Sunday 26th January 2020

My Latest Head & Neck Cancer News.120/2019.

My Latest Head & Neck Cancer News.120/2019.

For those who are new to the blog and my head and neck cancer story, all posts can be found here. 

As I reach the end of the year, it’s timely to do an update of how it is to be living with the results of head and neck cancer.

Specifically for me, the cancer was found inside my mouth: top gums and under the top lip.

It was named squamous cell carcinoma at first diagnosis after the initial biopsy but after my first surgery here, the results from the massive pathology testing done then according to my head and neck cancer surgeon was a form of verrucous squamous cell carcinoma. I do not pretend to understand my version of head and neck cancer. It IS oral cancer but for ease of others finding my blog I file it under head and neck cancer.

I am told by my professor that my version of this cancer is rare. The fact that head and neck cancer like mine (no Human Papilloma Virus/HPV cause) and no risk factors like smoking or drinking alcohol makes me “rare of rare”. Professor Jonathan Clark AM 2019. Sigh. Ok, I am glad it’s rare I guess but there is a puzzlement always about the how and why of my version of this cancer that I discuss with my dentist (who ordered to original biopsy after I had him take the bridge and teeth out…so I have learned to accept the no reason as best as I can.

Always grateful for my head & neck cancer surgeon

Supporting Others Helps Me Too.

My Blog.

This place (right here!) provided me, initially, with a way to tell my head and neck cancer story. I am glad I still keep going with the updates. Now as I hear, it can also be a place that others who are newly diagnosed, family members, friends and professionals can pop in, using the top of the page link to see all posts.

My Social Media Presence.

Twitter.

I like to talk (!) and connect so when I want to do this, without face to face catch ups (we are all over the world!) then it’s to social media I go. I have an active twitter account https://twitter.com/DenyseWhelan1 where I follow head and neck cancer patients, carers and professionals. Some of those include Beyond Five where I am an Ambassador, my fellow Ambassadors Julie McCrossin and Marty Doyle. The New Zealand based Facebook group, found here, has two of its admins Maureen Jensen and Tammy Von Keisenberg who are on twitter.

Facebook.

My blog’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/denysewhelanblogs/ is where I do my main connecting these days and also use this profile in the Head and Neck Cancer Support Aotearoa. If you have head and neck cancer, or a family member or friend does, this group with over 500 members is an active and supportive place to share, read and find information. Meeting up with Fergus was a delight and getting to know Tara too. These people are the first who have also been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer in similar place to mine and we all have Chris O’Brien Lifehouse as our cancer centre.

Groups.

The local Head and Neck Cancer group for me (Central Coast NSW)  has a social media presence with a public facebook page found here: 

Beyond Five: found here, also lists meeting days and updates from groups around Australia. This is the link to the general page.

Most months I attend the Central Coast group meetings and next year will continue the practice. The group is open to all, and each 3rd Thursday of the month from 10 – noon we can be found at Erina’s Cancer Council rooms, within Erina Fair. Gary Mar is the group’s facilitator.

Beyond Five Ambassador.

I am delighted to announce I am continuing in this role for 2020. I have really enjoyed learning how to be the Ambassador that works for me and for Beyond Five and this is going well. It was in this role that I supported Soup for the Soul Fundraiser back in July for World Head and Neck Cancer with  my own (on-line!) and the event held at Cancer Centre Gosford Hospital in July. The group is grateful for the Head and Neck Cancer Patient Co-ordinator Nurse Lisa Shailer for her insights and lead and to Twynette Dickinson from the Cancer Council for her interest and presence.

Eating

I planned my eating in advance of going to the Christmas Lunch. It’s the best way for me.

  • I have found eating some foods fine. These include breakfast cereals with milk, some cracker biscuits with cheese, a small cake, grapes, mango and some meals which include mashed potato, meat (like cutlet or steak) and some tomatoes which can add some liquid to the food. It is a challenge for me to eat outside the home so I have accepted that unless it is say at my daughter’s house, I will be fine with a cup of coffee, a cake or something to dip into the coffee.

At Head & Neck Cancer Support Group Christmas Lunch this was my manageable and enjoyable choice to eat while socialing.

 

  • The foods that can be ordered out take me far too long to eat and my mouth gets sore inside. Whilst I have upper teeth they are tight inside my mouth and up against the gums and the biting and chewing that is enough for safe swallowing takes time. I get tired. The food gets cold. I tried to eat a meal out once and was refused a bag to take the rest home so another reason for no eating out is it is very expensive to waste money on food I cannot eat in two stages.

 

  • My main meals at home are like a bread & butter plate size. Or I use a regular plate and eat half one meal, cover it, and refrigerate it and eat the rest the next day. Because I have found this is a good strategy it means at least once a week I am eating some red meat (iron) that I love and some accompaniments and also sharing this meal with my husband. Most meals though, are ones I have made in bulk and are in small containers for me to eat after defrosting.

  • Occasionally I will try a salad as caesar salad is a favourite but again, I take so long and my mouth gets sore, so I make it in two halves. I cannot eat corn on the cob, tomatoes were lovely but they are affecting my mouth by stinging now (skin is very sensitive) and an apple…well, how long do you have? I cannot bite into it and the skin is too challenging, so if I give an apple a go, I may just grate it.

 

  • I have never been a spicy food person and would be hard pressed to have anything like that now or anything too hot. Cold is better in my mouth than hot.

 

  • Inside my mouth the skin is of different ages – some was added in 2017 and the remainder in 2018. My right thigh is the donor for my delicate areas between the gums and inside of lips. I have, as you would know, the flesh and skin from my right leg as my palate.

The wounds are where the bone (fibula) and skin/flesh were taken in July 2017

  • What is interesting is that because the top of my mouth is made from my leg (skin, flesh and bone) it acts like a legI am fortunate that the palate no longer grows hair.

 

  • However, I cannot taste nor feel any food in the top half of my mouth. IF I really want to savour a texture or taste, I need to put the food upside down in my mouth!

Appearance

Unless there is a reason to do so, I no longer mention to anyone new that I have had cancer. The reasons I did in my first years was about the way I looked. I certainly DID look different with no top teeth (upper prosthesis) and a mouth that was healing along with my leg. It was, for someone like me, a talking point or conversation started in 2017 and until I got my upper prosthesis in August 2018.

After that for a few months those I had met before were amazed to see me with teeth and smiling..even my head and neck surgeon (above) who remarked “Denyse you look fantastic…great work Suhas” when I’d sent him the email photo of me after Suhas (the prosthodontist) had fitted my upper prosthesis.

My top lip on the right hand side is pulled in (still) despite the months I spent with a stent trying to push it out. At least the stent did the work for me to have the upper prosthesis fitted. My top lip and under my nose is completely numb. It is very dry too and can itch. I have bought tube after tube of lip creams/balms/ointments to be told that there are some nerves in there that no longer work and so I just need to keep things in better condition for me to feel more comfortable instead of this constant tightness. The top lip appearance changes completely when I smile. So, I smile as much as I can!!

Nothing is as it seems. Sometimes.

I would be less than honest if I did not make a comment about this. I have found as time passes, that with little visible differences now in me, there is no real interest in my head and neck cancer. This is in my family and friend relationships too. I have pondered this and I believe once the novelty (strange word to select) has worn off this cancer diagnosis of mine  – it was very unusual – then people move on. In some ways I have but I also can never forget I have had cancer.

Each time my mouth moves one way or another, I feel the difference. No-one can see it of course, but I know it. When I can not stretch out my right leg or even my right foot then I am reminded of the sacrifice one part of my body made for another.

In the lead up to my third year of living with the diagnosis of a head and neck cancer (May 2020) I do take time to count my blessings and express gratitude (of course) but there is something quite profound about having a part of your body placed in another part of your body so you can function and live as well as possible.

Celebrating my 70th Birthday: with my husband who has been by my side throughout almost 49 years of marriage, but even more in the years since I was diagnosed with HNC.

I do get on with my life (as a now 70 year old!!) of course but have to say, despite the head and neck cancer existence for me, that I am noticing I can be more distracted and interested in hobbies such as my art and designs, getting out to meet people, going to the shops..ahem..for coffee of course. NOT always clothes shopping as my husband seems to think.

Am I grateful?

Yes I am.

However, I will continue to be monitored and tested for a return of cancer until at least 5 years has elapsed from diagnosis. So, I will be looking at May 2022.

Appointments scheduled.

Ask any cancer patient and they will likely say that once the more frequent appointments spread out (for the good news reasons like mine) there is an initial feeling of what now? I did have that this year once I got to May and was told my future appointments would be 4 monthly. So I am back to the Prof early March 2020 at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. My prosthodontist who saw me for my…40th appointment late November does not need me to return till mid March at Westmead. I am never quite sure of what the next appointments will entail. I trust I will continue with my path of wellness for which I am very grateful.

Head and Neck Cancer Patient Forum. 2020

On Friday June 12 in 2020 at the Garvan Institute I will be a patient who is interviewed about my experiences with head and neck cancer. It is open to patients , carers, family and more. The details are here. Costs are free to attend for some and a small fee for others. The link is here and I will be updating no doubt in 2020.

About my word of year 2019: Integrate.

When I chose this word at the end of 2018 it was after a conversation with my husband where he pointed out that maybe my cancer could be less important in my daily life. Mmm. Easy to say from a non-cancer person but much harder to do for me. Then. However, when I had the word engraved on the bracelet I have worn daily since 1 January 2019, on the back it says “HNC & Me” meaning that over time I hoped to grow to the point of head and neck cancer being a part of me but not the main part. I can now announce, I have noticed this for myself in the past few months so like all things, it happened in its own time.

Thank You.

The blog is my place for recording what I can share with the wider world about what it is like to have head and neck cancer. I now know some newly diagnosed patients and families have been assisted by reading the blog posts which I keep in a special page on my home page – right hand side. When I give someone my business card, the website is there and my information as an Ambassador for Beyond Five; head and neck cancer awareness on-line.

Top: L: Beyond Five Ambassador R: My Prosthodontist & Nurse: Westmead Bottom: L: Professor Jonathan Clark AM R: Sr Cate Froggatt

 

Earlier this year, I was published here too if you are interested. Life, Death Whatever take submissions from around the globe and a book will be coming in 2020

Thank you to my readers. This was a long-ish update!

Denyse.

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

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

 

 

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Share Your Snaps #5. #LTW25/51. My Head & Neck Cancer Photos 2017-2019. 71/2019.

Share Your Snaps #5. #LTW25/51. My Head & Neck Cancer Photos 2017-2019. 71/2019.

I am choosing to celebrate my two years + since head and neck cancer diagnosis in images that mean much to me as a patient who is using this medium to show:

Surgeries,

Healing,

Gratitude,

Waiting, 

Becoming Well.

Some images may be confronting to you. The nature of having a head and neck cancer is that it is brutal in its ways of eradicating it. Be it surgery (my sole treatments), radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of all. Please consider using my experience to get your mouth checked and to follow up any pain, lumps & bumps in the head, neck, under ear areas….And please think about a donation to my Virtual Fundraiser for BeyondFive where I am a volunteer Ambassador. Link at the end. Thank you. 

 

1. Where recovery began. Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in July 2017 and realities of being home and what my body was doing to heal.

2. My ‘mouth’ reconstructed…and lots of waiting for more surgeries and needing to adapt to changes in my mouth. Surgery in Feb 2018 too.

3. And a 4th surgery…gets me closer to upper teeth but such a long wait with a stent attached inside. Getting my #HNC awareness happening & supporting the first Soup for the Soul event telling my local MP about it.

 

4. Many trips to Westmead as my mouth needed measurements, cleaning of abutments area and so on. I had 2 more surgeries to make my mouth ‘teeth ready.’ My first meeting with Central Coast HNC patients. I had not met another HNC patient till almost a year after my first surgery. And....S M I L E.

 

5. So many reasons to smile, show appreciation & help support the works of HNC groups, meet with Beyond Five, smile at my surgeon and see the realities of inside my mouth, with my prosthodontist telling me all about how this is screwed into the cheekbone and more. Yikes. No wonder it hurts at times.

6. With my recovery continuing my confidence improved.It was great to have some special occasions including a belated retirement medal presentation, meet-ups in December & Christmas at our place & to celebrate my 69th birthday at the the end of November.

7. In early Jan 2019 a quick trip to COBLH to see my surgeon where he confirmed ‘extra skin’ was just that, not cancer…and that threw me for a bit (cancer as a possibility). It was good to think about it and consider gratitude and we celebrated an 18th Bday & our Feb meeting of CC HNC support group had a special guest.

 

8. And the memories of the 2 years before were strong but I gave myself credit for getting through tough times then and now. Meeting up with friends AND authors who are friends was fab! My mouth reality is here too. Bit graphic: Before Cancer diagnosed.

 

9. Celebrated my 2 years since diagnosis with my husband on 17 May and he said ” time for the Apple Watch you’ve wanted”. Recently I’ve helped share another HNC patient’s story for Beyond Five, met my daughter for Mother’s Day, had another CC HNC group meeting at the Cancer Council, saw my prosthodontist, my dentist too…and at the special celebration of Chris O’Brien’s legacy for Head and Neck cancer in early June at COBLH loved seeing my surgeon, Prof Jonathan Clark (who became AM from Queen’s Bday honours the next weekend!) and my HNC Nurse Practitioner Justine. I am so fortunate!!

 

10. My friend updated my image for the blog after it had been showing my way before cancer image for 4 years. Now, that feels more like me!

 

Denyse Whelan Head and Neck Cancer Patient now Ambassador.

Consider a donation of $5 or more to my Virtual Event

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 was initiated 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.  World Head and Neck Cancer Day is on 27 July.

Have you shared your snaps today?

Denyse.

Kell also has a Monday linkup here. Join in!

You can link up something old or new, just come on in. * Please add just ONE post each week! * Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not. * Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do! * Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right! * Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere. I don’t have a ‘button’ so a link in text is fine! *Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. * THANK you for linking up today!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCDay 2019. 64/2019.

Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCday 2019. 64/2019.

It would be remiss of me not to do an update in June….yes it would!

Having a CT ‘Surveillance’ Scan.

Following my 2 year (and every 3 month) cancer check my Professor determined it was now time for a ‘baseline CT scan’ of head, neck and chest. Ok. OK! It is a funny old thing, this cancer business until you “know” what the results are. There were no visible signs anything would be found…but…

I went. I was a bit nervous. I was finished in 20 minutes. Then I waited for a day, then another. Until I sent an email: already knowing my surgeon had a huge week but hoping he had a result. He did, I was told on the phone by his lovely practice manager: “ALL CLEAR”. Yay.

That week I also visited my dentist – the person who I convinced to remove the bridge & teeth in April 2017 where cancer was eventually found. He was able to check out all that had happened in the past 9 months and clean my remaining 8 teeth. I have an amazing team caring for me.

The First Week In June 2019.

This week marked the ten years since Professor Chris O’Brien, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon, died from brain tumours. His legacy is so many people who trained and worked with him at R.P.A. and now at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. His widow Gail O’Brien said recently that without Chris getting cancer he would not have understood the need for cancer patients to be cared for nor treated as well without his vision for a ‘one stop cancer care’ place. He knew that a specialist hospital -comprehensive cancer centre – would happen but he did not know of course that its obvious name would be his in the title.

On Monday 3 June I attended Lifehouse to hear the ‘stories’ of working with, knowing and loving the man called Chris O’Brien. This was a presentation about his legacy in head and neck cancer and as a patient with #hnc as its shorthand name is on twitter, I learned from those who have treated me and who paid tribute to Chris. In fact my surgeon’s final words of his talk were “there’s a little bit of Chris in everyone’s role”.

Later when I got to say hello again to Gail and to thank her for the work of Chris O’Brien, I said even at my most scared – one day after being told I had cancer – when I walked into Chris O’Brien Lifehouse I felt different. It was not a ‘hospital’ as I knew, it was full of interesting places and spaces and caring people. I felt safe and cared for. And still do. Each time I walk in, I look up at the various images of Chris and others and I am very grateful.

Being An Ambassador For Head & Neck Cancer Awareness with Beyond Five.

In June it’s time to ramp up the Head and Neck cancer awareness as we lead into the last week of July 2019 where World Head and Neck Cancer Day is marked with programs, conferences and more on 27 July 2019.

The colours for Head and Neck cancer world-wide are Maroon/Burgundy and Cream.

 

My #HNC & #B5 Lanyard with my card & Ambassador badge

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.

World Head and Neck Cancer Day: 27 July 2019.

Soup For the Soul Event at Gosford: Central Coast Cancer Centre. Tuesday 23 July 2019.

In June I will be working with the local Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at Gosford to prepare for our Soup For the Soul and Head and Neck Cancer Information and Awareness Day on Tuesday 23 July 2019 at Central Coast Cancer Centre. A year ago I went to the first occasion and met people who also had head and neck cancer and were carers and professionals too. It was the first time I had met anyone else with head and neck cancer. Now the people there have become friends of mine.

From 2018 World Head and Neck Cancer Day & Soup For the Soul at Gosford:

 

This post is to also support others around the world who will be part of the World Head and Neck Cancer Day in 2019.

Do support the charities which help with research and awareness of Head and Neck cancer.

In my case, the link in the story about my virtual Soup for the Soul event will take you directly to donate to Beyond Five’s continuing awareness updates and programs to help those affected by Head and Neck cancers.

Thanks for following my Head and Neck cancer stories. This is the link to where all of my Head and Neck cancer posts are as well as those that have been published elsewhere.

Warmest wishes

Denyse.

 

 

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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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New Normal For Me With Head & Neck Cancer. 43/2019.

New Normal For Me With Head & Neck Cancer. 43/2019.

It’s occurred to me that I’ve been writing posts about how it was for me BEFORE a cancer diagnosis hereand there are the series of posts about my surgeries and progress found here….but I have not done any updates of NOW.

Now as they say in cancer circles, is the new normalwhich is described here:

Finding a ‘new normal’

Many survivors* say that cancer changes them. After treatment, they may feel different, even though they look the same. With time, survivors often find a new way of living. Many call this a “˜new normal’. It may take months or years to find a “˜new normal’.

Misconceptions about treatment  ending

  • I should be celebrating.
  • I should feel well.
  • I should be the person I was before cancer.
  • I should not need support.
  • I should feel grateful.

Read more at https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/15289/b1000/living-well-after-cancer-45/living-well-after-cancer-back-to-normal/#xc5f7pBq7VeQ7Oeq.99

Fellow Head and Neck Cancer Survivor, Julie McCrossin AM, the inaugural Beyond Five Ambassador hosts a series of podcasts here called About Cancer.

About the word: survivor. My personal choice is this one. However, it is not always looked upon well by some. I have no word to replace it for me. I personally do not like warrior nor does thriver work for me as it does for some. It’s just me. I tend to use patient maybe because I am still getting cancer checks. To each their own, right?

Now, back to MY version of New Normal.

I have really been considering this in 2019 as it ‘felt like’ and ‘looked like’ I was back to Denyse. But which version of Denyse? I am ageing too and I wonder if some of my thoughts are also linked to being in my 70th year.

When I was in pre-cancer times, I was so ‘caught up’ with managing my stress and emotional load at having moved from Sydney and all that entailed in getting used to a new normal for that situation. Suddenly, new normal meant:

  • no longer living in a house we were paying off
  • no more employment for me
  • no more regular contact and care for our grandkids
  • being a more stressed-out person than I liked
  • trying hard (so hard) to be better able to manage the life I had then: 2015-mid 2017

Then cancer entered my life.

Very suddenly I took on a new way of looking at life, and learning what was ahead.

OK. I was stressed but in some ways I knew what was coming and even though there were unknowns, I do know NOW, I have made it through

  • diagnosis,
  • 4 surgeries,
  • recovery times,
  • many prosthodontist visits and treatments,
  • adjusting to life with less ‘in my mouth’ to help me eat,
  • then getting more in my mouth to help me eat…
  • and bingo, the smile is back so…
  • back to normal, right?

OH no, so not true. For me at all.

Partly it was my belief I could be back to eating what I used to eat.

I even bought these foods after not buying anything crunchy for well over a year and they disappointed me greatly. Perhaps, for the chips, a good thing.

However, some of this is true but more is not.

I can only crunch and chew for so long.

It is almost a year since the last surgery inside my mouth to add more skin to the inside of my upper lip and around the top ‘jaw’ abutments. I got my upper prosthesis screwed in on 21 August 2018 and it has been removed only once for adjustment by the prosthodontist. I do upkeep: two routines daily, involving 4 steps using this:

In being totally honest with myself, I can say I need to remember more than anyone that I have changed because of cancer in my mouth.

Head and Neck cancer never really leaves us. This is the reason for Beyond Five where I am now an Ambassador. This site helps patients, carers, families and friends with ‘the years after cancer’s 5 year checks are up’.

Announcement of My Ambassador Role.

It’s stays as it affects our inside and outside areas of the neck, head and inside the mouth, cheeks, sinuses and down into the throat and more. In my case, it is all in the mouth. I was told pre-big surgery, no-one would know you have had cancer or surgery once this is all done, and that is true. In some ways, that is a reason why it is up to ME to manage my new ways of eating rather than expect, as I look normal, others will be able to guess what I need.

This comes home to me even as I can still struggle to eat a meal I have prepared. It takes a long time to eat and sometimes, I just divide it into 2 meals as it tires my new mouth and makes it sore.

This is what I know is my new normal.

  • I get myself up each day between 8 and 8.30 a.m. to eat a nutritious breakfast or weetbix or cereal with fruit/yoghurt and milk
  • I take time to eat as it takes time and as I am retired, I get to enjoy reading the morning paper that’s been home-delivered
  • I will do any minor household chores which are shared with my also-retired husband e.g. a load of washing is put on the line
  • I check my emails, my blog (I have a blog which posts a new post 3 days a week) and any social media
  • Time to get dressed for the day. In October 2017, following the first major surgery I had lost a lot of weight and enjoyed the fact that I needed to buy new clothes. As a previously very overweight person, this was F U N
  • However, I found this to be a new normal for me called #dresswithpurpose and I joined in #everydaystyle for around a year and what a great community of support surrounded me post-cancer. I had no top teeth but as my husband said “I smiled with my eyes”.

Dress With Purpose photos: 2017 into 2018.

  • Each day, after a photo taken by my husband, I venture out for a coffee (and now more often, a treat to eat) somewhere local or more distant. I love this part of my new normal.
  • I have my coffee, I take out my mini journal kit, and draw/write and I people watch.
  • Sometimes I browse if I am at the shops, other times I may be out in nature and enjoy that too.
  • I have my own car which helps me be independent and drive myself to all of my Sydney appointments.
  • After this it is closer to the middle of the day and I come home when I am ready and get my very crunchy lunch ready. It is a joy to crunch.
  • More reading after lunch and sometimes more work/play via the computer.
  • Some outside chores including nurturing the plants that gives me further purpose in cancer recovery
  • Then it is meal preparation or simply getting small frozen version of an earlier meal from the freezer. Batch cooking is the way I go: meat meals made with mince, lamb shanks, beef slow cooked and of course teensy cakes for treats. I love them too.

Now I know this about my new normal.

I need to appreciate this new normal and the state of health I am in. So far, almost 2 years since diagnosis, there has been no return of cancer. I have the best health professionals looking after me and I am grateful eternally for them, their skills and their care.

I will continue to learn more about myself as I both age, and get used to ‘what’s inside my mouth’. I do know that pain comes and goes. I also am reassured that my mouth continues to be healthy inside and I am caring for it well.

I do not have any mobility problems with my right leg even though the fibula was removed for my new jaw. Thanks too for the skin and flesh, right leg!

I am loved and cared for by many as I do of them. This is a very good way to live.

In my 70th year I continue to enjoy creating with art, meeting up with friends for coffee rather than a meal, travelling to other cities by car for events and entertaining our family, along with continuing my engagement with school education, and promoting more about the awareness of this rare, but not nice, cancer called Head and Neck Cancer.

My new normal is awesome.

Denyse.

This post is being shared on link ups here, on Wednesday and  here on Thursday.

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Appreciation In August. #4. 2018.80.

Appreciation in August. #4. 2018.80.

This post is short on words…but long on gratitude and appreciation.

This collage represents much of my cancer story: from diagnosis in mid May 2017 through to adjusting to the notion I had cancer …then surgeries…four in all…and recoveries…and 21 visits (and more to come) to the prosthodontist at Westmead as of Tuesday 21 August 2018..

 

But it’s been a BIG news week for me and I wanted to share (via two little vids) how I was on the day before my new upper teeth were added to my gums/jaw (remember, they came from my right leg) and then the day after….

It is for me as much as anyone as we cannot always notice our own progress which is why I made these.

 

And then….my set of upper teeth (prosthesis) was attached (screwed in) to the abutments in my jaw (thank you fibula) on Tuesday 21 August 2018. For 412 days I had no upper teeth!  Here I am talking….cannot stop me…24 hours later!

 

Thank you to all who have commented, read my posts and supported me in so many ways that I cannot count.

I appreciate each and every one of you.

You are my cheerleaders!

Denyse.

Thank YOU Each & Every One of YOU.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky and Leanne knows all about the value of cheerleaders!

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Appreciation In August. #3. 2018.76.

Appreciation In August. #3. 2018.76.

My Alphabet of Appreciation FOR FOOD This Week in August 2018.

Some readers know that I have been without any teeth on top since my cancer diagnosis in May 2017 and after radical surgery in July 2017 a whole new inner /upper mouth was created and once I got home after 10 days, I needed to learn how to feed me. So much is attached to food: texture, tastes, preferences for savoury or sweet, crunchy food or smooth but I have been limited. Very much. It has been a big lesson for me in patience, creativity, adapting and making the best I can of the reason I had to do this hard work – cancer. The list here is all of the foods I have been able to eat. Often they are not in quantities I may have consumed pre-surgery as my mouth gets tired (and I get bored) with some food rolling around in my mouth for ages.

In a week or so, I will have had new top teeth added and I have no idea (yet) how this will be. This for now, is all I appreciate that I have been able to eat for the past 14 months.

A.

  • avocado – in all manner of way: by itself and added to dishes.
  • apple: I have tried many times with apple – grated but it is too hard to get it swallowed as I cannot (yet) chew.

B.

  • bread – no crusts but can eat white or wholemeal as a sandwich, or small pieces into soup
  • biscuits – dipping ones: malt, orange creams, plain biscuits. I have tried “choc covered’ ones: messy! I miss savoury biscuits as I cannot bite nor crunch
  • butter – my preferred spread and it is needed to help food like bread go down
  • beef casserole with chuck steak cooked all day – meat melts in my mouth

C.

  • cake – my homemade cupcakes with icing and those from my friend Kyla’s shop
  • coffee – double shot latte when I go out, and I keep a range of packet coffee mixes here
  • crumpets – can be cut into 4 and spread with butter and honey, I can pop the soft part in my mouth and leave crust
  • cheese – kraft blue box cheddar, tasty grated cheese and parmesan grated
  • carrot – cooked and then blended and added to bol sauce, soups
  • chicken noodle soup
  • chicken mince made into sweet and sour dishes
  • chicken cubes cooked and made into a casserole with cream of chicken soup

D.

  • dairy milk chocolate

E.

  • egg (scrambled only) with C for chutney on B for buttered T for toast

Some photos of some selections of the foods I ate in the early days. 

F.

  • fish – in the form of S for salmon in tins & smoked salmon in small pieces for lunch in summer
  • fruit – very limited. See P for pear, M for mango
  • fillet steak – cooked medium, and cut finely, with some sauce for flavour, added to 2 min noodles.

G.

  • grains – nope. They stick in places in my mouth and cannot escape.

H.

  • healthy choices. I make as many of these as I can each day knowing how much my recovery and wellness needs.
  • honey : good with plain yoghurt when I first came home from hospital last year
  • spread on crumpets

I. 

  • iodised salt is a daily condiment to aid flavour since I think my taste buds are slightly changed
  • ice-cream. Not a huge fan but it soothes my mouth after surgery and vanilla is my go-to.

J.

  • jelly. Oh so much jelly when I first recovered after major surgery and sometimes cooling and soothing after smaller surgeries. In a little container. Sometimes with I for ice-cream.
  • jam. Adding some flavour to a toasted muffin. See M for Muffin and how this is eaten.

K.

  • kale K for kidding. I can eat NO  leafy veges or salad other than what I list elsewhere

More foods from my challenging eating days. Imagination and creativity helps me with meals.

L. 

  • lettuce in teensy tiny cut up pieces added to my taco bowl or a sandwich with vegemite and cheese

M.

  • mango – could eat cut up in a bowl using a spoon. It was a great addition to lunch in Summer.
  • minced meat. How I learned to love you and cook with you for me:
  • minced beef: spag bol, savoury mince, taco mince
  • minced chicken: as above
  • minced lamb combined with the minced beef has made the best savoury mince to date
  • minced pork: a version of san box choy – just the seasoning, and the mince and on some 2 minute noodles
  • muffin: toasted white one: I can spread jam on a buttered one, cut into quarters and eat the middle part, leaving edge
  • milk: in coffee and tea and on my breakfast every day. Before the first surgery I was not a fan of cereal and milk and now I am. See W for Weetbix.

N.

  • noodles – see above: 2 Minute Chicken Noodles added to meat dishes. I have to cut the noodles with scissors before eating so I don’t choke on a long thread!

O.

  • oranges – cut and squeezed and drinking their juice

P.

  • pasta – the spaghetti variety – cut up and sometimes tube one – but needed to be well-cut for swallowing
  • pumpkin soup – over it. So over it. Yet because it “is” a vegetable and healthy I had made and eaten this a lot.
  • potatoes –  as long as they are  mashed and buttered they went down well on top of my savoury mince.
  • pikelets: these are great with some butter and a spread. Warmed even more so.
  • peanut butter: sometimes on bread and sometimes on a toasted muffin.

 Q.

  • nothing comes to mind for Q.

R.

  • roast lamb dinner. Ok. Three times my dear husband cooked this and it was delightful, drowned in gravy and with burnt baked pumpkin and potatoes
  • rice. Oh how I have used rice: white: fried: and it is a staple that I can generally ‘get down’ with a meat/fish in some kind of sauce.

Meals and more meals. Dinner was easier than lunch often. 

S.

  • sweet potatoes have been good, blended with regular potato and added to meat dishes as well as soups
  • soups. I know they are good for the body and soul. I made many: chicken and veggies, ham hock and veggies and each was blended and frozen for future consumption. I have a range of packet soups on hard always. I can only eat (and have always preferred) a thinnish soup. Not thick at all.
  • sweets. I can eat some very soft sweets: this has been in recent months: milk bottles, strawberries & cream, pineapples.
  • sandwiches. I know that they are hard to get down but I do because I missed bread. So, the fillings – spreads or cheese or salmon need some butter or condiments and then I cut off all the crusts, and then the sandwich into cubes. I can now get down 8 rectangles. Before the past month or so it was 16 squares. Takes ages to eat.

T.

  • tomato condensed soup from Rosella in the can, with milk added is a comfort food from childhood and it gets a run regularly.
  • tomatoes. I long(ed) for the taste of tomatoes but their skin made eating impossible. Lately though, I have bought small vine grown ones, and I cut out the middle with seeds and juice and that goes on a taco or even a crumpet for a savoury taste
  • tacos came about when I was looking for NEW tastes. I make up the taco mince with the powder and freeze the cooked portions, making myself ‘taco in a bowl’ with added: tomato & lettuce (see above), tasty cheese, avocado, lite sour cream.
  • tea: cups of …and often with biscuits I can dunk.
  • toast…is eaten rarely but I have tried it in very small squares with some creamed corn on top and eaten with a spoon as well as with scrambled egg.

U.

  • unhealthy but delicious at times: treats that I “can” eat when I am out: bits of donut edges, some cakes with no nuts and some icing, a part of a scone with jam & cream. Chocolate: including latest I can eat: freckles.

V.

  • variety is what I try to have but it can be V for very hard some days and I just retreat to ‘old faves’.
  • very good advice from the dietitian before I left hospital in July 2017 was to aim for enjoyment AND nutrition in my meals and snacks and I do remember that often.

W.

  • water. I always have water near me and particularly when eating. I have not choked but water is a good lubrication in my mouth anyway so I have sips and swigs during my meal
  • weetbix. Who knew? Before surgeries for cancer I rarely ate cereal. For the past year it is my standard and ONLY breakfast: 2 weetbix, some sugar (oh come on, I cannot do these plain) and lite milk. And I will continue this breakfast when I have my teeth and it is a healthy one.

X.

  • of course nothing starts with X in this list but I will say taking eXtra care before attempting to eat food, and not talking as I eat (before surgery Denyse did) helps my food stay IN and then go down.

Y.

  • yellow foods: cheeses, butter, custard are dairy-based and they are part of my meals and snacks and I try to have
  • yoghurt in the fridge most weeks so when I feel like I need to be ‘virtuous’ I have some.

Z.

  • zooper doopers are always in the freezer. They are awesome post mouth surgeries but need to be cut into small, manageable pieces as I cannot suck. Seriously, not even using a straw with success. Unsure if this ability will return.

Treats have become a daily event but in limited quantities. I have remained around the same weight for the past 12 months and wish to stay that way. Increasing activity now I am very well is helping. 

 

I hope you did not get too hungry reading this!

Denyse.

Linking with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky on Thursdays here.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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