Friday 22nd March 2019

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

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

Are you a planner?

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

Well, I am.

It is part of my DNA I reckon!

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

That was Tuesday.

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

Do Read on.

What Plan Did I Have?

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

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

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

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

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

What now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have I learned about planning and cancer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie Purtell for I Blog on Tuesdays here.

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

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

 

 

 

 

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