Sunday 26th June 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #55 Tanya Selak. 62/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #55 Tanya Selak. 62/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

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

Welcoming Woman of Courage #54 Tanya Selak today, as she helps this series begin. I love the world of social media, particularly twitter, where I get to ‘meet’ the most interesting and engaging humans. One of these is Dr Tanya Selak who is in her 40s.

I admit I am a bit of a groupie of hers and yet we have not met. I follow medical and surgical people – having a head and neck cancer diagnosis will do that to a person like me – and when I saw @GongGasGirl tweet photos from Wollongong…I was very interested. Even more, that some were coming from Wollongong Hospital where I was born over 71 years ago. We have engaged on numerous occasions since and I thank her wholeheartedly for not only her on-line connections, and her wonderful smile but the fact she returned this story within a day of being asked!

Her words gave me more than a sense of what it is to not only be courageous but continuing taking these riskier steps. Tough times we do not always associate with people in her field. I leave her now to share her words from the questions asked.   Thank you Tanya.

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

When I was an anaesthetic trainee in Auckland in my 20’s, my husband needed to travel to London for additional surgical training (he’s a colorectal surgeon).

For me, it meant leaving the training program in Auckland, which was very difficult to get into, and would interrupt my career progression, with no guarantee of continued training in London.

The risk was that I could become yet another trailing spouse, who never completes specialty training. I had no contacts in London, and had no job lined up.

At the time, I was nearing the end of the one year of study required to sit the first anaesthetic speciality exam. It is very difficult and has a low pass rate. I was so focused on study, that I had not arranged a job, but had an interview at a hospital the day after my flight landed.

Back then, social media didn’t exist and it was difficult to get helpful accurate information to set up life in London. I didn’t even know the basics like names of any hospitals or where it would be good to live.

My husband left for London to start work (while living on his cousin’s couch), I stayed and sat my exam in Melbourne (thankfully passed), flew back to Auckland and left my family and friends for London 2 days later.

Leaving a training program, your life and heading overseas with no job and no flat and no plan was considered to be quite courageous or reckless depending on your point of view!


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

We arrived in London very naïve and green and poor.

We used all of our savings to secure a flat (at the time the exchange rate from $NZ to GBP was 4:1) and it took a while to sort out the paperwork at both of our hospitals to be paid.

Even though the language was the same, culturally and professionally everything was different and difficult – even just getting a bank account was a struggle.

A few months in I remember looking at the McDonalds in freezing cold Waterloo Station wondering if we could afford to eat there.

I was appointed to a great anaesthetic job the week after arrival.

However, the work was very different and my colleagues and the patients couldn’t understand my thick kiwi accent – I had to learn to slow down!

We found our feet in a few months, lovely new friends helped us settle in, and we started to enjoy living in London, with all it has to offer.

I went on to work at incredible hospitals and was able to continue my training remotely.

It gave me the confidence that I had the resilience to thrive and push through uncertainty.

It showed me that good things can happen outside your comfort zone.


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

Despite no planning and many unknowns, sometimes things can just work out.

I see many people with ‘analysis paralysis’ professionally and personally.

Sometimes it’s OK to just leap in.

While we dither, time marches on.

What’s the worst that can happen?


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

Interesting question. I am probably more and less able to be courageous now than I was in my 20’s depending on the issue.

We now have three children to raise, a mortgage, consultant positions.

A radical life move like this would be very difficult now.

I am however more courageous in standing up for what’s right.

In the past, I have been deferential to authority figures even when they have not deserved it.

I’m in a position now where few things or people scare me, I feel safe to challenge those with power.


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

My dear friend recently sent me this from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

It’s a nice reminder to give up on perfectionism, do the best that you can, and then move on.

Don’t forget to gather and cherish your trusted support crew, hold on to them tightly especially when you need to be courageous.


“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”

Many thanks for your story Tanya, which tells of  considerable examples of courage…as you must face each day in your role as an Anaesthetist. I know that you are a teacher of others too and am not at all surprised to see that you do so well there too. Your support for me has always been appreciated. And yours is a face I would love to see in my anaesthetic bay! Take care, and keep tweeting.


This series continues over the next months.

If you have  story to share, please leave me a message in the comments.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.



Copyright © 2021 – All rights reserved.



  1. Holy cow, I admire anyone who ‘ups roots’ and moves to a whole other country with no sure footed ground to stand on once they arrive. A true example of throwing fear in the backpack and doing the hard thing anyway. I tip my hat to this courageous woman.

    What your Women of Courage Series has taught me is that experiences from our past, where we have had to dig deep, still have a ripple affect on our resilience stores right up to our present days.

    Great interview to kick off the series. I look forward to the coming weeks.

    Sandra Xx

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thank you so much for being the first commenter in the series and for your kind words and insights, Sandra.

      Yes, it would seem that like a muscle, courage can be grown over time and we can dip into past experiences to remind us of how we can do ‘hard things’.

      Great hearing from Tanya who reminds us of how those who are in medical and surgical roles often do have to travel overseas and make the best of that when they can for their careers.

      Not sure what is happening in covid times though.


    • Thank you for reading Sandra. I am inspired by the women around me, especially our patients. I am lucky to have a varied practice with many inspirational patients. Much of my work is providing anaesthesia for patients who have head and neck cancer. They have enormous difficulties to face. Lengthy treatments. Pain. Uncertainty. I am constantly astonished by how resilient they are, despite all the difficulties. They fill my cup, keep me going.

  2. I am always amazed by those people that can just uproot their lives and jump in with booth feet hoping and believing that things will somehow work out in the end.

    • Yes, it’s a big leap of faith isn’t it? Thanks Joanne. I know that this story from Tanya made me think about that too. We moved around our state in Australia as young teachers but did not go overseas.


  3. It is interesting that even with speaking the same language there are cultural barriers to overcome. It would be stressful to settle in to a new place with all the differences to overcome. But when you’ve been through it you are better prepared for changes like that in the future.

    • That is so true Deborah. Yes, English (or whatever language it is) can have so many variations according to country where learned and then family background.

      I believe there is something for all of us in these stories as we read about others’ adaptations to life challenges.

      Thank you for your kind words.


    • Thanks Deborah for reading and replying. Absolutely it was SO stressful arriving in London as a newbie. I couldn’t even work out how to do the grocery shopping. Can’t imagine what it would be like to arrive in another country with language difficulties, or with kids in tow. This experience helps me with patients particularly who speak English as a second language, or who are far from home. It’s really really tough for them to be sick in hospital, especially if their family is not local. It has been particularly hard with COVID as some haven’t been able to have their interstate or overseas family come and be with them when they need support. And during lock downs many patients were alone in hospital as visitors weren’t allowed. I ask many patients how covid has affected them – everyone has a story. Separations have been hard.

      • Denyse Whelan says:

        Feel for you too, as I know it was hard on you and your dear family, Tanya.

        Thanks for sharing and of course, being such a caring woman…


  4. Thank you, Tanya, for sharing your story. You took a big leap. No venture no gain, especially when youth is on our side. I love that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. Thanks, Denyse, for linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    • That is exactly what Tanya did it’s true. A big one, for another’s career too that ended well over time. Now, as I said to Tanya on line “imagine telling your kids you couldn’t afford Maccas!”

      Thanks for the link up too Natalie.


    • Thanks Natalie for reading and replying. Agree with you that bravery / courage can be easier when young without all the responsibilities we gather as we age. It’s particularly tough for women if they are carers for parents and children. Trapped in a way …. Covid has taught me that the future is uncertain … there are no guarantees for any of us … we need to try to embrace the fun more often!

  5. Thank you Tanya and Denyse. I have had many encounters with anaesthetists and they have always been a nice bunch, very focused on the patient before surgery. It’s sad we don’t get to see them afterwards. Love the Emerson poem.

    • So glad you popped over to read and comment Maureen. You are right, we DO get to meet lots of anaesthetists over the course of lives having had cancers and yes, they are all very caring…and kind and often very humorous…and we don’t chat with them again.

      Here’s to the anaesthetists in our lives and keeping us both ALIVE and WELL upon waking. It always was for me. Very grateful.

      Thank you.


    • Thanks Maureen for reading and replying. Pleased to hear that your encounters with anaesthetists have been good. Some people say that we become anaesthetists because we don’t like to talk … I’m the opposite … I wish I could have the patients awake so I could chat all day….. Everyone has a story ! Every day I’m grateful to have such a fulfilling job. Thanks to Denyse for being my Twitter buddy and for including me in her fascinating series!

      • Denyse Whelan says:

        We do enjoy a chat alright. Maureen also shared her story last year.

        Thank you Tanya, for your on-line friendship. I am hopeful that we will meet sometime in our near future!


  6. You know how to pick them, Denyse. Tanya is/was definitely courageous. Moving is a big thing no matter when in your life it happens. I’m glad she finished her training.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Yes it is true…and when I reached out to ask who would share, I will admit, I got Tanya’s yes and her story returned quickly.

      Thank you Marsha.


  7. What a great project. Looking forward to reading more.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story, Denyse. My husband and I fantasize about uprooting our lives to another city or another state, but we realized it’s best to hold on to what we got. We have stable jobs, a mortgage, and a kid. If we were to move, would we be able to find work? If we get work would it be enough to live and buy a home? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s best we save as much as we can and we’ll figure that out when we retired :-).

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thank you for your considered and really interesting thoughts on this Julie.

      We made massive changes as young teachers and moved around NSW country side with a young baby who grew into her pre school years.

      We then wanted some security for ourselves and for her to attend a school other than one where her parents taught and so we took the risks, borrowed and bought a house in the city. Lots more happened to us and whilst on balance it ended up being OK, change is always with a side dose of risk

      Perhaps a mix of heart and head needed?


  9. I really love that line ‘while we dither, time marches on’ So true. And yes, sometimes you just have to do it and find out.