Friday 14th May 2021

Telling My Story. Chapter 24. June 2018-2019. Pt 1/2. 52/2021.

Telling My Story. Chapter 24. June 2018-2019. Pt 1/2. 52/2021.

The backstory first:

FOUR years ago now ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at Chapter Twenty Four. Telling the story in two parts. Today is Part 1.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members. All of the stories to date found here.

And with this chapter, a recent photo…taken overlooking the harbour at Dobroyd near where I grew up close to Manly N.S.W.

THIS post is the second last in the series. Part Two is in a week’s time. Thank you to all who have been reading and commenting on my recent posts about my life since head and neck cancer. I appreciate each and every one of you and your kindness. It helps me understand my need for connection and blogging does that for me. Warmest wishes to you all. Denyse.

 

June into July 2018.

About my mouth.

This is the month after what I hoped would be the final reconstructive surgery…(still is)….and it was winter, busy and I spent even more time, alone (happily) in my red car, driving BACK and FORTH to Westmead Oral Sciences…because…. T E E T H!

Obviously healing has to take place, and the work of this next stent, the one to push my top lip out more needed lots of T I M E.

You know, that thing you have to be P A T I E N T about when you are one!

During the visits to the prosthodontist, which could vary in time ‘in the chair’ from 2 to 4 hours, I listened to audio books at the boring times of having 2 lots of hands in my mouth…and used to ‘fiddle with’ my bracelets, or even a small crystal. I was not ever nervous but my boredom could lead to anxiety and so it was best I used strategies of distraction and relaxation. I was always very tired after my day spent at Westmead and soon learned to give myself a day off afterwards.

Nevertheless, I knew that my prosthodontist was working at all he could to get my new upper prosthesis prepared for when my mouth was.

Daily Routine Helped.

As I had started with photo taking in late 2017 for a daily outfit shot, and then going somewhere for coffee, this became a given as part of my routine to see me dress well, and engage with the wider world outside home. I still do this, no longer with daily photos but it is embedded in my self-care strategies.

Life went on.

In between times, I did not sit around.

Actually I do not doing sitting around very well.

I still had my daily routine of an outfit photo and usually went out for coffee. I went to view nature and I became increasingly interested in helping with spreading the word of head and neck cancer. I also found The Big Hug Box and offered to make bookmarks and loved using my art for good. I ventured an idea to the local library – can’t recall which month but it was with a view to me running a mindful mandala making course.

I even put a ‘how to’ on the blog. Teacher me was re-emerging.

School Holidays. Visitors. 

It was a treat to see our grandchildren when their parents could arrange a visit and on one occasion we had a late birthday celebration. I made sure I had some art and craft for the four of them to do and we spent a very pleasant day in the winter sunshine.

I continued to be out and taking photos and it was good for me to re-visit places where I held special memories of seeking solace and comfort.

 

Head and Neck Cancer: Sharing The News.

As I was someone who had no idea of this rare cancer when diagnosed, I wanted to make others aware, but I also know my Professor Jonathan Clark and others had begun Beyond Five to do just that. Finally, as July approached and with it, World Head and Neck Cancer Day on 27 July I swung into action. Beyond Five sent me some ribbons and brochures and I made contact with my local federal M.P. Emma McBride and she visited us at home to find out more. Emma remains interested in sharing. I also approached our doctors and dentist with a view to sharing my “wellness” and asking them to display information. It seemed like I wanted to give back.

I did.

Thank You: No Words Are Enough.

 In the year since I had been diagnosed, after my dentist has removed the bridge in April 2017, and I had the biopsy done by the oral surgeon in May 2017, I really wanted to share with them how I was. So, I did. In two personal visits. I have done this once more to the Oral Surgeon’s since and of course I see my Dentist each 6 months.

World Head and Neck Cancer Day and Meeting The Central Coast HNC Support Group.

My M.P. had written an article about me and head and neck cancer and it was within days of that, I was contacted by Lisa Shailer, from Central Coast Cancer Centre, who looks after newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients. She invited me to the first Soup for the Soul event at Gosford hospital’s Cancer Centre and that was where my involvement with the local group commenced. It was also the first time I had met anyone else with a head and neck cancer.

August 2018. How LONG?

On 6th August, as my patience was really, really wearing thin …to get this upper prosthesis, I celebrated our daughter’s birthday with a S M I L E.…and the race for this to be ready and in my mouth began. I was so over it. I thought this would be such a change for me when it happened, I even made up a list of what crunchy foods I would try again. (Dear reader…it was not how she thought it would be)

After more trips up and down the M1, I sensed that 21 August was to be THE day and dressed up  a little bit more. It was. The day. It felt weird and good.

I smiled for a LOOOOONNNNNGGGG time.

First time I smiled….

 

After an adjustment from my prosthodontist.

September into October 2018.

I Could Not Stop SMILING.

Even though I had “teeth” screwed into my upper jaw in August, there were still quite a lot of adjustments to be made to the prosthesis by my prosthodontist at Westmead so that meant more trips to him. He was also making a bottom partial denture of a molar on each side, to clip onto my remaining 8 natural teeth to have better biting and chewing.

I sent a photo of me to my head and neck surgeon and he was amazed at the outcome too. So cool. I had my check up and he was so happy for me as were the other people who were part of my surgeries and healing times. I met with Nadia, CEO of Beyond Five as a potential Ambassador, and on the same day said hello and thank you to Gail O’Brien, wife of the late Professor Chris O’Brien, for her husband’s vision for his one-stop Cancer Care Centre, Lifehouse.

What it was not.

No way does it replicate my own teeth. However, I took some time to get used to that as well as speaking because my mouth was now more full of ‘hardware’. Eating was tricky – and still can be – as different foods required more chewing than expected and others were just too sharp or crusty for me to be able to manage. I also found (and find) I need something slippery to help the food go down.

BUT I had my SMILE back. And that was so good.

I was invited to share my story  at the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group and used my long lost power point and Uni tutor skills to do so. It was well-received.

I visited family with greater confidence. Trips to Sydney were ones where I once only had emotional capacity to deal with the treatments but now I was getting more brave and doing hard things.

I met people for a long awaited catch up. I saw Dad more. I visited places where I had grown up. It was GOOD to be out and about and not all about head and neck cancer. I went to a Look Good Feel Good self care workshop but was a little disappointed that its relevance to me was little. Understandably my cancer it rare, but the 90% effort on the day was placed with those with hair loss from chemo and in general were for breast cancer survivors. I appreciate that my cancer is not visible either.

November into December 2018.

Invited to become an Ambassador for then Beyond Five, now Head and Neck Cancer Australia. This was a huge honour and so good to know I could be helpful using my education background and my personal experience of being a head and neck cancer patient. I met with the CEO, Nadia and Inaugural Ambassador Julie McCrossin at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Back to schools!

I was invited to my granddaughter’s grandparents’ day and I went. I would not have envisaged doing this in the previous few years but handling my head and neck cancer recovery encourage me to use my new skills of confidence and greater resilience. It was great. I loved being back in a school. Then I visited my daughter at her school. Very proud to see the library she started from Day One of that new school.

Because of a blunder made in 2003 on my Service Medal, by the NSW Dept of Education at my retirement (when I had to due to work place issues and no chance for medical retirement) I tweeted about it once and my principal friend John Goh noticed and he retweeted it and the NSW Dept of Education Deputy Secretary saw it, and emailed me “we can fix this Denyse”….and the story of that is told here. So good to have my career recognised properly for me.

We hosted Christmas.

We had not had our family gather with us for Christmas for quite some years. Then for 2018 our daughter and her kids suggested coming to our place as they were mid house move. Again, bravely, I said YES and we were delighted to do so. I also had another Santa photo taken and when asked what did I want for Christmas I said “I already have it, I am cancer free and well.”

What Would 2019 Bring?

January 2019.

Birthdays!

Always birthdays first…my Dad…95

Then our son 40

And our grandson 18.

I didn’t see Dad on the day but had photos sent. Our son and his four kids came for a lunch and we made sure there was cake and candles. Our daughter had an 18th Birthday family lunch for her boy at her new place and we were delighted to attend.

We had not driven down the way – north western Sydney – since we last lived there and the changes are extreme. Former paddocks and dairy farms are cheek by jowl housing and that is the way these days I guess. Also is a reason traffic wise, why my husband was glad to be out of Sydney.

February 2019.

Busy month to begin with the first meeting in 2019 for Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group where M.P. Liesl Tesch, former Paralympian addressed us, sharing her story.

I continued to have check ups at Westmead for my mouth. In January of 2019 the upper prosthesis was removed – it is attached by 5 abutments (tiny screws) that are in my reconstructed jaw, for minor adjustments. As you may imagine, it is a challenge for something to fit well (and perfectly) so it meant trips to Westmead for this. As time went on though, my physical care of the prosthesis with waterpik and micro brushes – getting debris away from the abutments and gums, it has not needed removal since then. In fact, I can barely believe how well I have been able to maintain this because it’s something quite new.

I also found out, that the pain I often have in various parts of my mouth inside is all part of the body getting used to what is in there. After all, it’s got my leg bits inside. My team and being published as a story on Beyond Five.

My husband turned 70. He is the original no fuss man. However, we had hoped for a small family lunch. His body has different plans and we could not go ahead as he was unwell. Nevertheless he received family love and best wishes and we caught up with family later.

A wee tribute to him…..HE got me through so many of those really hard days early in my diagnosis. His counselling skills were very much needed along with the loving and caring man he is. The night before my surgery on 6 July 2017, it was him sorting out where he would stay rather than the awful (for us) place where we had been recommended that helped calm me as I was concerned about his welfare while I was ‘unaware’ in I.C.U. Then when he visited me from home on the Central Coast, his very presence on the balcony of my room was so reassuring….love him, lots.

March into April 2019. 

Re-reading this post as I go, I am aware that it sounds like I was on the go, doing, doing and recovering and doing even more. In some ways I was. It felt SO good to be getting better after almost 2 years. It was though one of those situations with me where I.B.S. would return when I was feeling particularly stressed. And that its pattern would be more likely after any stress event. Even the good ones. I had to learn to pace myself better.

I had to learn to add in time outside.

In nature.

Taking walks.

Being a fun photographer…and then also using my creative senses to enjoy art of some kind to fill my visual and kinaesthetic senses.

Remembering my late Mum’s death anniversary here.

Learning where to STOP..is here. Next time, will be Part Two: April – December 2019.

Reality of my reconstructed mouth….

And in the next part of Chapter 24, “this” concept changes into a plan for a blog series.

Thank you so much if you made it this far.

I appreciate that!

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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