Tuesday 12th November 2019

Musings On 2 Years Of Living As A Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 56/2019.

Musings On 2 Years Of Living As A Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 56/2019.

I have written frequently over the last two years about my diagnosis with a rare head and neck cancer. You can find the many posts, and ones where I have shared on other sites here. I keep the posts at the top of my blog’s home page to help any other head and neck cancer patients and their families.

Musing One.

What has happened this month?

I am a memory-keeper and in some instances that can be good, others memories remind me of not-so-good times. As May 2019 drew closer, so did the second anniversary of my head and neck cancer diagnosis. I sensed that I needed to mark it in some ways, and that was through writing starting even before May. I also used my creative side and constructed a big mandala documenting every day since diagnosis.

I did these to help me through and to show, when I shared, what the experience was like for me.

Thanks to this blog, and a facebook page along with instagram I got some caring comments and support on-line which I have always found helpful.

What I have also found is that I am the only person who really remembers the lead-up to that morning on Wednesday 17 May ’17 and then how it affected me afterwards.

I guess, “my” cancer is like any life experience that we have as an individual. It’s mine. Yes, I share. (some might think over-share: sorry!) And my dear husband “knows” the stories as he has experienced them alongside me. However, he is  was my carer and now that I am as independent as I can be, I am “the loved wife” in our long marriage. That’s great.

On my 69th Birthday 2018

Musing Two.

How has the lead-up to the anniversary been?

I thought it was good. It was like box-ticking and I felt good doing that.

Remembering what I experienced with the tests before the diagnosis. Ok. I remembered but did not over-think it.

The weather and the dates changing on the calendar also reminded me but again, I was feeling pretty good.

I had two hurdles, if you will, and they were the visit to my Prosthodontist on May 13 and to my Head and Neck surgeon on May 21. These were of concern in a way because at my last visits to each (three months earlier) there was talk of a possible fifth surgery to ‘fill out the top of my mouth.

I can tell you now, dear reader, the prospect of the surgery did not concern me nearly as much as the recovery from it…the LONG time with no top teeth and then more time with getting the mouth healed enough for a prosthesis. I have just had 8 delightful months being able to EAT again and that would be tough. Of course, the smile would change…ok.

December ’18

Musing Three.

What actually eventuated.

Visit to the Prosthodontist.

Dr Deshpande asked me about pain levels. Pain comes and goes in my mouth where it has all been reconstructed and I told him a few weeks earlier it was significant. However, as it settled I did not need to call him. I was much more confident about those calls than I ever was in 2018. He examined the upper prosthesis, the gums, and where the abutments are in the gums. Yes, there was some tiny more skin growth but nothing to be concerned about at this stage.He did a small clean around the abutments and told me what I had been doing every day was going very well and the gums were in good health. Phew. Using the waterpik twice a day was a key element. He showed me around the inside of my mouth and his nurse videoed it as best she could as he explained it all. He is so patient and very thorough and professional. After taking lots of close-ups inside my mouth he told me his view that my surgeon would be unlikely to want to do more re-construction because the skin area of concern back in January/February had not changed. Back for my check up 16 July.

Fistbump! Photo of “us” knowing each other in this professional setting for 2 years.

 

Visit to the Head and Neck Surgical Team.

This was on Tuesday 21 May. Both he and his nurse were delighted to see me and it wasn’t just because I brought cupcakes I had made. They can see a different me emerge I guess, and someone who has taken on an Ambassador role to work towards helping head and neck cancer awareness and both Professor Clark and Sr Froggatt are foundation members of Beyond Five. Again my mouth was examined and as I recalled the words of my last visit “I am a cancer doctor, so I AM looking for cancer” and it all seemed fine I was OK. He decided any choice about more surgery would be determined by what happens inside the mouth. “Could get worse, better or stay the same”. And now would not be in my best interests to do this. Phew. However, I also learned that the interval till my next visit is 4 months, not 6. And that I will require some CT scans as baseline ones. This was a wee bit threatening to my equilibrium but as I do, I went along following instructions. Before I left, I asked some questions about my mouth: here are the answers.

  1. the tightness will remain up top as so much more has been added for the re-construction than a normal mouth would have
  2. sniffing is part and parcel of having the nasal area invaded quite a few times…sniff and manage!
  3. dry top lip probably from not being able to seal off my mouth
  4. need for a new upper prosthesis? “If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix”

Thanks Cate for all your reassurance and hugs too!

Then there was this. “A Photo with Denyse with her Badge on.”

Hugs and farewells and I will be back to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to have a check up on September 24.

Musing Four.

When having cancer is a reality that I am reminded of every time I visit Sydney for cancer treatments.

Westmead.

Where I see the prosthodontist. I lived in western Sydney and had never been to the Dental part of the hospital until May 24 2017. Since then I have been 37 times. Each time could be lengthy and required patience from me in spades. However, there were some visits that were emotionally bumpy and Dr D and O handled my state of health brilliantly. When I was there recently, the lady of the front desk said “Denyse, we are like family”.

That was lovely. I would not have met so many kind people there without a rare mouth cancer, and where the expertise was right there. Someone working alongside my surgeon in each surgery. Wow. Talk about fortunate.

Camperdown.

Specifically Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, slap back in the midst of Sydney’s major health precinct on Missenden Road. Sydney University on one side, Royal Prince Alfred on the other, and new buildings mixed with the historical on either side.

This is where I first met my professional team one day after being told I had cancer.

I had my husband with me of course. He was (and is) the patient man by my side. So, I recall, being there for the first time, seeing this amazing purpose-built cancer centre which had come from the vision of Dr Chris O’Brien who was on our telly as part of the reality series R.P.A. Such a professional and friendly head and neck surgeon with heart. I sensed I was in the right place WITH the right people straight away. Finding out later that my surgeon had trained under Chris O’Brien made me feel even better about what was ahead. And so Lifehouse was where I had the first BIG surgery and stayed for 10 days in July 2017, then further day surgeries in November 2017, February 2018 and May 2018. Follow ups too mean I have been there 12 times.

Musing Five.

IF I did not have cancer here’s what I may have missed in my life….

  1. the opportunity to take on new information and run with it. I learned I can deal with more than I ever imagined.
  2. getting to know people from the health fields who amaze me with their professionalism, the wealth of knowledge, their compassion, their skills and their genuine humanity
  3. being able to recover as quickly as I did from the decline in my emotional health which was ‘strangling my enjoyment of life’ from 2014 to mid 2017
  4. meeting people from all walks of life: in real life and on-line, a facebook group in New Zealand is an amazing space,  who have also been diagnosed with head and neck cancers: Yet, I still have not met anyone that has had mine exactly: Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Upper Gums & under Top Lip: no risk factors of smoking or alcohol: rare of rare ME.
  5. the many ways in which I could grow and change to become ‘the Denyse’ I wanted and needed to be again: strong, positive, confident
  6. sharing my story of this cancer and being able to offer help when asked to others with head and neck cancers
  7. becoming someone with a role to play in terms of education and awareness of head and neck cancers working with Beyond Five. The charity to support patients, carers and family members with information, videos, print-outs and connections to local support groups as those affected with head and neck cancer need support “beyond five” years of the traditional
  8. to take more time to actually enjoy what is rather than be longing for what’s next. I add, this is me as a definite “w-i-p” because it requires constant reminding from me to me
  9. a greater appreciation for those who have been part of my life and have added their emotional and other support to me over the internet, phonecalls and visits, along with cards and gifts. I have been spoiled!
  10. to take what I have experienced and give back. I will return to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on Monday 3 June 2019 to be in the audience to listen to my professional head and neck cancer team talk of what working with and learning from Chris O’Brien was like. This week marks 10 years since his early death due to cancer.
  11. to look at the posters and information about how Chris O’Brien Lifehouse came into being and thank the governments of the day for helping it happen. Chris was well enough to know it would be constructed but his wife Gail took over his role after his sad demise.
  12. becoming part of the community at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse even though I am not there much physically, I donate materials to the art program, I wrote a blog post for their website and I have been in a couple of other site’s telling my story including Beyond Five.

 

Musing Six.

Blogging & helping others works for me to manage my emotions relating to cancer.

I have a great group of on-line supporters who have helped carry me through this story or journey as I call it. I prefer not to use war-words like warrior and ‘beating cancer’ as I also know not everyone does. I have already known of two young women die in the past two months from cancer. Not head and neck but cancer. So it does ache to even talk about that. I know though that we have many people helping with fund-raising to support cancer research and I won’t name any others than these as they are close to my cancer-heart.

The Big Hug Box. I started making some bookmarks for Lisa to include in the Big Hug box back in 2018 and loved contributing to her charity started because as a young mum just diagnosed herself with a rare cancer, she knew patients like her could use a BIG hug. For more about Lisa’s work go here.

Beyond Five. For Head and Neck cancer patients, family and friends. This is a website and offers lots to help. It continues to grow and change but with no government funding, some donations by companies in related fields and one part-time business manager, a fund-raiser began for them in 2018 called Soup for the Soul. Soup is often a food that patients with head and neck cancer can manage and it is comforting. Soup for the Soul is already live and I have a Virtual Soup for the Soul page here. More about that as we get closer to World Head and Neck Cancer Day on 27 July.

Writing my story has helped me manage emotions, experiences and responses well. I am indeed going well two years AFTER my cancer diagnosis. Thank you for being here to read about it.

Denyse.

 

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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Series Concludes. 51/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Series Concludes. 51/2019.

This is the final post in the series of five.

Thanks to you all for continuing to read and comment about this very difficult time in my life.

It is only by the review of how it was, I can see and sense just how much I did endure before the cancer diagnosis!

In this month of May, I am reminded by the outside signs: weather, temperature, clothing AND the dates on the calendar exactly what is coming up.

The 2nd anniversary of being told I had cancer.

Wednesday 17th May 2017 at 9.35 a.m.

From the writing of the fourth part of this series till the timeline of this final post, I can remember:

  • trying my best to distract myself from the pain of the mouth after the extractions, thinking “this must be how recovery feels”
  • telling myself that I would be OK even if my emotions were telling me differently…via IBS and anxiety.
  • looking out for ways in which I could share on-line, via blogging and instagram to help me focus on other than my mouth
  • waiting for the first appointment in early/mid May to come so I could return to the dentist
  • keeping myself ‘busy’ with more learning about mindfulness, which included this:

Then mid-May arrived. I needed to visit my former GP on Wed 10 May 2017 to say farewell now I had found our new and current one close to where we live, and I needed some female tests done. I also had the appointment with the dentist on Thursday 11 May 2017.

This mouth of mine was so smelly, sore and downright worrying. I had not really shown the doctor even though I had seen her regularly for 2 years because it was not until the extraction on 6 April 2017 that much became visible.

Once I took the denture out, she GASPED and put her hands over her mouth. NOT a confident move but one I know was from shock.

This view spares you the details but it was no pretty at all. She made immediate arrangements for me to have a CT scan of my face – sinuses etc as she was thinking cancer and an OPG which is a special 360degree X-ray for the mouth. She knew I was seeing my dentist the next day.

Off I went home with a pit growing in my stomach…and of course, I could not think of much else. On the Thursday, I arrived at the dentist’s office with my little cakes and a card to say “thanks for caring for me at the extraction appointment”. Nice. Then it was his turn to express shock – but in a less dramatic way – after seeing the state of the gums AND to send me to the Oral Surgeon for a biopsy. THAT was sorted out very quickly when the Oral Surgeon saw me on the Friday 12 May AND could do the biopsy then. A sneaky suspicion I now have – in a good way – is that my dentist got in touch with her quick smart and said “asap” please.

Whilst I DID get through that Friday, knowing I had to wait till Monday for the results was H A R D…and it was Mother’s Day, 14 May 2017, on the Sunday. To be frank some family issues were making this a day that I was not looking forward to much but, as Mum, I did my best to cover my feelings. Not very well, though as even in this photo I remember all I was thinking about was the results the next morning. I did tell my daughter as she was leaving that I had some test results coming.

Monday 15 May arrived and once the time arrived that I could call to see if the results from the Imaging places were in, I did and I went to collect them: no sign of anything sinister. Breathe out….. Later that day the oral surgeon called with initial biopsy results …nothing sinister found….breathe out….and I called both my Dad and daughter with the news. My husband already knew.

Phew. Dodged that.

Not so fast apparently. It still did not make sense that I had this weird gum thing happening but I took the words of the professionals and believed them.

Wednesday morning, 17 May,  my husband was at Lifeline doing volunteer counselling and I was still in my chair, finishing off the morning paper after breakfast. The home phone rang and it was the oral surgeon. She apologised for the call, but had the detailed pathology report and it was squamous cell carcinoma in those nasty gums of mine. I was shocked but not surprised as I have said before…”it HAD to be something major”.

From then on, it was all-systems go…to a certain extent. I know I had to really get myself into headspace where I could deal with, of all things, the travel to and from Sydney the very next day…and the next two weeks and I did. Typical of me, on that Wednesday, after my husband arrived home and I had my big cry, I was able to go into organisation-mode, and call Lifehouse to find out who Dr Clark was (!) and to plan our trip. I did these trips and managed what I did thanks to my own work, my husband’s amazing support and our GP’s wise words and advice.

The rest of the cancer story is here….and these last words and the photo are of me prior to the first, big surgery in July 2017 and of my thoughts beforehand.

“last smiles” were/are treasured but under those false teeth it’s cancer

  • I made  plans and prepared for hospital,  making meals for later,  and making sure I had sufficient clothes and activities ready to take to the hospital but it was surreal. I was doing this BECAUSE I have cancer. It still did not make sense to me.

  • I know that I saw my GP and psychologist about the surgery and what is meant to have cancer and yes, I cried sometimes but other times I was just numb. THIS could not be happening to me!?

  • My mouth and its discomfort and smell were the source of the cancer and I began to ‘hate’ it.

  • I also knew this surgery was going to take away 3 things that were and are precious to me: smiling, communicating and eating. Made me sad and quite stressed.

  • I was resigned to what the operation was but I truly had no idea of how it would impact me because it was like I was somewhat detached.

  • I knew that the surgery would be within 4-6 weeks of our consultation with the surgeons but oh how those weeks dragged on as I wanted to surgery to be over…but I also did not want to have it. So horrible. It  ended up being 7 weeks after diagnosis.

  • It took me weeks to finally get out the hospital forms and complete them. I just couldn’t before. I had to make myself do them. Filling them out meant, of course, I HAVE cancer and HAVE to do something about it. 

  • I made a decision to stay in a ‘cheap place’ the night before surgery and I so regret this as we were uncomfortable and I spent some of the time ‘feeling guilty and responsible’ because I have cancer. 

  • On the day of surgery, at 6.00 a.m. we  presented yourselves at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and then once ‘checked in’  I undressed and got into the paper gown which meant THIS is about to happen. O.M.G. 

  • I said goodbye to my husband and was off….the journey into the unknown…the operating theatre.

     

Thank you dear readers and commenters. It has helped me enormously to be able to document my cancer journey. At the time of publication, it will be almost the 2nd anniversary of my diagnosis. I am so pleased to be well and at this point. Incredibly grateful to many! I will be seeing my Professor, Jonathan Clark and his wonderful assistant Cate next week for what I hope will be a positive outcome and the intervals between cancer checks will spread from 3 monthly to 6 monthly.

I will have seen my prosthodontist on Monday 13 May so I hope that went well.

It did go well. I am maintaining my prosthesis well. Good news!

 

Yay for modern treatments in Australia and reconstruction surgeries that have enabled this senior citizen to have her ‘mouth’ as functional as it can be thanks to the marvels of modern surgeries and the healing powers of my body.

Denyse.

An unlikely entrant for Zen Tips Tuesday, I know, but I sure know I employed a LOT of skills to stay as calm as I could on this occasion in particular. Thank you Min for your link up here.

Copyright © 2019 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 2. 31/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 2. 31/2019.

For anyone affected by a life-changing diagnosis that comes after some time of illness or maybe there is no sign, time becomes a part of memories of ‘back then’.

In writing here on my blog, I know I am helping myself as I continue to process my thoughts, actions and concerns relating to my eventual and pretty shocking diagnosis is a rare cancer in my mouth. For those who would like to read about this in the series of posts here is the link to the page called Denyse – Head & Neck Cancer.

It was recently that trawling through on-line journals I realised how much I had gone through along the way so I wrote the first post in this series is here. 

This post takes a different theme which was relevant to why and how I was feeling and acting in those months from December 2016 into May 2017.

March 2017.

It must be just me. I don’t know how to settle well into my life now it’s over 2 years since we left Sydney and are making a retirement life for us. How come “I” cannot settle. What is WRONG with me? My husband is doing it with ease. In fact, he is already volunteering in two community organisations, is planning to continue his tertiary studies. Me? I face each morning with trepidation. I find it hard to get up. To what, I ask. I go through the motions of making it look like I am OK. But I cannot fool myself nor my husband. It’s me, I just do NOT know what is wrong with me…..I know my GP says I am somewhat anxious but it’s for a reason which related to stress about my IBS. She tries me on some anti-depressant meds briefly but they affect my gut. I see my psychologist who again tells me, “you need to continue exposure therapy.” I am losing weight because I am too scared to eat because of IBS.

This look on my face here is me gaunt and showing the fear within even with my then-smile. Underneath those teeth was …..no-one knew.

What Did I Do?

More of what seemed to help me. At least it passed the time. It did not ease the knot in my gut for long but I was focussing on self-help. I must have listened to 100s of hours from many. These are people whose words I continue to value and have all of their CDs still. I listen to few now, but back then I thought they were helpful for my mind to slow a little. I used to listen in a semi-meditative way or as I was making some mandalas or patterns. I found these people’s words matched a lot of what I was hearing from my husband and my psychologist too.

My blog was a great spot for me to gather my thoughts and be interested in others. I was so pleased that I HAD made my blogging a priority. Mind you, there were days when I was not interested in connecting on line…but I did and continue to do so in the overall goal of remaining connected.

I probably did not let on to many other than my poor husband just how bad I was feeling on some occasions. I felt bad about feeling bad! I wondered if there was any chance I could feel ‘like I hoped’. My former GP who I continued to see in tandem with my current one for the next 2 months, was kindly but even she seemed to run out of reasons why I continued to feel so anxious.

The age old question: Was I anxious because of the likelihood of IBS or was the likelihood of IBS making me anxious?

I tried SO hard to make my inner life a better experience! I did art of one kind or another most days, I ventured out on short drives when I felt well enough, I cooked a little bit but I was so anxious about people visiting I could not enjoy the company of family nor was there any way I would drive to Sydney to see anyone. Nope. Not on.

Here are some of the many sayings that I hoped to absorb and integrate into my life. These were posted on Instagram. That account was hacked in May so I no longer have the IG versions, just my photos.

And all this time, my mouth hurt.

  • The skin behind the upper gums where the bridge was continued to be inflamed.
  • No the extra cleaning done in early March (see first post) had not changed anything.
  • The skin was growing over the top of the front teeth.
  • This matter concerned me greatly. I know I told my husband often enough.
  • But, as no-one in the dental or medical field had deemed this to be of any great consequence, I continued on.

Sadly, in pain emotionally and physically.

I hope that this post is helpful in understanding that my internal dilemma was a huge influence as I thought “I made all of this happen“. It would appear, that I may have been thinking about cancer far longer than even I realised. It IS true.

Next time: I could not bear it any longer….. “take the teeth and bridge out, I HAVE to know what is underneath!”.

Denyse.

Joining in these link ups:

MidLife Share the Love: Here on Wednesdays

Lovin’ Life: Here on Thursdays

Open Slather: Here on Fridays.

Do visit these link ups and join in the reading and commenting. We ALL need each other here in the land of blogging and comments are our “GOLD”.

 

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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 1. 20/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 1. 20/2019.

In this series of posts relating to my head and neck cancer, specifically (quoting from pathology reports after my 6 July 2017 surgery):

hybrid squamous cell carcinoma (in my upper gums and under my top lip) showing features of both verrucous squamous cell carcinoma and conventional squamous cell carcinoma

I am writing about the times of leading up to the day I was told cancer was in my mouth. I think I thought I had cancer of some kind for a year or more earlier. But, to the medical and dental profession’s credit, my cancer is both rare (head and neck cancer is around 3% of the population) and even rarer in someone like me with no risk factors.

There is another BIG reason I am writing this. I need to feel I can say now what I could not before ….because I did not know what was wrong! I thought it was my emotional health letting me down. Again. I did so much to help myself. Therapy, medication, being outside, doing volunteer work, having some hobbies, and more. NOTHING gave me an answer for what was changing in me and I was a nervous nelly anyway …but deep down, cancer was on my mind.

Below are photos of just some of the examples I did to help me emotionally. Mind you, they have indeed helped me still now that I know it was cancer but back then, I was following instructions!

To blog about this is helpful for me

I am re-living a time of memories of the ‘unknown’ and also one in which I was doing all I could in an incredibly challenging time in my life: selling up in Sydney, moving to the Central coast , getting sad about leaving our family and finishing my worklife after decades in education. Two years on, I KNOW the sometimes good that has come from my cancer diagnosis and I acknowledge that . It has also been, and continues to be as hard path to walk but I am doing the best I can.

If my post are helpful to others, then I am also glad to write them.

From my memory and using my word journal.

In preparation for my teeth to be deep cleaned by AB after consensus from the specialist gum dentist was same as 3 other dentists (2014-2017) & a biopsy on a white patch under top lip near gum: candida.
Fungalin did not help. Mouth rinses with nilstat did not help. Already gums were over growing top teeth (bridge at front) & behind on soft palate was constantly red & irritated for at least a year.
Instuctions to “clean better” … under an impossible to reach back of a bridge just served to make ME feel at fault for my sore mouth!

2nd March 2017

My dentist is AB, and I had been seeing me for around a year & knew my dental history. I was a fearful person but always had 6 month check ups & had gone through extractions, fillings & root canals. After I did not pursue allergy-test for nickel (component in the bridge) as AB researched the composition of 2011 installed bridge done in Sydney by HS, I was coming back to him for a ‘deep clean’ on 2nd March 2017.

“I took immodium as I was wary of IBS coming on my 30 minute drive from home to his surgery. I was so stressed about that & whether I could make it but I was also determined to see that I did.

Having done some practice “exposure” therapy in small bits, I knew I had to have this “deep clean” of my upper teeth & bridge as the pain, gum growth & irritation had been there too long.

For most of my adult life I had felt “the teeth troubles I had were my fault” as I had a sweet tooth. There was a part of me that felt guilty about my mouth!

So, I set off on the road the most physically anxious I’ve been but in control of the drive in my car. I had one loo stop then arrived at the dentist. I was so stressed that when I finally saw AB & his dental nurse I broke down. Through my tears I said how worried I’d been & how judged I’d always felt about teeth & I was grateful they were helping me.

They were very kind & reassuring & I popped in my ear buds & was ready to listen to my favourite story teller, William McInnes. His voice is like a balm for me especially when telling the tales from his life as a kid.

It took so many needles to numb the area at the top where I’d had gum over growth & soreness for almost a year now . AB was to deep clean & get right into the top area where my bridge sat containing my front teeth.

As I didn’t quite know what to expect & what the outcome would be I was naturally tense. However to my credit I stayed & got it done only asking how much longer (10 mins) & telling him when it still hurt (more needles required)

William McInnes voice helped distract me from the noises of water, sucker & instruments as I visualised as much of that as I could. From time to time I had to rinse out & the blood & water that were going down the drain shocked me.
I felt quite shaky when it was done & it took more than 90 minutes I believe.

The ‘good’ news is AB believes all irritation is due to left over cement from when it was put in & debris accumulated in spaces under the bridge.
I have candida & need funglin for a while. I could come back in 3 weeks for check up if I like & he hopes all will improve over time.

They were so lovely & kind even in their front office. I was touched.
It was a trauma in a way because I had to beat 2 things/ worry re IBS & treatment & outcome.

So… I did well considering how much it took out of me to get there!

Boy that was a huge exposure therapy success.

Quiet arvo at home getting over it all
then wanted to see the sky over beach as wet weather is coming.

Spent an hour taking it in & pics too
Soup for dinner & mouth actually feels bit better already Have a special floss to use.”

Making the best effort to ‘be’ what I did not feel. Two months before I knew I had cancer. March 2017.

Stand by for what happened next.

Denyse.

Joining with Alicia who is hosting Open Slather on Fridays now! Yay for being back…and a different day. Here is the link.

 

 

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Changing Me. 19/2019.

Changing Me. 19/2019

Changing me is I now realise ON-GOING!

It has been many years as I have mentioned in previous posts of living overweight and obese that has given me a skewed view of my image. My most recent post is here.

I am doing what I can now, to approach my thinking with:

  • kindness
  • self-care
  • words of encouragement

and seeing that thoughts are not always true.

I already use the Calm app for meditation each day, and often in taking a time-out will be mindful in whichever are my circumstances as I learn to be present and here….in the now.

Eating mindfully (and planning to eat) is helping me in these ways:

  • I do not follow those rules of ‘only concentrating on one food and mouthful at a time’ mindfully in eating.
  • I do now examine and observe my inner feelings (physical and emotionally) about the why and when of eating.
  • I am getting so much better at this!
  • I am also recording what I eat via a free app and it is Australian foods-based and gives me an idea of how well I am doing.
  • As a no-diet person, this feels good to have some control but also to eat within the generous range I have allowed myself.
  • I am using my fitbit to slowly up my steps each week by 500 steps  from a base of 6000.

On Tuesday 19 February 2019 I had my 3 month cancer check, and my Professor Jonathan Clark was delighted to see no reason for further surgery (yay for now) and when I mentioned my weight gain since ‘teeth’ he said “that’s good.” Oh, he means that is healthy and I am doing well! Of course now I get it…but as I chatted with his clinical nurse consultant who is just the best for me, she and I agreed that moving more is a good idea!!

 

On 23 February 2019 I posted this image and the words on Instagram.

One Year On.

As a person who was overweight to obese for decades, losing weight pre-cancer diagnosis & post cancer surgeries has been a mental issue.

I realise to others I look well, healthier and ok now.

I acknowledge I was 5kg+ lighter a year ago & pretty darned miserable at times because of eating restrictions due to 4 cancer surgeries & reconstruction inside my mouth.

I do think I did the best I could at the time to nourish myself but acknowledge how much I missed:

*chewing

*crunching

*biting

*savouring

FOOD from a variety of offerings! My shopping for over 14 months took me away from foods I missed biting, chewing, crunching & savouring.

From 21 Aug 2018 this changed. My upper prosthesis was fitted. It was novel to try the foods I’d missed: cheese on a cracker took minutes to eat. Then over time as my mouth & my brain handled the different foods better it was/is great.

Then, about a month or so ago the creeping up of my weight on the scales (once a month weigh in- years of measuring my worth via the scales is a horrid memory) was noted & I “have” to admit I knew what to do IF I still wanted to:

*like wearing my new clothes

*feel comfortable in my body

*enjoy all aspects & variations of foods I could now choose from

It was time to choose a better balance between foods that nourish & are enjoyable & to increase my movement each day.

This mindful eating plan I’ve made up is working for me.

I am now understanding the WHY of how I used food to deal with emotions & that it does not work like that MAKES so much sense!

Keeping myself active by changing my approach to movement. Upping the steps weekly by 500 a day,  starting at 6000 a day.

Most of all I want to add is how grateful I am to be well after nearly 2 years of oral cancer & that I can continue to learn best how to care for myself emotionally & physically!

Changing the voice in my head…. the inner critic…to low volume or mute whenever she begins to shout!

So have you ever taken steps to change you?

Denyse.

Joining with Min for Zen Tips Tuesday here.

Finding a place with Sue and Leanne here in MidLife Share The Love on Wednesday

and, of course, Lovin’ Life with Leanne here each Thursday.

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Eating With No Teeth*- Head & Neck Cancer. 17/2019.

Eating With No Teeth* – Head & Neck Cancer. 17/2019.

Update on Being a Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 

Oh I “did” have 8 teeth*…in my lower jaw and they remain. Yay for “some” teeth.

In the past year I know how far I have come as far as eating is concerned since my Head and Neck Cancer diagnosis in May 2017. I have been delighted to have an upper prosthesis of teeth now screwed into my abutments in my jaw. They were attached on 21 August 2018.

The Before and After of “Teeth Day” 21 Aug

OH HAPPY day….it really was but I had many eating lessons to come and I still do. More on that in a future post.

Day 1 post surgery to around Day 8.

Back to those months when I was post-first surgery. I recall being fearful of what it would be like not to eat but with a fluid drip and then a gradually introduced naso-gastric feeding tube my body was cared for. My mind did accept what it was until around Day 7 post-surgery when I recall feeling hangry. You know: angry because of hunger. So, when I was given the chance to see if my mouth (and brain!) remembered how to sip water and my throat allowed it to swallow…remember all of the inside of my mouth had been affected in some or many ways but my reconstructive surgery…it was heaven!

This:

Day 9 and Day 10. Discharge on Day 10.

This:

First meal in hospital. Then next 3 times I did not enjoy it much.

Early days at home. First Weeks.

I have IBS and with an empty gut receiving food for the first time in a long time, as well as the prescription of a far too strong for me anti-biotic on the morning I left hospital as a “your drain in your leg looks infected” ….my gut (and I) were just not happy in that first 10 days home even though I was starving. Poor husband did his best to please, and I also tried to be helpful but it really was a challenging time.

When my GP unravelled the cause of the massive diarrhoea episodes I had, he told me to forget any (hospital dietitian suggestions of ) liquid meal replacements, protein additives and eat what I could and felt like. The relief was amazing and coming off the giant dose of anti-biotics helped as the leg looked fine. The toast in these pics really wasn’t consumed but I liked ‘tasting what was on it. Avocado and soup were good friends, and also peanut butter eaten off the spoon. Jelly and icecream have never been a favourite but they provided so much mouth comfort with their smooth coolness.

The next weeks turned into months.

By the time the second week at home was over, despite my sore leg, I was able to do some meal prep. It frustrated me that I depended on my husband’s kindness and labour as I wanted to contribute. Eventually I worked out how I could have some say and also make some meals that would work for me. We mostly ate separate meals anyway because of his health. I also had many types of soup: homemade vegetable soup, pumpkin soup & tomato soup. For someone who was never a cereal girl at breakfast, weetbix and milk were/are my go-to foods!

Why this post about eating as a Head and Neck cancer patient?

I have written about my management of eating in two posts.

Part one is here, part two here.

Why I decided to do this more detailed one is for any  newly-diagnosed head and neck cancer patients who come here to read and view. Sometimes it is the head and neck cancer patient’s carer who needs some ideas. It can be very overwhelming and confronting when something as normal as eating & drinking (let alone speaking and swallowing) is changed dramatically via a cancer diagnosis.

I was fortunate in many ways. I had a limited time with only a naso-gastric tube before returning to eating and drinking as well as I could.

I know some people have long-term eating and drinking challenges following different Head and Neck cancers and procedures.

My health is good. I am looking to the 2 years marking the first cancer surgery in July 2017. What I know is that I may have to modify my eating again over time if more surgery is prescribed inside my mouth to enlarge the space between the lip and ‘teeth’ on upper prosthesis.

How To Seek More Information On-Line.

In my case, the words and written information from my Chris O’Brien Lifehouse dietitian helped me. I learned about the important of protein and fat in a post surgery diet. I also learned to value-add and I am grateful for that. For information on Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, go here.

Each head and neck cancer patient needs to be guided by their professional team.

The site and organisation called Beyond Five has a comprehensive page of information and this takes you to pages on nutrition with links here.

Beyond Five is the organisation I am working for as an Ambassador in 2019 to raise awareness of Head & Neck Cancer.

The stories of others with Head & Neck cancers are shared for here all to read:

 

This is a link to finding avenues of supportive care on the Beyond Five website.

There are support groups to help you as well. Here is the link, again from Beyond Five, to those in Australia and New Zealand. Correct at the time of posting.

Recently it was World Cancer Day and I submitted my story which was published here.

I AM a head & neck cancer patient

I WILL share for others to be aware

 

This post is going live on the morning I will be driving 2 hours to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, donating some craft supplies to their Arterie program, having the first meeting with Beyond Five for 2019 and then visiting my Head & Neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark and Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant Sr Cate Froggatt. After my cancer check, I will be better informed about ‘what’s next’ and then drive myself back home!

  • UPDATE: the meeting went well and provided much for me to discover as I move into my role as Ambassador to Beyond Five, and then my cancer check went well too. My professional team told me the inside of my mouth looked better when they last saw me early January and no surgery is required (I always add, at this stage…as my journey has had some detours!) and I will be back for a 3 month cancer check in mid May. That will be 2 years since diagnosis!

Wishing you well, from me. a head and neck cancer patient, to patients, carers, family and friends.

Denyse.

Joining with Sue and Leanne here for Midlife Share the Love link up on Wednesday

On Thursday linking up with Leanne for Lovin’ Life here.

 

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Not A Smooth Recovery Path For Me: Head & Neck Cancer. 2018.133.

Not A Smooth Recovery Path For Me: Head & Neck Cancer. 2018.133.

Update One: Monday 24 December, is that whilst it is always disappointing to have changes like this in recovery, I am actually able to manage the issue of pain, when it arises and am feeling better in general.

Update Two: Monday 14 January, the pain comes and goes but the news from my Head & Neck surgeon is that he was looking for cancer when I saw him on 8 January. This made me quite concerned. Whilst there was not cancer there as he could see, I do now know there could be another surgery this year. Sigh.

It’s Friday 21 December 2018 and not a normal blogging day for me at all.

But, head and neck cancer recovery is not ‘normal’ I guess!

My blog has been a great source of comfort to me as I can write down what is happening to me, and often receive support in return.

That is lovely.

Today I just need to share this story.

Since my last blog post here, I have continued to be back and forth to the great team I have at Westmead: my prosthodontist and nurse. Each visit since October – when I last saw my Head and Neck cancer surgeon and nurse – has been about:

  • checking the health of the skin which was added to my upper lip (under it) last May
  • checking I am keeping the metal abutments clean where they are attached to the upper teeth prosthesis
  • and fitting me for a partial lower denture to add to my remaining 8 teeth

Showing my mouth’s flexibility – reduced now.

I have had some pain. It is like a sharp nerve pain and each time I mentioned it I was told it is part of ‘re-modelling’ and I have taken that to mean, this will go on as my new mouth and lip settle into their space. I am pretty good at managing pain but earlier this week I needed to share what had been noted by me after seeing my G.P.

  • the pain, which initially we/I thought was from some abrasion of the new tender inner side of the lip against the prosthesis was not likely to have been only from there…because
  • when I tried to use my small micro brush to clean in between the gaps left at the top of the screwed in prosthesis there was  no gap 
  • where the gap had been was skin, resting and immoveable, onto the top of the acrylic prosthesis

After my G.P. saw it, I sent these photos to my Professor and the Prosthodontist. The prosthodontist rang to say, stop using the microbrushes and use the water pik only to clean. The professor emailed to say “come and see me early January for a closer look”.

Yay to having responsive professionals. Very grateful.

Not so happy for the pain it is causing, the lip tightening even more and the disappointment that things are not going as I had hoped. Probably as my team had hoped too!

On the positive side, I have overcome setbacks before AND I trust my professional team BUT this is not a situation I imagined.

Skin does its thing it seems. My post here is about how the stent being taken out too soon prevented the full healing and I needed a 4th surgery and then over 3 months with a new stent.

I seem to think….more surgery may be on the cards.

Sigh.

I am taking pain medication as advised by my G.P. I am doing all I can to treat myself more gently. I am looking forward to seeing the family on Christmas Day here but my eating may be even more compromised by then. Who knows?

Many I know in the Head and Neck cancer support groups are in quite different stages of healing, acceptance of many aspects of their recovery and managing things well. I am buoyed by them, and already support for me and my update has helped. I also know as an Ambassador for Beyond Five, that those of us with Head and Neck cancers are affected by treatments long after the five years.

I am just over 19 months since diagnosis. I am also less patient than some! I am, always very grateful for my cancer treatments and follow-ups in an Australian setting here:

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse

The late Prof Chris O’Brien. In the hospital named after him.

Westmead Oral Restorative Sciences

Thank you for your support, friends from blogging land and readers!

Denyse.

 

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Head & Neck Cancer: “Beyond Five” Ambassadorship.2018.130.

Head & Neck Cancer:”Beyond Five” Ambassadorship.2018.130.

Last week I wrote a post called Farewell and Hello. It was pretty long so I stopped at Farewell promising to be back for Hello. Here we go!

Regular followers here know that I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in my upper gums and under the top lip. The whole story is here, in posts, from the day I was told until the recent post on adjusting my eating requirements when I am out of the house.

Hello, I am now a Beyond Five Ambassador!

How this came about was partly after this day in October 2018 when I was back at ‘my’ hospital Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, but I had offered earlier this year if there was any way I could help spread the news about head and cancer awareness I would like to do so. I had already been sharing the work of Beyond Five here on the blog for World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2018.

Following that day, the Board of Beyond Five met, Sr Froggatt and Professor Clark are board members and Nadia Rosin is Manager, Business & Communications,  and I then received a formal letter of invitation to become a Beyond Five Ambassador.

Role of Community Ambassador

  • • Share your personal head and neck cancer story for use in Beyond Five communication e.g. website, social media portals etc.
  • • Raise awareness of Beyond Five through family, friends, other personal connections.
  • • Where possible, attend events e.g. patient support group meetings, education days to help raise awareness of Beyond Five.
  • • Support Beyond Five grant applications where relevant e.g. as a consumer representative.
  • • Provide feedback to Beyond Five to help us improve and develop the way we work.

About Beyond Five.

Background

Beyond Five was established in December 2014 and is Australia’s only not-for-profit organisation supporting patients with head and neck cancer, caregivers, family and health professionals.

Beyond Five was established to provide evidence based, comprehensive, easy to understand and easy to access information to everyone, regardless of where they live.

Beyond Five is the first organisation in Australia supporting patients and their families through their cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment and life after cancer.

Mission

Beyond Five’s mission is to improve the quality of life of everyone affected by head and neck cancer through education and access to support and to raise awareness of head and neck cancer nationally. We are committed to working collaboratively with all specialties across Australia to achieve our mission.

 

I have joined the inaugural Ambassador, Julie McCrossin and Marty Doyle too. Their stories and mine, can now be found here on the Beyond Five site. There will be more ‘thinking time’ for my involvement and what form it may take as everyone is going to be on a break soon. We are getting together in February 2019. I look forward to helping where I can especially now I am post almost all of my cancer treatments and now in ‘check-up and check-in’ mode.

I know that I am keen and ready to help others learn more about head and neck cancer as it is not well-known. In fact I had no idea you could get squamous cell carcinoma inside your mouth (and other areas of the skin inside the head & neck region, till my day of diagnosis in May 2017.

And here we are sending Season’s Greetings.

I wish that no-one had cancer of any kind, of course, but the fact of life is we do. I want as many do, to help pay back the time and effort and research that has gone into the amazing surgeries and mouth reconstructions I had. That I can smile and eat well again is testament to the wonderful work of my team and their integration of allied professionals too. I have written posts about how many helped get me well again. Now, it’s onward….and to say I am glad to be an Ambassador for Beyond Five is an understatement. It is an honour and a privilege to be in this new role.

I want to do the role justice, and help others as I too have been helped.

Thank you to the Board of Beyond Five for entrusting me with this role as your Ambassador.

Denyse.

Joining with Sue and Leanne here for Midlife Share the Love and with Leanne here for Lovin Life link up.

 

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