Thursday 30th June 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020. 

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.

Whilst I have not ‘met’ today’s Woman of Courage in real life, as they say, we have most certainly connected by the common (and not ever-welcomed) diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer. Yvonne, who is 54, has shared her story below via the responses to the questions but to know even more about her and how she is facing life full-on these days, check out her links! Recently she appeared  too as part of the Beyond Five live video segment relating to food preparation and eating for those affected by head and neck cancer, particularly as in Yvonne’s case and others, relating to swallowing.

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty in swallowing. This includes problems with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, dribbling saliva, closing lips, or when food or drink goes down the wrong way.

The link to the video is at the end of this post.

Thank you Yvonne for sharing.


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

There are a few times in my life where I have had to reinvent myself both professionally and personally. I think my latest challenge with finding a large tumour on my left tonsil has been my greatest challenge.

There have been other life-threatening situations – involving motorbikes, but this was really out of my control. Once diagnosed I responded with ‘silence’ – I went into myself I realise now.

It was a difficult time as I had relocated countries, left my full time job to start a new life and career and had my heart broken all in the space of 8 weeks, then a cancer diagnosis.

Suffice to say, I had little time to grieve anything, it was get on with it and start the treatment. Everything was put on hold in terms of dealing with loss of income, loss of love and in some respects the loss of my beloved father a year earlier.

It’s only now, 18 months after diagnosis, that I am starting to mentally deal with some of the other issues going on in my life at that time.


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

I had no time to consider anyone or anything else really.

I was on my own and thankfully had my mum still in her own home where I could live whilst going through the treatment.

I had had a sore throat for many, many months and jokingly said to a friend “I think it’s cancer” not really believing it, turns out 6 months later I was right.

How has it changed me?

I listen to my body really closely now, I use to before, but this has made me very aware of what thoughts I have running through my head, what niggle is going on and why… it also made me realise that every second you spend worrying about some insignificant thing is wasted time.

Get on and do it and do it now. Whatever it takes.

I lost the last five kilos I couldn’t budge and then some, so that was great for me, not an ideal weight loss programme but it started me back on my fitness journey 15 kilos lighter.

I now have to learn how to eat again and for a foodie I have found this the most distressing, depressing and difficult side effect.

Food was/ is my world and I have had to retrain and rethink what that looks like now. It also made my fledgling idea about teaching culinary pursuits in a foreign country come to fruition.


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


You always have choices, for me, I sat with it and the implications and thought about the worst-case scenario.

I was also told by a well meaning nurse that my cancer treatment had not worked and there was nothing more they could do for me. That sort of puts things in a very stark perspective, it’s humbling and it’s frightening.

It’s also incredibly motivating when I discovered that was not the case.

Learning to manage emotions is something you also can practise and become the master.

I then figured well if that’s as bad as it gets (death / inability to function normally/ disability) then make the most of what you have now.

I also discovered that you lose “friends” along the way, whether they can’t handle the new you, or who you have become or are becoming is too hard for them I don’t know.

I have had to make an entirely new circle of friends and have reacquainted myself with ones I have not had much to do with for years.

What I can say is, you are innately very strong you just don’t know it yet.


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

Yes, I am doing things now that are very much out of my comfort zone, although some would say riding through Vietnam and Laos on the back of a motorbike during a typhoon is getting out of my comfort zone too, but this disease and its side affects have made me realise that everyone has a message and a story.

In many ways this disease has focused my life’s purpose, I had all the scaffolding ready but now I have the ‘reason’ to hoist the flag on top of the scaffolding.


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

Don’t spend time worrying about things that might happen, focus on the now and take it one step at a time.

There is literally  someone else worse off than you, I’d hate to be that person by the way whoever they are, I guess it’s all relative.


Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. 


My job as I see it now is to spend my time doing what I love, what I love is cooking and if I can help others with eating difficulties as a result of HNC and its treatment then that’s what I am going to do.

I come from a family of teachers so it is not surprising to me that ultimately, I want to use my skills to help others.

I have set up The Food Manifesto and Soup hug as a way to bring a community together that suffer from this debilitating side effect.

I like to think of myself as the food curator for dysphagia, the link between your dietitian and your kitchen.


What a story of resurgence here. I can say that because I did not know Yvonne until she found the friendly facebook group for Head and Neck Cancer Patients, Carers, Professionals and Families. It is here, too, where I ‘met’ another Woman of Courage Maureen whose story is here.   There is another Woman of Courage called Tara Flannery who shared about her head and neck cancer here.

And this Woman of Courage shared her story. She is Julie McCrossin AM, who is also a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five and is part of the webinar Yvonne appeared in below.


Thank you again Yvonne. I am so pleased you are doing all you can to be well and help others too.

This is the penultimate post in the Women of Courage series.


Beyond Five, where I am a Community Ambassador released this video live just before World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2020.

Please take some time to view…and see what Yvonne shares from her kitchen and share with others who may benefit.

Thank you.

Social Media Links for Yvonne:



Facebook Page:



On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 – All rights reserved.



  1. Yvonne thank you for sharing your story and I agree we are all innately strong but unfortunately some are tested more than others. It is so lovely that out of all the extremely difficult times you have now come through and are doing things that you love such as the Cooking and helping others with eating difficulties. We take eating for granted don’t we until something like what you and Denyse have experienced happen. Thanks Denyse for sharing Yvonne’s story. x

    • Yvonne’s story does pack a lot of change that was forced on her with the sudden and awful diagnosis of a head and neck cancer.

      I am impressed with how she has taken such a challenge in her life which severely changed so much of her ‘life plans’ at the time and is turning it into a positive for herself and others.

      Thank you for your kind words, Sue.

      You’ve been a wonderful supporter of the Women of Courage series and now, we have only one to go!


    • Hi Sue

      We certainly take for granted not only the overall ‘concept’ of eating but the broken down components of chew, swallow, breathe and talk that we all do at the same time! Not with this treatment or not for me. What’s that saying about talking under water with a mouthful of marbles? I could get terribly depressed about it as I have and am doing the journey solo and sometimes that makes it equally hard. Yvonne sending soup hugs

  2. Fab story Yvonne. I’ve watched your progress and I know how scary the process has been. I’m looking forward to delving into the content of the Food Manifesto that I have just joined!

    • Yes I agree, Yvonne’s story has been one of many bumps and detours, which she has shared via the FB group.

      This, coming out of it, is a marvellous and creative response to needs not yet met for some who have head and neck cancer post treatment challenges.

      Thank you, Maureen.


    • Maureen and I am so looking forward to introducing new food items and different culinary variations to you too! I hope

  3. Yvonne you certainly have been tested. It certainly doesn’t seem fair that some are tested more than others. You are providing a fantastic service. It’s great to see something good come from your trauma

    • Hi Jennifer

      I have not quite come to terms with “why me” yet, but also not in the category of “woe is me” – somewhere in the fuzzy middle of stunned mullet, still after 18 months. I think auto pilot is a fair assumption of how I operated in the beginning. I completed and passed my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment whilst healing, having that and the business to focus on helped enormously.


    • I agree, Yvonne is making a new way of ‘life’ in so many ways and I applaud her initiatives


  4. Another amazingly courageous woman Denyse, thanks so much for sharing Yvonne’s story. I love how she says there’s always someone worse off than you – that is such a generous and kind thought to have after going through all she has been through. Thanks to you both for raising awareness and doing more for sufferers than many people will ever know!

    • Hi Debbie

      I opted to go through public hospital treatment (although I had the choice) we had a brand new state of the art hospital and one the the best hyperbaric units in the world, seemed silly not to. What I learnt from that was coming in contact with all ‘walks’ of life that were struggling with cancer and in various stages. It became very apparent that in the grand scheme of things I was doing ok. I never had had contact with cancer previously, never really been in a hospital to be honest so I decided then and there if I could do anything to help others with their food plight using my expertise then I would. The focus helped my healing and ticked a number of ‘life purpose’ boxes for me … Yvonne

    • Thank you so much Debbie, for your on-going support (and inclusion in!) of Women of Courage stories. Yvonne has much to share and I am glad she had and will continue through her new adventures in food and helping others.


  5. Wow. What a story. I’m glad that you were strong enough to plough forward. It’s a lot at once. And good advice on not worrying about insignificant things

  6. What a dreadful cascade of life events to handle all at once. Yvonne you showed remarkable courage and resilience to get through all that you did and to create something new and wonderful out of it all – the fact that you’re helping others to cope with their recovery says so much about you as a person. I wish you well as you move forward in all those areas of life that had to take a backseat while you dealt with your health.

    • It was quite the cascade of events as you say for Yvonne. I did not ‘know’ her at all until she found the facebook group and shared her story of Head and Neck Cancer. So many stories are out there, and I am fortunate that people like you and Yvonne have been prepared to share yours as women of courage.

      Thank you Leanne,


  7. Thank you Yvonne for sharing your inspirational story. That’s a lot of change to endure all at once. I’m amazed at where it has taken you. I especially appreciate the advice: Don’t spend time worrying about things that might happen, focus on the now and take it one step at a time. Worrying won’t stop that thing that might happen, it only robs you of the joy available to you right now. And, of course, the thing you are worrying about may not happen at all. There’s plenty to worry about in today’s world, but there is also much beauty and joy. It’s all about focus.

    Thank you Denyse for this wonderful series. I’m sorry to see it coming to an end.

    • It is a very interesting story from Yvonne I agree.

      She has faced much and conquered much too. Now to be looking forward to her business and helping others is a great path to take.

      Yes, I too am a bit sad to see the series end. It was of great interest to many.
      I will have the last Woman of Courage post up next Wednesday, then for the two following Wednesday a review of 2019 WOC and those from 2020.

      Take care,

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your ability to focus Yvonne. I’ve learned a lot reading this post. Oh my goodness re the “well meaning nurse”. Holy doolly!