Friday 22nd October 2021

Women of Courage Series. #64. Anne Howe. 89/2021.

Women of Courage Series. #64. Anne Howe. 89/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here.

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

Whilst Anne Howe, who is in her late 60s, and I have not met in real life, we have connected on-line via a very supportive facebook group for those affected by Head and Neck Cancer. The details are below. Anne’s story looks short yet it is incredibly full of courage from Anne’s words, taking the best chance you can as a human to survive a devastating diagnosis and allowing those who have your trust to do their best for you. Anne is a very determined woman, loved by her large family and often a carer to others. She has had more surgery since her post-HNC photo was taken and this has been, as best as it might happen, for her to have some teeth added inside her mouth.

Note from Anne:

 While I have had teeth made I am unable to wear them until I have had the screws implanted in my jaw and the bridging work made. Then its fingers crossed to hope my jaws don’t crumble due to the radiation. So still a way to go there.

I chose to use both images supplied by Anne as they do illustrate her words at the end of her story. I have, though, used her image before the surgeries for her Woman of Courage collage because it was then she needed to have all the courage she could muster to go through her many trials in her head and neck cancer journey.

Thank you, Anne. Let’s share your responses now.

 

 

 

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

My moment of courage kicked in when I presented for surgery to remove a SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) tumour from my nose back in 2017.

I was nervous and terrified as anyone is when facing surgery but the full impact hit when my surgeon came to see me.

His first words when explaining my surgery really tore through me.

He could NOT give me informed consent.

I would have to trust him and he promised to do the very best he could for me.

At best he would remove the tumour and do his best to repair the damage but at worst I could just wake up with a hole in my face.

With a very shaking hand I signed on  the line but while doing it a very gentle hand covered mine and a gentle voice told me he would take good care of me.

I woke up to find I had lost most of my nose, my top lip up to the nose, some of my left cheek, my central upper jaw and part of the soft palate.

 

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

After my surgery I was informed by my surgeon that I was stage 4 and he didn’t think I would survive.

He had done his best to get me this far and I made up my mind to do whatever I needed to do to get through this which is exactly what I have done.

I knew I had a long hard road ahead with a lot of work to be done.

Over the last 4 years I have endured 11 surgeries on my nose and 30 sessions of radiation.

I still have further nasal surgery to have and also surgery on my mouth due to having lost part of my jaw. (this is some of  the surgery I mentioned in my introduction)

 

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

When I woke up from surgery and first  saw my face I thought that was it.

Never in my wildest imagination did I think it could be repaired to the stage it has.

I put my faith and trust in my surgeon which was the best thing I could ever have done.

The other thing that helped get me through was the love and support 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 have learned from this experience that I am stronger than I ever thought I was.

I have often been told I am very brave but I disagree.

I have fears just like everyone else but to survive I just had to put on my big girl pants and do what was needed as the other option just didn’t bear thinking about.

It really was a live or die situation.

Over time my strength has just grown.

 

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

To anyone going through something that fills you with fear or concern my advice is to give everything you have because only then can you say you really tried.

Surround yourself with some people who will truly understand and accept you no matter what.

Sometimes I have needed to vent or just have a good cry to let those emotions out and that is important too.

Never give up.

 

My favourite saying through all this has been:

My face does not define me I am still the same person.

Anne, your courage and your story blow me away. What a great relationship you have with your surgeon. Trust is so much a part of it. I am so glad you are here, and looking after your family too…as you continue to recover. Thank you so much.

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

IF a family member or someone you know does have a diagnosis of a head and neck cancer or that person is a carer, the value of a good facebook group cannot be over-done. The friendly space that IS this group for eligible people to request membership is a good one. There are people from all over the world but the group is not huge so personal connections can be made. It is mainly made up of New Zealanders, and Aussies too…along with those from the U.S. There are questions to be answered to join and it IS strictly for those with a head and neck cancer. Link is here.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thanks Denyse. Always happy to help raise awareness

    • Many thanks to you Anne, for your story that will be a help to others to see exactly what it means to have to go through a diagnosis like this, yet, on the other side that we can still feel gratitude for so much.

      Your story is one of allowing TIME to pass in recovery too, a challenge for us all but a necessary one.

      Denyse.

  2. It sure does. On reading the above I need to correct one thing. While I have had teeth made I am unable to wear them until I have had the screws implanted in my jaw and the bridgingbwork made. Then its fingers crossed to hope my jaws dont crumble due to the radiation. So still a way to go there

    • Thanks Anne for the update. I will copy it and add it in.

      Always with the fingers crossed during these things for sure.

      Denyse.

  3. Oh Anne, you definitely are brave! I was near to tears reading your story and can only imagine the courage it took to sign your name. But what a lovely and honest surgeon you had. I agree with your statement, you are still the same person and your face doesn’t define who you are. All the best for your future treatment and recovery. Thanks to you and Denyse for raising awareness this way.

  4. Wow! Another amazing, inspiring account.
    Bravo Anne!
    Bravo Denyse!

  5. Anne and Denyse, I have tears in my eyes as I write this comment. I think you are right about bravery, Anne. We all just do what we have to do to go on with life. I’m sure this has strengthened your faith and your relationships. I’m so glad you had the surgery and chose life rather than giving up. Thank you again for sharing.

    • I had my children grandchildren and great grandchildren who gave me the motive to live..They are a big part of my life and always will be

  6. Anne, Thank you for sharing your story. You’re strong to go through so many surgeries and radiation sessions. Thank you, Denyse, for linking up with #weekendcoffeeshare.

  7. I guess bravery and fearlessness are not the same thing. However, to over come such a big deal is something to be proud of. Sometimes I think we have to shuffle around our thoughts and self perception tetris style to keep moving forward. So while you think you aren’t brave, you are definitely something. The right word will come and I will return.

    • I certainly wasn’t brave and definitely had fear. Many tears shed in the shower. Had my first major meltdown 3 days after surgery but the nurse recognized what was happening before I fully realised myself. She was lovely making me a coffee and sitting with me for about an hour. The team checked on me right through the day to make sure I was truly ok. This is what got me through. My Team have been fantastic

  8. A true hero. This series always brings up a lot of emotion in me.

  9. Sue McDonnell says:

    Thank you so much Denyse and Anne for getting together to write this, i have never met up with either of you, but great to connect with both of you through this. Well done to both of you , it brings up a lot of emotion with me too, as i suffered terrrible depression after my cancer, and cried every day for 2.5 years. not all day, but just every day couldnt stop myself from crying, …. thank you both of you.

  10. Oh my goodness; what courage and grace to have to face so many surgeries and radiation treatments. It is not easy to literally put your life in another’s hands but it sure sounds like Anne had a wonderful doctor (and I’m sure team of them).

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Today it’s World Head and Neck Cancer Day and another reason to be grateful for us all to be doing reasonably well even if life for us as we knew it changes.

      Thanks so much Joanne. Anne’s story is extraordinary.

      Denyse.