Friday 14th May 2021

Emerging From Illness To Wellness. #SundayStills. #15. 44/2021.

Emerging From Illness To Wellness. #SundayStills. #15. 44/2021.

As I am loving to do, I played with the words for this week’s prompt for the Photo Challenge from Terri called #SundayStills. Her blog is here so come and check out the posts, particularly those that relate to the photos because you too might join in.

Terri here is still moving into her new abode and her friend from Always Write  is caring for Sunday Stills again this week.

It’s now my 15th week! Loving it.

Content warning: some images may be distressing for some.

When you are ill, for whatever reason, you want to be well again.

Impatience does not help the cause.

However, as so many of us know from experiences there is one factor that usually is the reason….





And my experiences in how I emerged from illness to wellness are, in this instance, from my head and neck cancer (in my mouth) surgeries which eventuated in giving me some (artificial) teeth where cancer had taken hold. I used some of the strategies above to help me through the time productively and to stay well emotionally.


Content warning: some images may be distressing for some.


I admit, some of the images are a bit confronting. I LIVED with them and took photos every day to help mark my progress. On some days, I could feel  despondent….hence the need to do something with my TIME….but generally I felt gratitude for all that was being done for me. I just had to do (and still do) some of the hard yards as we say!

A Little Bit of Information About My Surgeries.

I had half of my mouth removed. The upper part where there was cancer in my gums and under top lip. I had the BEST ever team. Simple as that. In fact, my head and neck surgeon is the top Professor in the field. I was told, in May 2017, one day after diagnosis that the team would remove half of my mouth, and replace it (jaw, gums and palate) with parts from my leg. These 3 photos show some of this. In total I had 4 surgeries. The BIG one for 11 hours, then subsequent day surgeries to add more skin to the inside of my mouth: November 2017, February 2018 and May 2018. Full details are here.

The good news is that I am doing well.

I got an all-clear and I will see you in a year, last September so I am half way there.

I admit, managing the upper prosthesis has its challenges but generally, I do well.

This of course, is how I look now:




  1. Denyse, I knew you had some medical challenges, but not to this extent! I was fascinated with your story and images and looking at you now, I would never guess you went through all that. Your medical team was incredible! Thank you for your loyalty to Sunday Stills! I’ve had my own challenges engaging with WordPress on my phone and I was so happy to read your link from Marsha’s post. I will be back to hosting next Sunday using my unlimited data plan and the wifi hot spot…so much easier than using a phone to type! Have a wonderful week, Denyse!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much Terri. I hesitated about using my healing over time via the images but then I thought it did match with emerging.

      I hope things are settling for you, but like anyone moving, let alone into a brand new home, everything takes time to find! And to place somewhere.

      Good luck with how it is all going.


  2. Denyse, I love your take on the theme this week! You overcame so much and have definitely emerged from illness! You are inspiring! Have a beautiful week.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much Kirstin. I was a bit reluctant initially then decided it WAS a good fit…even though a little gruesome for some !!


  3. You are a warrior. Your resilience and positive attitude are a big part of why you have walked this path and come out smiling. So many would have folded and “walked away” but your coping skills as you mention above really helped. As an OR nurse I was interested in the pictures – it’s not a surgery I am familiar with as I specialized in orthopedic trauma but I can “see” the process. Take care.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words Bernie. In so many ways it was a long time ago now but in others I can recall the hard yards, not so much of pain, but the huge challenges of finding something to eat that worked.

      I know my surgeries have fascinated some but I do draw the line at wanting to see what you guys in the OR see….I love all of those who help take care of us physically in my times of surgeries. I have made some good friends from that.


  4. Denyse, I am so glad you shared this post. You have been through so much. I didn’t take pictures as I had breast cancer, but I’m sure my doctors could give folks an eyeful. Your surgery reminded me so much of my cleft lip surgeries. I’ve had several since I was a baby, my last one being at age 60. Your surgeries give me hope if I ever lose my baby tooth, which is still attached on the edge of a cleft treated with a bone growth hormone. Your outcome is amazing. You are a brave woman to share all those photos, but they are not you, they are the person who had cancer and surgery and survived it all. I love your spunk and your giving. I also have to love that you were a teacher and principal. I was a teacher, then a consultant for the county office of education. I loved my career, and like you I still teach through my blog. Thanks again for sharing on Sunday Stills and sticking with me. It means a lot! 🙂

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      We share quite a lot of similar stories from our lives don’t we, Marsha?

      Thank you for taking the time and care to let me know about your surgeries. Breast cancer is so traumatic of course and I remain well and tested every 2 years.

      The thing about ALL my photos of my face is that they helped me and my professional team see the progress. Somewhere in my head and neck surgeon’s and prosthodontist’s files are pages of small selfies with the dates. I guess that this kind of thing helps them share with other patients. I have always said that was fine.

      Very interesting to know of your cleft surgeries. I learned so much about the role of the upper palate and when I know it was all being removed I freaked a bit but I had faith in my team and my leg’s flesh has done a great job in helping me eat, drink and swallow with normality.

      Love sharing our common stories from our life history.


  5. That is amazing! You look so happy and healthy in that last picture. I’ve had a couple of surgeries and I know what you mean about time being the main factor in getting better. When you are down, it’s hard to imagine feeling up again. Then, after some time feeling better, it’s hard to remember exactly how bad you felt. Time is truly the greatest healer. I love to see how you have emerged!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much Janis. Yes that T for time thing is so interesting. I agree that looking back it doesn’t seem too bad…but when we are in it, it’s like walking through mud.

      I thought I had better add my ‘most recent photo!’. My health professionals get quite a kick out of seeing my ‘end of treatment’ face too.


  6. You are such a generous person Denyse, sharing your story so honestly. A great approach to the theme this week – I’ve been missing in action for Sunday Stills due to so much going on in my world but now that the main event is over I may be able to get back into my regular schedule!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Deb, I am glad you could stop some of your blogging posts because you did have/do have so much happening IRL as they say.

      I have only come back to the blog tonight after my big day meeting up with the NSW Senator to talk about head and neck cancer…and there might be news one day about me joining with Head and Neck Cancer Australia to come to Canberra!

      I hope the weekend was rewarding.

      And that you are not tooooo cold.


  7. I feel like a lot of “IRL” people around me don’t believe the time I need to recover. Perils of invisible health conditions, maybe. I also wonder about our culture of how we set sick leave… frankly I wonder it about personal/emergency/compassionate type leave too (eg deaths – what 3 days and someone would be functioning after a family member passed – what fool wrote that?!)

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Invisible illness is the worst, Vanessa. I reckon too that people cannot even be bothered to check on anyone who doesn’t have the “look” of not being well.

      It really is a shame. I get it.

      And yes, those arbitrary times of “you will be recovered from your ….” in (x) days. I know as a principal I could see staff members struggling with those limits but that, sadly, was what the employer said. Yes, all are the same. And as employees we need to keep earning. A really hard conundrum.


  8. I think it’s wonderful that you have chosen to share your story in such detail. I have been fortunate so far not to go through anything like this, but if I should have to face it I will remember what you went through and how, in the end, it was successful for you 🙂 Your medical team sound amazing and you too!!

    • Thank you so much Sarah. Until we need to have to undergo something like this we are never sure ‘we can do it’ but we still do it! I have gained a great deal in terms of emotional wellness and courage from both going through this and sharing it via social media including this blog.

      I have the BEST of the BEST head and neck cancer surgical team…not biased at all!!


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