Tuesday 27th July 2021

Women of Courage Series. #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

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. And below, as I introduce Woman of Courage, Juliette, I will expand more on our connection.

Women of Courage Series #62 Juliette O’Brien. 83/2021.

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

I was honoured and delighted when Juliette O’Brien, aged 37 agreed to share her story as a woman of courage. We have yet to meet in person, but we have connected on social media (where she is @juliette_io on twitter) and one day, we will catch up over coffee at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Now, if that name seems familiar, then you might be correct in making the connection that Juliette is the late Professor Chris O’Brien AO’s  daughter.

I feel so privileged and glad to have been referred to my head and neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark AM that day back in May 2017. He learned much in his training days from the Head and Neck surgeon we all knew from the long-running show about a Sydney Teaching Hospital,  R.P.A. on Channel 9, Dr Chris O’Brien.

Thank you to Juliette so very much for this. You are a gifted woman in so many ways and a quiet but steady achiever too.

 

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

I lost my dad and elder brother to separate unexpected illnesses when I was in my 20s. I did – and continue to do – my best to support my mum and younger brother, to honour my dad’s and brother’s memories, and to continue to find joy and meaning in the world.

I don’t think any of this is courageous, but it has taken effort and perseverance.

 

How did this change you in any way?

These losses changed me profoundly.

They drove me to question our most common assumptions about what it means to live a ‘good life’, especially external signals like attaining status, hoarding wealth and meeting social expectations.

Living in way that subordinates these to your own principles means pushing through discomfort, fear and disapproval.

I suppose this takes ‘courage’ that I doubt I would have had otherwise.

 

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

 

Sometimes we use the adjective ‘courageous’ as though it is a constant state of being or personality trait.

In fact, I think courage, or at least the possibility of it, presents itself moment to moment through the countless decisions we make, and requires renewed interrogation and commitment every day.

 

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

 

I would like to share a poem by the wonderful John O’Donohue (poet, philosopher, former priest).

It is called ‘For Courage’.

I especially love these phrases: “this darkness has purpose”; and “Close your eyes, Gather all the kindling, About your heart, To create one spark …”.

 

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Thank you so much Juliette. Not only for your story but for the added words of John O’Donohue.

His words, narrated before his death, are part of a series of his that I listened to a great deal as I struggled with some challenges in my life’s transitions before cancer.

I cannot and will not compare one person’s story to another, however to know that we can share resources of hope, love, wisdom and courage is to be connected. We need to stay connected.

Looking forward to “that coffee” as soon as Covid is settling!

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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Women Of Courage Series. #61 P.M. 80/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #61. P.M. 80/2021.

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

I have met P.M. who is in her 50s and know of her story of courage from some sharing with friends. I applaud her decision to come forward and share this story of hers which, out of respect for others’ privacy, will be anonymous. P.M.  will come to read your comments which I hope you will make after reading to support this woman and her family member. And will be adding her comments for which I am very grateful.

I have  added some contact details below for helplines in New South Wales and Australia.

Thank you for sharing P.M.

This image was taken by P.M.’s daughter, then aged 14.

I thought it fitting to use today and have had permission to share. The same is for the collage: drawing by P.M.’s daughter aged 12.

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

 

I, and my husband, have needed to be courageous for our daughter who has experienced multiple challenges over the course of her lifetime. I have, and continue to be her advocate to ensure that she has the life she deserves.

At the age of eighteen, she was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Level 2.

  • The sadly tragic thing about this was not the diagnosis but that it took so many years to get to that diagnosis.
  • If she had been diagnosed as a baby or toddler she might not have struggled with eating (due to sensory issues that were never identified). Maybe she wouldn’t have screamed every time I tried to feed her or in the middle of the night for hours on end. Initial diagnoses – silent reflux and failure to thrive.
  • I had to be courageous then with all the guilt at not being able to give my daughter the most of basic of needs – nourishment. I had to be courageous when I was perceived to be nothing more than an over anxious older mum to keep seeking support because I just knew things weren’t right.

 

If she had been diagnosed when she started school, instead of being tested for hearing loss, she might have gotten the early support she needed to be able to focus amongst all the noise.

If she had been diagnosed at seven, she might have had help with social skills so that she made and kept friends rather than being seen as attention seeking.

Current diagnosis – language processing disorder.

If she had been diagnosed at 13, she might not have experienced significant dissociative events that took her out of school, and me away from my job, and be given another diagnosis – conversion disorder.

If any of the doctors and psychiatrists who treated her then had connected the dots, saw the value in further investigation into why this had happened then maybe she wouldn’t have missed a full term of school, lost three months of her life.

  • I had to be courageous for her then – flying with her to John Hunter Hospital when we thought she was experiencing multiple epileptic seizures and not knowing what was going to happen.
  • I had to be courageous when dealing with all the doctors who sent us home saying she needed psychological help but wouldn’t actually direct us to any supports.

If she had been diagnosed at 14 or even 15, even after all that time off school, she would have been able to achieve the grades that reflected her ability and not felt dumb as well as “odd or psycho”.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been bullied so mercilessly that she had a meltdown in the playground surround by students screaming and laughing at her while she ripped at her face and her hair.
  • Maybe she wouldn’t have started self-harming including the first attempt at suicide. Maybe we wouldn’t have had to pull her out of school again for her own wellbeing. More diagnoses added – depression and generalized anxiety.
  • We had to be courageous when again pleading with psychologists and psychiatrists to help her, help us help her, from believing she was worthless and broken.

We had to be courageous when we decided to leave our lives behind and head north to pull her away from the toxic hell she was in and just be a kid again, even if would mean that we would need to go back eventually.

If she had been diagnosed at 16 or even 17, after moving schools, she might have had a better chance of steering clear of the drugs and other risky behavior in an effort to fit in, to find someone, anyone who would be her friend.

  • Maybe she wouldn’t have been sexually and physically assaulted by one of her “boyfriends”. Maybe she wouldn’t have left school after one term of Year 11 or lost her traineeship because of her “odd” behaviours and perceived inability to follow instructions.
  • We had to be courageous when advocating for my daughter’s right to be safe and respected in her work place.
  • To drop everything to get to her when she was having a panic attack in the middle of street, to call 000 when she overdosed because she was done. And worse, having to be courageous in the ER to insist on further treatment when they thought it best, again, to send her home only 8 hours later.

Even after the diagnosis at 18, we have had to continue to be courageous.

  • By that time she was set in a cycle of self-destruction – drugs, risky behaviour, abusers and users, and more suicide attempts.
  • There were days we feared we would lose her for good and we felt alone and helpless. The hospital system didn’t want to admit her until she was almost 19, mental health services in our town were ill-equipped to give her the intensive sustained support she needed and there were few services that could support a complex mix of autism and mental health.

At almost 21, we can finally see that there is hope.

  • Thanks to NDIS funding and some amazing supports who believe in our daughter as much as we do, she has started to see that she has a future.
  • She has found a welcoming and understanding workplace and is training to be a chef.
  • She has found her passion – to make art on a plate. She has distanced herself, most of the time, from the bad influences and is trying to make better choices.
  • As we say, life is a work in progress and there are always dips and turns on the road to the future.

Finally, I want to call out my daughter who is the most courageous of all of us.

  • She has had to live this and I am in awe of her resilience.
  • She has survived everything that life has thrown at her and kept going despite everything.
  • Her diagnosis of autism has helped her realise that she is not broken, she is not a mistake. She is exactly who she should be – a pun loving, true crime and space obsessed, artistic young lady who deserves a happy future.

Her autism is and never was the problem – it was the misdiagnoses, the lack of understanding of how autism presents in females, and over stretched medical systems that created the hell she lived through.

 

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

This whole experience has changed me forever.

This fight to save our daughter, quite literally at times, has made me outspoken about the woefully underfunded mental health system, the lack of psychiatrists particularly in regional areas and the lack of supports for autistic young adults, again particularly in regional areas.

I have discovered that I never give up, particularly on my daughter, and that I will just keep pushing when things are not going well.

I have learned the value of speaking up and speaking out.

Before all this I was quite a private person who kept everything inside but I learnt early that it is not healthy or helpful to keep things bottled up, to keep the truth from the village that surrounds you.

How can we change the stigma of mental health, of autism, if we never speak openly about what we are going through? I have developed strengths I never believed I had.

 

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

When struggling with challenges it is important to learn as much as you can.

It is harder to fight what you don’t understand the facts.

I learned early that often the medical profession did not have all the answers or the time to dedicate to one patient so that became my job after years of blindly trusting that they knew what they were doing.

I have also learned that it is important to speak up, to not hold things in and pretend everything is okay.

Living a lie helps no one in the end.

You also need to learn to accept help, to willingly ask for it when you need it so that you have strength to survive the long game.

It takes courage to do all those things.

 

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

I am definitely more capable of being courageous when life calls for it – especially when it is to be courageous for my family.

While it doesn’t necessarily change the experiences, the challenges, being courageous gives you the determination and positivity needed to not give up, and to fight for a better outcome.

We know our advocacy for our daughter, to ensure she has a bright future even after we are gone, will not stop, cannot stop but will change as she grows and blossoms.

 

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

No-one knows how courageous they can be until the situation arises for you to step up, step in and work through the challenges presented to you.

It won’t necessarily change the challenges you face but it allows you to keep going, to keep fighting, keep finding hope in the darkness.

Just remember, that you never have to be courageous on your own.

Having someone there who will fight with you, take the lead when your batteries are flat, to give your other perspectives makes the challenge easier and allows you to keep being courageous for as long as is needed.

I thank P.M. and her daughter for this courageous sharing of their story. I suspect, from my knowledge, that it IS indeed much harder for girls and women to be accurately diagnosed. Yes to the fact that many of us have indeed trusted the medical and helping professions and now, as we see from your sharing, there can be an inability for ‘the connecting of the dots’ as you put it in terms of diagnosis. Thank you too for the included list of places for accessing help and knowledge.

I send my best to you all.

Thank you.

Denyse.

Places for help

Autism and girls – want to know more?

https://childmind.org/article/autistic-girls-overlooked-undiagnosed-autism/

 

https://www.autismawareness.com.au/could-it-be-autism/autism-and-girls/

 

https://www.yellowladybugs.com.au/

 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-13/how-easily-girls-can-mask-the-autism-warning-signs/10701928

 

Autism and mental health – want to know more?

 

https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/health-wellbeing/mental-health/depression-teens-with-asd

 

https://www.spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-deep-emotional-ties-between-depression-and-autism/

 

Mental health supports

 

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

https://headspace.org.au/

 

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

 

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/Pages/mental-health-line.aspx

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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

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Women Of Courage Series. #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Women Of Courage Series.  #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

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

 

Introducing Tracey Breese, who  is 49, and known to me via our social media connections relating to schools and public education in New South Wales. Tracey is an innovator and a highly competent high school principal who has recently left one school where she was leader learner as school principal ….to become principal of a different type of high school, called Hunter School Of The  Performing Arts found via this link….and the students range from Year 3 to Year 12. What an interesting school and so good to read of Tracey’s updates on-line. I do hope to visit one day as well. Find Tracey here on Twitter.

 

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

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

― William Faulkner

Courage is a funny thing. In the moment, you don’t particularly recognise it as ‘courage’ per se.

As a school leader I see many of the ‘moments’ in my career now, on reflection, have involved courage.

Many of them have evolved from my strong beliefs and convictions.

So, that idea of courage through conviction rings true for me.

The integrity of my convictions and not lying down when I need to speak up, have been pivotal to my personality and growth, as a mum, as a teacher, as a leader and as a community member.

Many of the pivotal moments of my career have changed me.

Sadly, many of the challenges harden the resolve that you have.

I have had to work harder to get some roles in my career, where, at times, simply being ‘male’ appeared to be the criteria.

When I first became a principal, I had a head teacher come to my door and say; ‘What we really needed was a strong man in this role, it’s a tough place.’ This was not in 1960: but 2016. I was speechless.

This stayed with me and drove me to be the best principal I could be.

 

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

Yes.

I found it really difficult to believe that I have got to this point, and was still fighting some old cultural misogyny.

Even though it was only one person’s opinion, it is amazing how these things stick like velcro to your armour.

I was able to move from the moment, but I was always striving to make sure that everything achieved for students was at the level of excellence and innovation.

I was warm to all, but ferocious in my resolve to be the best person I could be.

I had exceptional role models.

Christine Cawsey has been an amazing mentor in my entire career.

It is the women in leadership like this that have forged the path and created amazing opportunities- created through their courageous and fearless watershed moments.

 

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

Stick to your convictions and don’t let others drag you under.

Michelle Obama’s quote is up in my office: ‘When they go low, you go high.’

It’s not everyday that you need the power of resilience, but when you do: go to the mantras.

I did a mindfulness course with Gillian Coutts (you’ll want to get her on the blog!) Thank you for your recommendation, she is going to share too! 

It was life changing.

The strategies were about putting the gaps in between the work.

Knowing that you need to re-centre and revive yourself between the moments.

This has been work/life balance changing for me.

 

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

Yes.

I feel that the emotional intelligence you gain in leadership is so important and changes all the time as you experience different situations.

Courage is also about calling in your resources and knowing the right resources you need in the moment.

This includes the fact that in all situations, you do have the power of your own response.

This is the best point in courage.

The courage to know yourself and not be forced into responses by others.

I am at all times the calm and consistent adult.

I do not have to respond in a stereotypical way to any situation.

Walking away, in some instances can save others from themselves.

 

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

Courage is standing strong to your conviction, not the overwhelming and all powerful emotions that sometimes take over others.

Be the best person.

Walk away when needed.

Don’t get in the ring if you don’t have to.

Sometimes, doing what’s right is more important that doing what is easy- that is to be truly courageous.

 

As a now-retired K-6 principal I read your story with heightened interest and even used red and italyics to show how we women in leadership roles have had to manage some people’s comments, attitudes and ignorance. I am in awe of your daily work with the many students, staff and families who are part of your new school community. What a thrill it must be to be also part of a large student population with huge talent in many area. Mind you, as I would understand from having two “OC” classes at RPS, giftedness has its many challenges too.

 

Thank you so much again for sharing.

I am sure others who read will also take something from your work, your heart and your mind as you lead your school onward.

And I wish you and your colleagues some respite from school life as you lead up to the mid-year Winter School holidays.

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

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

In counting back the years, I realised that I met Tracey Lee, aged 55 via twitter first…back in what we affectionately call ‘the good old days of twitter: 2010-2012’. Then I also got to meet her in real life at a mutual friend’s book launch. Over the next few years we chatted and caught up, in that social media way, on both facebook and twitter. When we moved from Sydney to the Central Coast of N.S.W. I knew that I had a friend I could meet up with again, and we did and have for coffee and chat. Love those connections. But in recent times, I was also delighted to be both an encourager and cheerleader in Tracey Lee’s ventures which she writes of here. I will let her share the story. Thank you!

 

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

Is there anything more terrifying than your “baby” starting high school? Is there anything more potent to ring the alarm bells of what will you “do” for the rest of your life!

  • Let’s take it back a decade, to when I was made redundant from my permanent part-time graphic design job, secretly 8 weeks pregnant with my second child and knowing I had no chance of finding another position that would fit me and my childcare needs.
  • With support from also-redundant colleagues and bereft clients, I set up a computer and dial-up modem in my dining room, establishing my freelance business.
  • While I never “made a living”, it was enough to keep our nose above water and pay for family holidays.
  • It gave me flexibility to be at school: helping in the classroom, canteen, P&C, and cobbling together costumes for the dreaded Book Week.
  • And extra time to spend with my Mum, who lived alone since we lost Dad, and who was showing early signs of dementia.

I had fallen into graphic design when I dropped out of law school (a terrible choice!) because I had always been “good at art”.

  • I enjoyed design, and it certainly honed my skills as a communicator, and I loved working in publishing (because books!), but it was never a goal that set me alight.
  • Into the presumption of stability known as “mid life”, little ideas crept into my head, of how I would resurrect my creative practice beyond on a computer, to find that part of me that the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood had driven out.

Enter Twitter! 

At the (since lamented) suggestion of my husband, I started an account.

As a SAHM/WFH (Stay At Home Mum/Working from Home) freelancer, I was thrilled to expand what had become a narrow social circle. I started with old friends from publishing, then followed the bread crumbs, gathering a group of individuals whose interests mirrored mine.

It did not occur to me until later that I had created a virtual curriculum vitae for future ambitions.

I followed parents and teachers, artisans and creatives … and a cluster of allied health professionals working in mental health.

I remembered the psychology I enjoyed as a part of my abandoned law studies, and the kindling started to smoulder.

If only I could resurrect my art practice and, through the joy I knew it could invoke, help people heal from self-doubt and hardships in their lives: art … and, therapy? That’s a job!

Putting aside qualms from my flawed experiences, I spent the rest of that year secretly searching qualifications and university degrees. I discovered mature-aged admissions pathways. I applied. I was accepted. Dear God!

 

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

I was used to work schedules and deadlines, but now I needed to factor in the unexpected, to learn how to drop the ball and catch it on the bounce when a child became ill or a paid freelance job turned up without warning.

I learned to focus my research and to “kill my darlings”, the factual nuggets or personal theories that just would not fit in under the word limit. (My worst effort was the 6000 word “draft” for the 1500 word assignment).

And then there was the dreaded Group Assignment: how to get my work done and learn to trust everyone else to do their own work … or to let go when it was obvious it was never going to happen.

I needed to allow myself to hand in work that I was not 100% happy with for the sake of getting it out of the way, ready to start on the next project.

Being the anxious type, that did not sit well with me!

And then there were the results that were disappointing, especially on assignments I felt I had “nailed”, to learn that there is more than one way to interpret an assignment, and that I would not always be “right”.

 

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

But the hardest thing to learn was to be self-centred, not in a selfish way, but in a way that allowed me to believe what I was doing, my aims and ambitions, were important.

  • Even more so than parenting demands, reasonable when my children were younger, which I had let persist because what I was previously doing was “not so important”.
  • I would like to say we blossomed graciously as a family, but it was a lot bumpier than that.
  • My new priorities were resented, and I had days when I struggled with guilt.

Yet, oddly, no one died. No one got injured or even particularly hungry, although a few dirty uniforms might have been shaken out at 8am and quickly sprayed with deodorant.

I learned that when I centred myself, others would fall in around me.

As a primary caregiver it can be confronting to be the instigator of one’s own obsolescence. It can be frightening to peel off the cocoon of parenting to see if what emerges will have beautiful wings, or be incomplete and damaged, unable to fly.

 

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

While this is about my year of Open Foundation, the next chapter was the four years of ups and downs it took to complete my three-year Bachelor’s degree (with Distinction!), with Mum leaving us in my final year.

By then I knew I was not cut out for the post-graduate Master’s as I had planned, so I looked for smaller certificate courses, finding one I could mostly complete online. And then …

And then COVID-19 spat its contagion, hungrily eating its way through freedoms I took so for granted.

I was used to WFH, but now my husband was WFH, my oldest had TAFE shut down and my youngest was studying “FH” as well. I was happy we could be safe and not suffer financially, but as someone who requires a quiet space, I shelved my plans for the year.

Sometimes courage means knowing your limits and when to say no.

Sometimes courage is an understanding that life will throw sharp sticks, and you need to protect yourself and regather for when it is safe to start again.

 

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

If years as a mature-aged student — forging a pathway to my first ever burning passion — taught me anything, it is that by creating a clear image of who you are, you can hold steady.

If who you wish to be is not possible right now, do not believe it can never happen or that your efforts have been wasted.

Such intrinsic courage does not fail at the first, or even fifth, hurdle.

I once read that direction, not speed, is pivotal when finding your way through life.

With a few pressing family issues and my youngest attempting the HSC in 2021, I’m still not quite ready to spring ahead, but I know my pathway when I am.

And hey, 60 is the new 40, am I right?

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. For example a website or help line.

From UON / Open Foundation:

“Open Foundation is a free pathway program offered at the University of Newcastle for people who do not have the qualifications required for direct entry into an undergraduate degree program.’

https://www.newcastle.edu.au/study/pathways/open-foundation

 

Gosh I loved reading this from Tracey Lee because I remember a lot of what was happening as she plunged in…and see the top photo? A proud artist. Lately I have been loving her instagram pics where she includes art and art via nature. I was incredibly pleased to know of her graduation. However, like everything in 2020, the graduation could not happen in person. The photo here is from her graduation from the pathways’ program. Lots to be proud of here and perhaps for others to find encouragement in their tertiary study ventures.

Thank you!

Denyse.

Tracey Lee’s  Social Media:

Business Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/LPFdesign

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tracey_ArtTx

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tracey_arttx/

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 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #57 Marsha Ingrao. 68/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #57 Marsha Ingrao. 68/2021.

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

In the world of blogging we can ‘meet’ people virtually and make a pretty instant connection. I found this to be the case in early 2021 when Marsha Ingrao who is 69 began hosting Sunday Stills while another blogging friend from the US was moving into her new home. From my on-line emails and messages with Marsha as I learned more about her and her life, I had hoped she would agree to share her story as a Woman of Courage. And I was delighted with here response of “yes, I will”. Welcome Marsha and thank you for sharing your story

 

 

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

  • I had a birth defect – bilateral cleft lip, which is still fairly rare. From birth I had several surgeries including spending my first month in the hospital. This did not require any courage on my part. But it did change me.

 

  • When I was 15 and my brother was 13, we moved with Mom from Indiana to Oregon where we didn’t know anyone. Mom didn’t have a job. I was a junior in high school, and my brother was in 7th grade. My brother and I made the choice of where to go rather than to stay behind with our father or grandparents. It was the best decision of our lives.

 

  • My first husband had major health problems. He and his sister both had rare and genetic disease. Less than six months into our marriage, he broke his hip which deteriorated until he could not sit, stand or walk without extreme pain. We had no insurance. I was petrified, but his aunt found us a surgeon. At age 27 he had his first hip replacement, and the second one at age 29. His only sister died at age 35. I was 25 at the time, married for two years and lived with the fear that my husband would probably live maybe five more years. He lived eighteen more years and passed away at age 47 with heart, kidney, liver, and lung disease caused from the same missing enzymes that caused his joints to deteriorate.

 

  • Before Mark’s second hip surgery, we had no money coming in for a while. He couldn’t work and he did not want to have surgery again. Our pastor advised that I should quit working at my less than minimum wage job and let God provide through Mark. My husband was furious about this idea, but I wasn’t making enough to make ends meet anyway and I felt a sense of relief. I quit selling magazines door to door, and God supplied us with inheritance money and back disability checks enough to keep us going for over a year.

 

  • Finishing school. Neither of us had finished our four year degree when we married. I had started right out of high school, but quit when my scholarship ran out. I finished my associates degree after we were married, and was offered another scholarship and a position at Oregon State so that I could also earn my master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration. Mark also wanted to go to school and get his degree in Ministerial Studies from a college in Colorado Springs.

 

  • We sold everything and moved to Colorado and I waited until we moved to California and established residency there before I was able to pick up my education again. Eventually we both achieved our goals. He became a pastor and I earned my Master’s Degree and Administrative Credential and taught school, then moved into administration.

 

  • Having breast cancer. Actually I think I sailed through that recent obstacle, so far. The three surgeries were fairly easy, medication was not even though I did not have to go through chemo and radiation. I still have at least four to six more years of medicine, but I think it’s finally manageable.

 

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

  • My name, Marsha, comes from the name Mars, the Roman god of war and courage. I expect to and usually do overcome obstacles and win my wars.

 

  • I had to develop a positive attitude from the time I was a child to overcome shyness and make friends. I am sensitive, so I have to be careful not to take myself too seriously and get over myself when my feelings get hurt.

 

  • As a result, before I retired, it was sometimes hard to get others to take me seriously.

 

  • I am friendly. Without our many friends and family, Mark and I would not have survived.

 

  • I learned to work hard and both my husband and I achieved all our career goals and were married for 20 years before he passed. My second husband is also a hard worker, and I’ve learned a lot from him about precision and pushing beyond my best efforts. We have been married for 25 years.

 

  • I have a hard time quitting – even when I should. I hang on way too long because I see quitting as losing instead of being sensible and recognizing that I could be using my time and talents in other ways.

 

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

  • I wish that you didn’t need courage. But we all do. I rely on God, my friends and family and their prayers. People have always been kind and supportive of me.

 

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

I don’t know.

  • It’s hard to believe I have lived through the difficult times that I have. I think in a way you compartmentalize your problems and live outside and above your difficulties. I don’t know many people who throw themselves into dangerous situations just to be brave.

 

  • Trials happen to us and we deal with them as they come. I thank God for the times I don’t have to be brave.

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

-Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Get help!

-Pray

-Give to others. This might be a kind word, a meal, a smile, a prayer, or a million dollars. Give what you have.

-Love and appreciate everyone, especially those who help you.

-Be positive but not phony, find someone to whom you can vent when you get hit with too much reality.

-Exercise as much as you can.

-Eat healthy food

-Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do.

-Blog – tell your story, get involved in the stories of others.

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. For example a website or help line.

  • For breast cancer I recommend my friend Abigail Johnston’s website. No Half Measures.
  • For difficulties in marriage I recommend finding a good counselor. I’ve had two secular counselors (not pastors) that helped me deal with difficult situations. I would ask friends rather than use the web.
  • Get involved with a local church. We used the internet when we moved here because we didn’t know anyone.
  • Get a doctor who cares about you. Again, word of mouth is better than a website, but I used both when we moved.

 

Marsha put in some kind words at the end of her story and I believe that they are worth sharing. I am very proud to have been able to share these stories, so generously given to me here on the blog.

Thank you so much for this honor to be called a woman of courage. What a wonderful thing you are doing by honoring women. Thank you for all you do for our Blogging community, Denyse. You are a blessing and an inspiration.

Thank you, we are all connected, and I am glad for that.

Denyse.

 

 

Social Media: for Marsha

Blog/Website:  https://www.tchistorygal.net

 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarshaIngrao

 

Facebook Page : https://www.facebook.com/TCHistoryGal/

 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marsha_ingrao/

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 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series.#56 Cate Froggatt. 65/2021

Women Of Courage Series. #56 Cate Froggatt. 65/2021.

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

There are people who come into our lives for a reason, as the saying goes. This woman of courage came into MY life because of my head and neck cancer diagnosis! She is Cate Froggatt, aged 52, Clinical Nurse Consultant for Prof. J Clark AM who is my Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon.

This woman and I have clicked…as they say…over chats, shared experiences as parents and with hugs and smiles at my regular visits to have cancer checks. However she is much more than that for me. Cate tells me I met her at or after my first surgery in July 2017 but like all things where an anaesthetic is involved, a verrrryy long one, I can’t recall.

She has, along with my Professor, her boss and friend, has been inside my mouth on a few occasions. When I go for a check at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse (last one was in September 2020) I know (pre Covid anyway) I can get a hug and we share smiles and laughs too.

But she also is one of the people who knows a great deal about the surgeries I have had because she is part of the team that does many. A couple of memories of Cate from me. One is her blowing me a kiss after seeing me in the anaesthetic bay and wishing me well “see you sweetcheeks”…very comforting and another is the kind voice at the end of the phone when I was (very) concerned about the skin graft weeping after surgery #4…She said, I will show Jonathan the photos and get back to you. Within minutes, reassurance, get into the bath, take off the dressing and Bernard will have something there I am pretty sure, to cover it for you. He did. I was better after that.

And in receiving Cate’s story, she said “use any photo because I know you have plenty”. She is right. Here’s Cate’s story.

In Sept. 2020. “See you in a year”

Hug with Cate: early 2020

 

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

In a way I feel as if I have had to be courageous for most of my life.

Not in a ‘life and death’ kind of way, more like an ‘out of my comfort zone’ kind of a way.

It’s not the exciting kind of courage that gets written about in novels but rather the courage required by those who are innately shy and filled with anxiety about the possible disasters awaiting in the unknown and the unfamiliar.

I had to leave home when I was 12 to go to boarding school.

This was a situation which certainly required me to muster up some courage. Leaving the safety and security of parents and home was quite hard initially.

Following school I moved to Sydney to an apartment with two friends.

The sheer size of the city and the hustle and bustle was so far removed from all that was previously familiar to the three of us.

Just to go to the shops for groceries was an undertaking that required courage.

Let alone navigating public transport, working for the first time, attending university and meeting grown up responsibilities like rent and bills – all without Mum and Dad being close enough to call upon for help.

Being a parent requires courage although I think naivety saves the majority of us there – we have no clue what we are in for as we gaze lovingly down at our firstborns!

More recently my career has demanded significant courage.

Every day I feel like an imposter in a world where I am surrounded by the most amazing minds.

I stand beside my boss in awe of his intellect, his organisational skills and his ability to literally change the world.

The incredible opportunity I have been afforded by him to be able to contribute in a small way to the great things that are being achieved calls upon courage each day.

Finally as healthcare professionals we have all recently had to gather all our courage together in a rapidly changing world where each day of early 2020 brought with it new fears, new parameters and new demands on physically and emotionally exhausted bodies and minds.

 

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

All of these things have not so much changed me but shaped me into the person I am.

 

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

I have learned to ‘just do it’.

If you think you can, you probably can.

Have faith in those who have faith in you and never, ever underestimate the power of commitment and dedication.

Finally, if you can’t beat fear, do it scared!

 

 

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

Certainly. It becomes inherent.

 

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

 

Believe in yourself. As C.S. Lewis famously said ‘We are what we believe we are.’

The quickest way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid of.

 

Ah Cate, those words about doing it scared. I know that too.

What a great way to own your courage and the examples just tell me and readers too, that courage IS a muscle we can work. Love your work…and you …I have been very fortunate to have been your patient as part of my head and neck cancer surgeries and recoveries.

I also thank you too for sharing my blog more widely with your colleagues and how this helped me become offered a role as an Ambassador for (then Beyond Five) which is now Head and Neck Cancer Australia!

Thank you Cate!

Do you have special health professional who has cared for you?

Share in the comments.

Thank you

Denyse.

 

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 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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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.

Denyse.

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 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women of Courage Third Series Is Here in 2021. 59/2021.

Women of Courage Third Series is Here in 2021. 59/2021.

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.

Many of you know I have had the experience of a cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery and I am aware I had to garner a lot of courage to come through much of what has happened. However in my  courage post  you will read something different where I believe I was courageous.

For those like me, who are interested in attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in 2021, here is the link to the website. I was fortunate to attend the first LIVE event earlier this year when Festival Director (and Woman of Courage #49 found here) Rosemarie interviewed former PM Julia Gillard.

 

All the women’s stories from Series One (2019) and Series Two (2020) are here. 

In the 2019 group, there were 24 women who used their names and one who was published anonymously at her request.

In the 2020 group, there were 25 women who went public with their stories and four who chose anonymity.

Total: 56 women’s stories shared! Jane’s and mine did not carry a number.

First post in 2021 will be Woman of Courage #54.

I am excited, interested and curious about these stories from real life…and  now so grateful to be sharing women in a third series.

I hope you are too. I have asked over 20 women to date  who said yes, and have five responses so far which go live each Thursday after today….

There is always room for more, so if you would like to share, email me! denyse@ozemail.com.au or tell me in the comments.

 

I asked the first Woman of Courage, Sam if she wished to share any updates for her first post, found here,

And she replied “happy to leave it as is”….but “I have a new photo” and this, dear readers, is Teddy Roosevelt, who is already a STAR on Sam’s Blog found here. Thank you both!

 

And again from my first post…these words from Brene Brown.

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognise the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.” 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” 

“The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.” 

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” 

Last year I began listening to Brene Brown here on her podcasts. She has two. I have checked out both from time to time, learning more and being inspired by other women of courage and some of  her guests are also from all genders and walks of life.

Next Thursday, 20th May, I welcome Woman of Courage #54 to this blog community for her to share her story.

See you all then too, I hope.

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

 

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

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