Tuesday 27th October 2020

Women Of Courage Series. #48. Julie McCrossin AM. 57/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #48. Julie McCrossin AM. 57/2020.

 

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

Julie McCrossin, in her 60s, describes herself in these few words on twitter: ‘Broadcaster and Head & Neck Cancer survivor. Dog lover.’

Having the privilege of meeting Julie in late 2018 and then continuing to be part of conversations and more on-line with Julie, I can add friendly, inclusive and passionate…about a lot actually. But this is Julie’s story to tell.

Here we are together with Nadia Rosin, the CEO of Beyond Five, where Julie and I are Community Ambassadors. Julie, as a professional speaker, MC and broadcaster is host on behalf of Beyond Five on this series of podcasts found here, made by Beyond Five, for head and neck cancer patients, carers, families and professionals.

I have deliberately added Julie’s story in the days leading up to World Head and Neck Cancer Day, 27.7.2020. Julie’s tireless work in a range of different agencies helping those with head and neck cancer, their carers and supporters is a passion. She is also host of Cancer Council podcasts on a range of topics related to all cancers. This link to them is here. She does, however, have more in her life….and recently added ‘grandmother’ to her name. That too is another story for her to share.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines courage as “the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation.”

My life has given me several opportunities to exercise  this skill. As a bushwalker with a women’s trek training group called Wild Women on Top, I climbed a high rock formation in a national park. To reach the summit I had to clamber across a large boulder above a very large, life threatening drop to the ground below. A trek leader I trusted talked me through the process successfully, but I can still recall the heart-racing fear I felt crossing the boulder and then returning to cross it again on the way back.

A very different kind of sustained courage was required to support my late mother who experienced serious mental health issues over many years. It took courage to help her in countless encounters with health professionals who, all too often, lacked empathy or training in dealing with a mentally unwell person. I came to understand that anxiety is another word for fear.

It took all the courage I had as a daughter to front up repeatedly to the accident and emergency departments of hospitals, after receiving a call from my mother or a doctor, to try to help solve an insoluble problem.

However, the most distressing challenge I have had to face, that required all the courage I could muster, was the experience of receiving radiation treatment for head and neck cancer in 2013.
The cancer was in my tongue, tonsils and throat. I had to receive 30 consecutive days of radiation to this area of my body, plus weekly chemotherapy.
The radiation therapy saved my life and I will be forever grateful for it.
The challenge was that I had to wear a tightly moulded mask over my head and shoulders to hold me rigidly in position, as I lay on my back, while the radiation machine took 20 minutes each day to deliver the targeted beam to the tumours.
I discovered that I was highly claustrophobic. I was given mild sedation and I listened to music to help me.
But fronting up every day to be bolted down by the head and lie still while the machine did its job was the hardest thing I have every done.
Of course, I was also facing the fear of death as I had stage four cancer.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

I was traumatised by my cancer treatment.

I was shocked by the realisation I might die and frightened by the physical restraint of the mask.

I wept after the first of my 30 radiation treatments.

I then froze and I have struggled to cry ever since that day.

I have been unable to feel the relief of weeping for over seven years.

Do I appreciate life more keenly? Yes.

Do I value time with my partner, family and friends with a new intensity? Most definitely.

But to be honest with you, I felt life was precious before I had cancer and I have always loved the people close to me.

I think cancer has taken much more from me than it has given.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

I think I was sustained during my cancer treatment and recovery by the courage and love of my partner, children and close friends.

I felt their life force nurture me as the cancer treatment drained my own life energy.

So the lesson I learnt was the value of showing my vulnerability and accepting help.

I did not need to face the challenge alone.

It wasn’t only my courage that I relied on.

It was a team effort.

I believe that this was the experience of my father as a pilot with a crew in World War Two.

He survived as a Pathfinder pilot in Bomber Command.

It was a frightening job with a very low survival rate.

I thought of my Dad and his air crew as I received my radiation treatment.

The courage I showed was underpinned by the memory of my father’s bravery and the love of my family and friends.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I honestly don’t know.

I fear recurrence of my cancer, as most survivors do.

I know I have a fierce desire to live.

I trust I will accept my fate and accept any recommended treatment if the cancer comes back.

I doubt I will be more courageous because now I know how tough treatment can be.

So I think I will be scared and anxious but I will do everything I can do to survive for the sake of the people who love me and myself.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Ask for help from people you trust.

If you are alone, let professional people know and ask them to connect you to volunteer organisations who can provide support.

We don’t need to face life’s challenges alone.

 

Thank you Julie for sharing what I know has been an incredibly challenging time when you went through your head and neck cancer treatment. Julie’s passion for connecting and helping others is seen in her on-line forum, organised jointly with many professionals including specialists in head and neck cancer and allied professionals. which she is gathering to be launched for World Head and Neck Cancer Day on Monday 27.7.2020.

I too, have had a very small part to play and my words to the forum about the psychological aspects of having a head and neck cancer diagnosis and overcoming some of my challenges will be there somewhere.

This short video also adds more from A/Prof Richard Gallagher.

Families & friends of head & neck cancer patients are vital for our survival & quality of life. 2020 Video Series is for families too. Surgeon A/Prof Richard Gallagher explains. Videos available from 27 July World Head & Neck Cancer Day. #HNC #WHNCD

Posted by Julie Elizabeth McCrossin on Monday, 13 July 2020

 

Once more, thank you so much Julie for sharing the words to help others understand how courage has helped you in your life.

Denyse.

Follow Julie on twitter here:

Julie’s Facebook Page For Head and Neck Cancer is here.

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.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Comments

  1. Julie I remember you from when I participated in Coastrek and have followed your tweets for a few years. There is no doubt at all that you qualify for this series as a Woman of Courage. You must have been extremely brave to cope with your cancer treatment. Thankyou for sharing your story so honestly.

    • How good is it when we ‘meet’ up with someone via one of their shared interests Jennifer!

      Thank you so much for your kind words as I am sure Julie will be delighted to see this.

      Denyse.

  2. Fantastic story Julie and Denyse. We get by with the little help from our friends, don’t we?

    • It is good to know more about each other…that we are ‘not only’ head and neck cancer patients!

      Thanks Maureen for kind words.

      Denyse.

  3. Hi Julie, having just gone through the removal of my ovaries and bilateral mastectomies with complications, I know how terrifying it can be to be a patient – you are at your most vulnerable. Co-incidentally, I am a RN who cares for post-op head and neck cancer patients as part of my job. It’s one of the hardest things anyone would have to go through because the surgery involves so many areas of your body and robs your ability to talk either temporarily or permanently. Having MRIs are bad enough but I imagine the claustrophobia from your radiation treatment was a million times worse. Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you all the best for your continued health

    • Thank you for sharing your understanding with us here today too Christina. So good to know of the care and compassion you have for those of us post-head and neck cancer surgeries and treatments.

      Your work and then living through your own medical and surgical procedures gives you more insight than most and your words are very kind and understanding.

      Denyse.

  4. I am in awe of Julie and the work she does since her cancer and subsequent treatment. It says a lot about a person when they can be honest and self aware enough to share their thoughts, so many thanks to Julie for doing. Thanks Denyse for sharing another courageous woman with us. #mlstl

    • Thanks so much Deb. Julie is quite a powerhouse..never stops until she finally does! She is a determined woman in her quest to help others too.

      Denyse.

  5. Hi Julie – lovely to “meet” you and to read your story. Your honesty really touched me and the fact that you can admit that cancer wasn’t a walk in the park, and that the treatment was so confronting is really helpful for those of us who wonder how we’d cope if faced with a similar battle. Thanks for sharing your story with us. #MLSTL

    • Yes it is true that Julie pulls no punches with her experience as a cancer patient.

      I am ‘glad’ that I did not have radiation nor chemo. However, I did have 4 surgeries.

      Just goes to show, every head and neck cancer treatment is individual yet for each person, unique in the memories and the legacy.

      Thank you Leanne,
      Denyse.

  6. Julie’s story resonates so strongly. I underwent a similar treatment program. I cried at the beginning, but like Julie, have been unable to cry since.

  7. Hello Julie, and thank you for sharing your very honest, vulnerable story. As your story reminds us, courage isn’t about not having fear, but about facing down that fear and moving ahead. You are truly courageous.

    Thank you Denyse for introducing me to Julie. I love this series.

    • Denyse, I am glad your blog site is back up. Thank you for introducing Julie to us. Friendly, inclusive and passionate are wonderful qualities. Trying to solve an unsolvable problem can be heart-breaking when dealing with a family member with mental illness. Then your extreme health challenge. Your sentence “I think cancer has taken much more from me than it has given” is very honest. Goosebumps on how you describe the “life force” of the people close to you sustaining you during this difficult time. I had tears brimming reading your story. Thank you for sharing and educating us.

      • Yes me too! I have not had it down for a length of time like that before.

        Julie’s heartfelt and honest words about her life and the various challenges have resonated with me too. I so hope that she is able to get a chance to pop over too and read the lovely and kind comments made to her. She is a very busy woman indeed. Always doing her best to help others too.

        Your comment is so appreciated, Erica.

        Denyse.

    • Thank you so much Christie. All of the stories help us learn more about each other. We share more than we realise.

      Take care.

      Denyse.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story Julie.
    Denyse has met so many incredible and courageous people through her cancer journey.

    It’s so interesting to hear you say “I then froze and I have struggled to cry ever since that day.” It made me stop and think about my own ability to let sorrow out. I realise a few years ago I too was unable to cry. For a long time. I never felt that relief. Then one day the floodgates opened and boy did they open. But there was a time where it just didn’t happen. After reading your story it’s weird that was the bit that resonated with me most. I guess I never really sat and thought about just how important those tears can be.