Wednesday 10th August 2022

Head & Neck Cancer: My BIG Day: 6 July 2017. Post Surgery: Denyse Speaks. 44/2022.

Head & Neck Cancer: My BIG Day: 6 July 2017. Post Surgery: Denyse Speaks. 44/2022.

It’s timely that the month of July holds big significance to me, and anyone else affected by having a head and neck cancer diagnosis.

27 July is World Head and Neck Cancer Day.

As someone who was completely ignorant of  “this cancer” until 17 May 2017 (story is here) I have used my experience as a patient, and an educator to help spread the words and images about this cancer, and being AWARE of what is it. So many health professionals also are not always aware as we would hope. Education & training is key!

However, this post is to:

  • commemorate (my diagnosis and first surgery 5 year anniversary)
  • share (my experience)
  • congratulate (my team of many professionals)
  • and be grateful that …in my case, this cancer has not returned.

My biggest fear, I guess, post this big surgery, was that I would have a tracheotomy (I was warned this could be the case) if the airways were swollen as a result of the reconstruction…because “I like to talk” as those who know me would agree.

And when I WAS able to speak, even in a limited way, when I woke during the post op ICU period: late evening 6.7.2017, I was so relieved.

My use of my phone camera was for two reasons: distraction from the boredom and tedium in hospital. and to form a record for myself, which I am now sharing for World Head and Neck Cancer Day 27 July as well as here.

The videos are in chronological order: 4 from recovery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse: 10-15 July 2017 (I was in ICU from late 6 July until 9 July when I moved to my private room)….

and one just before I was able to get my upper prosthesis fitted in August 2018….

and one from now, some 4 years on, after my 5 years since diagnosis. Each one is very short.

Thanks for viewing…as I hope you have.

I keep these as a reminder of how far I have come thanks to:

  • great experienced and skilled head and neck cancer surgeon and team… four surgeries in total = four recovery times = 14 months before teeth!
  • in-hospital speech and language therapist, who on meeting me (see video one) could ascertain I had no issues with swallowing water, and could talk..and issue instructions as I heard myself do. Oops. And the dietitian who guided my eating (nutrition) once I was off the gastric feeding. The physiotherapist who encouraged me to MOVE after my leg, which had ‘sacrificed’ its fibula and some flesh for my mouth. And yes I did. Then there were the community health nurses, many, and my own HNC specialist nurses I could chat with.
  • people who never let me think I couldn’t make progress (its easy to become worn down) and they include the nurses at the hospital who I talked with every day…and of course my husband and as I recovered and went home, friends and those who helped me (GP, dentist, and more)  and family.
  • prosthodontist and his nurses and makers of prosthesis who got me back “my voice” with just a wee lisp…took longer than we all thought because the skin in my mouth wouldn’t behave as it was supposed to. It was meant to create a space for the upper prosthesis but it didn’t till a 4th surgery and 3 months in yet another stent.
  • my determination to communicate and connect. Becoming an Ambassador for then Beyond Five (now Head and Neck Cancer Australia) in late 2018 helped me with this! I met with head and neck cancer groups locally and further afield, and politicians too, keeping the information about Head and Neck cancer at the forefront for others.  This is my life force!!
  • blogging where I get to share.

A collage of July Selfies: 2017-2020.


Warmest of wishes to you wherever you are viewing this post,


Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia.

My story can be found here on H.A.N.C.A. site.

The series of videos made by Head and Neck Cancer Australia where I was one of the two patients to share our stories of eating to be well after head and neck cancer.

Resources for Head and Neck Cancer Patients, Families and Professionals can be found here.





  1. Fascinating, Denyse. I really don’t know how you could operate a phone so well after such big surgery. You had the fibula flap surgery too so it was huge. You’re a bit younger than me and an earlier adopter of phone tech but even so … it’s a real credit to you.

    • Thank you Maureen, I appreciate your kind and caring words.

      About me and pics…. played a role in keeping me distracted from what I was experiencing…it was the use of the phone, from time to time that sent me into a new space of “what I knew” aka social media and I made that my go-to. It saved me from being extra worried etc.

      I do admit, there were some videos I did not include because I became teary and emotional at the sight of me and more.

      I also found that pain was well managed all the way from ICU to home with panadol. Apparently I have a high pain threshold and therefore no other meds to perhaps make me less that present. I was like this for my recent (2020) abdo surgeries too. So I am grateful for that.

      I loved the distraction factor for recording the progress of my stay in hospital and one young male nurse knew I loved taking photos so he took me out onto my balcony a few times for very early morning pics of Sydney (and me!)

      Take care,


  2. Hi Denyse, you’re such a great ambassador for head and neck cancer. I bet you never thought that you would ever be that! I’m so pleased you’ve had such a wonderful team of doctors and professionals (as well as your family) helping you through this and that you’ve had such wonderful results. As I’ve said many times before, you’ve impressed me with your bravery in the face of such a scary time. xoxo

    • Thanks so much Min. You are right about the never imagining how the results of having this cancer would guide me towards helping others.

      I guess, knowing it was my professional team who started this organisation a couple of years before my diagnosis, made me want to help…and that is part of my own genes and love of being an educator.

      So, it has worked out well for the organisation and me moving forward from 2018 onward.

      I am humbled to know that my recovery, and being honest as I shared, has been seen that way. I am far ‘less scared’ these days too!

      Take care,


  3. You have come such a long way Denyse with bravery, compassion and courage. Well done on sharing your story with us all, you are a great ambassador.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thank you Debbie, it’s been quite a ride alright!

      I do admit I feel both pride and relief I am now post 5 years and some of the “waiting + wondering” about cancer’s return has eased. Seeing my Prof for last time in October.

      What I did get a reality check about last Thursday when I was called back to Westmead Oral Sciences for a CT scan, removal of prosthesis (first time since early 2019) and inspection & confirm bone loss around one abutment is noted but so far OK is that my mouth, as I age, will need these checks for the remainder of my life.

      The bonus is now, as we are moving back to north western Sydney in early 2023, there is only one more planned visit to Westmead with an M1 2 hrs each way left!

      I appreciate your kind words and support always.


Denyse values & reads every comment written, thank you. There is always a reply.