Tuesday 24th May 2022

My Head & Neck Cancer Story.

Denyse Whelan – My Head & Neck Cancer Story.

If you have come to read this page, and are someone who has been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, or you are a carer/friend/relative of someone who has a head and neck cancer diagnosis, I acknowledge this is a tough time.

I knew very little at all when diagnosed but now know so much more. Often your medical/surgical team can help answer some questions but not all are available when we want to know…There is a link below to the Australian head and neck cancer organisation which has much of what you might want to find, and even then if it does not, then you can always send an email.

No organisation, or opinion from on-line research (the so-called Dr Google) can be as helpful to YOU as a face to face (if available in pandemic times) consultation or examination.

Link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia is here:


Good News Update: as of September 2021 when I had a telehealth appointment with my head and neck cancer team I now have all-clear CT scans (head, neck and chest) and with a mouth looking good (thanks to photos from my dentist) and a physical neck area check from my G.P…..I do not need to return for a check up for a YEAR. September 2022 and it will be my LAST one. That’s news that took some sinking in.

My gratitude to “Team Denyse” is within this collage.

My husband, Cate, Jonathan & Suhas. “Team Denyse”.


My stories and photos along with suggested links and websites must not be seen as medical advice. I write this blog from my experience as a head and neck cancer patient. Words from others are accordingly from their personal experience and not to be taken as nutritional/dietary/medical advice. Seek what you might need from qualified health professionals  who understand the needs of cancer patients.  Denyse Whelan. 2022.

Most recently I posted more specifically about my particular version of head and neck cancer and this is from the post in early 2022.

Acknowledging The Shock of My Cancer Diagnosis & Challenge of Brutal but Necessary Surgeries. 

I have taken till this post to share with you all how hard it was to both acknowledge and manage my emotions with the shock diagnosis of a rare cancer back in May 2017.

I also took me some time to learn more about the qualities of the cancer as was found, removed and sent to pathology. Nothing like having the full pathologist report but it took me some years to look at it. I just kept going because I was 100% confident of my professional team. I even called my cancer #squamouscellcarcinoma of the upper gums and under the top lip. But it was not quite like that. It took me till year 5 since diagnosis to read more, and to now share here what it was:

T4N0 verrucous carcinoma upper alveolus: is on my report. T-tumour 4 – cm area N nodes 0 none found with cancer. 

Verrucous carcinoma is a relatively uncommon, locally aggressive, clinically exophytic, low-grade, slow-growing, well-differentiated squamous cell carcinoma with minimal metastatic potential.17 Dec 2017

The alveolar ridge (/ælˈviːələr, ˌælviˈoʊlər, ˈælviələr/;[1] also known as the alveolar margin) is one of the two jaw ridges, extensions of the mandible or maxilla, either on the roof of the mouth between the upper teeth and the hard palate

I now have greater understanding of the ‘where’ the cancer was and that it has ‘cauliflower’ like appearance because I could see that under the top lip. Knowing I was female, non-smoking and non-drinking made me “rare of rare” my Prof told me once. It appears that other reasons a cancer like that could form in my mouth as that I had a bridge attached to the upper teeth and over time that could have caused severe irritation and I was often told I had candida. I prefer to take my Prof’s word that sometimes we will never know.

A Wrap Up of Head and Neck Cancer: A-Z Taking Stock.

My A-Z. Taking Stock. 5 Years. #HNC. #LifesStories. 34/2022.


Today, 17 May 2022, is the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis. Five Years. The great mark of time, that is said to be, a person who is cancer free after 5 years, has no cancer. My final visit to my team in not happening until September 2022 so “that” will be my date for ending the story…so called, anyway!

What Is 17 May All About? #HNC. 5 Years. 32/2022.

On 9 May 2022, this post outlines how it felt to be diagnosed with this rare cancer on 17 May 2017 and the lead up to hearing about the diagnosis and the first meeting with my specialist head and neck cancer team on 18 May 2017.

Five Years Ago. My Oral Cancer. #HNC. Part 1. #LifesStories. 31/2022.

On 21 February 2022, a timely post from me about Grief and Head and Neck Cancer. It comes with content warnings.

Grieving For My Body’s Losses from Head & Neck Cancer. 8/51. #LifeThisWeek. 10/2022.

On World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2021, 27 July 2021, it’s timely to add a new image: four years since my first reconstructive head and neck cancer surgery.
And to share, some relevant information about “effects of delaying” seeking attention to any changes noticed because of worry about Covid19. This information, from a trusted source: Head and Neck Cancer Australia is here:

With “my” Professor: Jonathan Clark AM.
Head & Neck Surgeon & Reconstruction Specialist.

May 2017 onwards. 

July 2017: before surgery #1.

When I first did a blog post called “I Have Cancer” it blew me away that so many people not only read that post but commented and supported me in the most difficult of life’s challenges: being diagnosed with cancer.

Initially I wanted to keep the cancer story as just a part of my regular blogging and not to highlight it or become known as a cancer blogger as there is so much more to me than cancer. However, a friend who started blogging here after her initial cancer diagnosis wrote some very helpful (to me and others I am sure) posts and when I wanted to compare how I was feeling to another, it was reassuring that everything was pretty normal from the emotional highs and lows to getting to know how to navigate the hospital and medical institutions.

So, now over 3 months since my surgery and almost 5 months since diagnosis I have added this page to the blog header. I have links here to my posts and they are also on another page.

Day I was discharged to come home.

IF this helps a reader who pops in then I am glad. If you wish to connect with me, there are various ways below or simply send me an email: denyse@ozemail.com.au

Updated: 25 November 2020.

HELPFUL PLACES ONLINE. Updated: 21 February 2020. AND 28.9.2020.

The new place to find out more about head and neck cancer is here: https://www.headandneckcancer.org.au

It was formerly known as  Beyond Five  & is on Instagram and Facebook.

I also follow Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on social media and here is the link to that site. Other helpful sites: Cancer Council of Australia here and Cancer Council of NSW too here. They have people you can talk to and much information on their websites too. Phone: 13 11 20.

To follow me on my blog: you can do that via Bloglovin’ or the Facebook Page: Denyse Whelan Blogs.

My Instagram: @denyse.whelan is private: ask for follow.

I am on twitter as @denysewhelan1. When I publish a blog post, it goes to Bloglovin, my blog FB page, and to my twitter account. 



More posts are added at they are relevant to The Cancer Story!

Visit to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to see my surgeon: Prof Jonathan Clark on 1 May 2018 where a 4th surgery was planned. 3rd surgery had not done the work required for me to ‘get teeth’ eventually.

Update: On 21 August 2018

I had my upper prosthesis screwed into the abutments in my upper ‘jaw’. It was an amazing transformation as now I could  S M I L E and E A T. However, it comes with its own set of challenges! I cannot always remember that I have teeth up top and forget to smile….and some foods remain pretty challenging to eat. But, in a strange way, I now think learning to eat small and from a relatively more nutritious set of foods I do not crave nor want anything like I thought. I have tried Maccas fries and they were too greasy.

I do have a morning maintenance routine to care for the non-removable prosthesis and so far so good. I clean the mouth via a water pik, then using a small micro brush tip dipped in chlorohexadine, I prise my lips at the top open and poke the little stick in, taking care and it gets off any plaque which might be attached. I then clean my bottom natural teeth with my electric toothbrush, and clean the upper ones with a very soft toothbrush. In between times, after eating, I will use the water pik.


Since being diagnosed with a pretty unusual cancer for a non-smoker and non-drinking older woman in her late 60s I have blogged about what it has been like to:

  1. find out that I have cancer
  2. the steps I had to take to move courageously towards getting the right treatment which was surgery
  3. recover from a very gruelling surgery
  4. come home and learn how to be patient…not  easy
  5. to be grateful for the small things in each day
  6. have the knowledge that cancer affects so many of us
  7. become part of a ‘group’ no-one really wants to belong to
  8. garner courage and skills to help myself deal with all that has arisen to date.

Update: 21 February 2020.

This week I have had my 40th trip to Westmead to Oral Sciences where my prosthodontist, Dr Suhas Deshpande conducted an examination of my upper mouth (and the lower teeth for a mouth check too). His verdict was that I am doing well keeping the abutments which attach the prosthesis to my ‘reconstructed jaw’ clean. That is a relief. I still get a bit anxious as these visits are stretching out to 3 month intervals now. However, it is good to know I am OK.

Soon I will see my Professor, Jonathan Clark AM for a 4 month cancer check at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

In the coming week, on 27 February 2020, I am taking part in a video on head and neck patient nutrition being made by Beyond Five. I am sure there will be more of this to share later.

Further News…of the good kind! 

At my September 2020 check up with Professor Jonathan Clark AM he said “see you in a year.” Wow. What great news! Then at my October 2020 check with my prosthodontist, he said “See you in 6 months”. I feel extremely well and grateful to be so. My last and most recent post is here and at the end of this page.



2017 Posts:

I Have Cancer. 2017.72.

My Cancer Journey Begins. 2017.75.

What’s in a word? Cancer. 2017.82.

I Am Back! 2017.89.

I Am Grateful Today. Cancer Surgery#1 Part One. 2017.91.

I Am Grateful Today. Cancer Surgery #1. Part Two. 2017.94.

I Am Grateful Today. Cancer Surgery #1.Part 3. 2017.98.

Reality Bites. Part One. 2017.96.

Reality Bites. Part Two. 2017.100.

Courage, Exposure Challenges & Me. Part One. 2017.110.

Courage, Exposure Challenges & Me. Part Two. 2017.112.



My Cancer & Surgery #2. 2017.128.


2018 Posts.

Eating After My Gum Cancer Surgery. Part One. 2018.18.

Eating After My Gum Cancer Surgery. Part Two. 2018.24.

My Cancer Surgery #3. 2018.20.



Changes To ‘MY’* Cancer Recovery Plan. 2018.30.



On 3rd April 2018 my story was published here on Lifehouse News after the writer contacted me and gleaned much of her content from this blog. I am delighted that it may help another person one day as when I was diagnosed I had very little knowledge of what was ahead.


My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 1. 2018.44.

My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 2. 2018.46.

Guest Posts by Denyse on Others’ Blogs.

The Gratitude Series – Introducing Denyse Whelan


One Year After My Major Cancer Surgery. 2018.59.

I was featured here by my blogging (and cancer thriver) friend, The Annoyed Thyroid:

My story is here on the CancerAid App too: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id1138574844?_branch_match_id=521606335121590202

Oral Health & More From This Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 2018.71.

Cancer Is Always ‘There’. 2018.84

But It IS Still About Cancer. 2018.103.

Two Steps Forward. One Step Back. My Cancer Recovery Update. 2018.126.

Can People Thrive After Cancer?

Head & Neck Cancer: “Beyond Five” Ambassadorship.2018.130.

Not A Smooth Recovery Path For Me: Head & Neck Cancer. 2018.133.

2019 Posts.

Eating With No Teeth*- Head & Neck Cancer. 17/2019.


Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 1. 20/2019.


Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 2. 31/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 3. 35/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 4. 46/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Series Concludes. 51/2019.

Musings On 2 Years Of Living As A Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 56/2019.

Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCDay 2019. 64/2019.

My First Year With Teeth*! 33/51 #LifeThisWeek. 87/2019.

My Latest Head & Neck Cancer News.120/2019.

2020 Posts.

Changes For The Good: Head & Neck Cancer & Me: Eating. 15/2020.

The Value Of A Smile. 46.1./2020.

World Head & Neck Cancer Day 2020. 29/51 #LifeThisWeek. 58/2020.

Share Your Snaps #6 #WHNCD. 30/51#LifeThisWeek. 60/2020.

Head & Neck Cancer Challenges: FOOD! 31/51#LifeThisWeek. 62/2020.

Three Years Ago. Head & Neck Cancer. October 2017. 83/2020.

Two Years Ago. Head & Neck Cancer. October 2018. 85/2020.

One Year Ago. Head & Neck Cancer. October 2019. 87/2020.

My Head & Neck Cancer Story* Wrapped Up!** 95/2020.

My Head & Neck Cancer Patient Update. Been A While! 51.1/2021.

Note To Denyse Before Head & Neck Cancer From Denyse Now. 53/2021.

Gratitude. A Word & A Feeling. #Head&NeckCancer #Recovery. 82.1/2021.

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