would like to be a teacher. I am so grateful too that he encouraged my skills of organisation as I became the head library prefect in Year 6. We had a Year 6 Formal/Dance and I wore my first pair of stockings and small heels. The sophistication! Then I, along with all my HS starting peers for 1962 were being sent headlong into the “new” Wyndham Scheme – Higher School Certificate after 6 years at school!

High School Years. 1962-1967.

I was part of the cohort of N.S.W. students to enter high school in 1962 and become ‘the guinea pigs’ for the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme where it was decided that breaking the high school years up into 2 sections was the best plan. The first was Forms (years) 1 to 4 with an external School Certificate examination and then Forms 5 & 6 with an external Higher School Certificate.

The previous system which had been around for decades had students doing an Intermediate Certificate at the end of 3rd Year (and could leave school for work or a trade) and those who wanted to train, for example, as teachers or go to University went to do the Leaving Certificate at the end of 5th Year.

I was in a public primary school at Balgowlah Heights on the Northern Beaches in Sydney and the ‘feeder’ High School for my area was Manly Girls High School. It was located quite a way from home & not in Manly but a bus took us from a street near home to school and then the same in the afternoon. Manly Girls High was only pretty new too. So, when we arrived, there were students doing the five years and us, the newbies. There were at least 5 classes of 35+ students in this cohort of mine and I was placed in 1A. . This was, apparently, based on ability from primary school testing. In 2nd Form 2A meant I was studying the compulsory English, Maths, Science & History  along with my chosen subjects of French and German. We also had P.E., music lessons too. I admit I was not a swot but enjoyed the social aspect of school. I have written about that before here!

In the photo we are in Winter uniform (tunic, long sleeved shirts, tie, blazer). I am 3rd row, 2nd from left.

The school uniforms were traditional even though we were essentially a new school. The  main colour was brown, with green too. Who picks that, I ask? There were summer and winter uniforms and prefects checked length of uniforms (visually) as we walked into school and also…if our socks were turned down correctly. If we were seen in public (for example, my bus went through Manly and if I needed to go to the dentist or elsewhere, I would get off the bus there) and we had to ensure we had hat and gloves on. Even in Summer. I am not making this up.

 

First Day of High School. Gloves must be in my pocket! Summer Uniform was beige. Hats were made of straw…and flung around on the bus ( oh, not for a while!)

Our headmistress (no principal title for her!) was very English private school in her policies and we even sang British anthems at Assemblies: Jerusalem being one. (mind you I actually still like it!). To officially open the school we had the daughter of the Governor General of Australia do the honours. As in all things with government the official opening came way after the actual opening – I was in my 3rd year of H.S. but then – but we all got our photo taken to mark the occasion.

 

 

With our group being the first  to have two senior years we got the chance to have (and help design) a senior uniform. By now, the old headmistress had been replaced by a more reasonable head…but a deputy head who was dragon-like in her insistence on petty rules also arrived. Sigh. We also had the choices in subjects and could take 6 subjects in Form 5 and then drop one if we wished into the Higher School Certificate Year. I immediately dropped Science! No good at science ever. So my subjects ended up as compulsory: English and Maths, Modern History, French and German.

 

On Being The First Group To Complete Six Years at High School.

Last year it was the 50th anniversary of the first students to complete the 6 years of high school with the Higher School Certificate examination at its end. In the many years since we did it in 1967 there have been changes, such as making English the only mandatory subject and allowing many more ‘mini but specialised’ subjects into the list. The purpose as was foreshadowed by the Wyndham School of the additional year at school was to add maturity and experience in completing more complex subjects to enable most of those sitting the H.S.C. to go to University or, as in my case, Teachers’ College as they were known then.

The formal end of compulsory schooling was via the external examination called the School Certificate. It was rigorous and we sat for it in a similar way to the H.S.C. After this examination was passed (or not) students could decide to:

  • by passing, they could continue their education into the last 2 years of school at senior level
  • by passing, they could choose to leave and enter into the workforce or get a traineeship or apprenticeship and many did
  • by failing (awful word) repeat the year OR if they were 15 and over, could leave school without the qualification and enter the workforce.

There was nothing like the services of centrelink or similar. In fact, it was true that most people did get work or trained for a career. Some professions like nursing took entrants in with a School Certificate (or the H.S.C.) and they did hospital-based training as well as work in the hospitals. They were paid as they did so. They often lived-in and would have to pay board etc.

For those wanting to attend University in the time of my school leaving, there were paid Commonwealth Scholarships for University for those who wanted to do a degree (say B.A. or B.Sc) and then a Dip. Ed. to become a High School Teacher. These scholarships, earned via the quality of the final examination results,  indentured the student to work in a particular place/area of Australia for an agreed time. For me, as a new-to-be teacher in a N.S.W. Public School I secured a teachers’ scholarship which paid me an allowance to study and as I was living at home I did not need board and food allowances as my husband did when he went to teachers’ college away from home. We were both ‘bonded’ to the N.S.W. Department of Education for the first 3 years of our teaching and could be sent anywhere in N.S.W. or forfeit the bond and not have work from this employer. Neither of us did that..and if we had, we never would have met! That’s a whole chapter in the future!

This is actually still a provision of accepting a role of permanence in N.S.W. Department of Education : whilst in our employ you can and may be instructed to teach anywhere in N.S.W. When I was teaching Masters of Teaching students in 2013 and 2014 I told them of this and many were in disbelief. Unfortunately there is much less of the pioneer spirit had by those of us who graduated in the 1950s and 1960s which is a shame as there is so much to learn by moving away from your home and comfort zone.

The Social Aspects of My Teens 1962-1967. This will be the next chapter!!

What was high school like for you?

What kind of uniform did you have?

Did you go to High School to learn or to play?

I will be looking forward to reading your responses!

Denyse.

 

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