Wednesday 30th September 2020

Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020. 

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

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 I have not ‘met’ today’s Woman of Courage in real life, as they say, we have most certainly connected by the common (and not ever-welcomed) diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer. Yvonne, who is 54, has shared her story below via the responses to the questions but to know even more about her and how she is facing life full-on these days, check out her links! Recently she appeared  too as part of the Beyond Five live video segment relating to food preparation and eating for those affected by head and neck cancer, particularly as in Yvonne’s case and others, relating to swallowing.

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty in swallowing. This includes problems with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, dribbling saliva, closing lips, or when food or drink goes down the wrong way.

The link to the video is at the end of this post.

Thank you Yvonne for sharing.

 

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

There are a few times in my life where I have had to reinvent myself both professionally and personally. I think my latest challenge with finding a large tumour on my left tonsil has been my greatest challenge.

There have been other life-threatening situations – involving motorbikes, but this was really out of my control. Once diagnosed I responded with ‘silence’ – I went into myself I realise now.

It was a difficult time as I had relocated countries, left my full time job to start a new life and career and had my heart broken all in the space of 8 weeks, then a cancer diagnosis.

Suffice to say, I had little time to grieve anything, it was get on with it and start the treatment. Everything was put on hold in terms of dealing with loss of income, loss of love and in some respects the loss of my beloved father a year earlier.

It’s only now, 18 months after diagnosis, that I am starting to mentally deal with some of the other issues going on in my life at that time.

 

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

I had no time to consider anyone or anything else really.

I was on my own and thankfully had my mum still in her own home where I could live whilst going through the treatment.

I had had a sore throat for many, many months and jokingly said to a friend “I think it’s cancer” not really believing it, turns out 6 months later I was right.

How has it changed me?

I listen to my body really closely now, I use to before, but this has made me very aware of what thoughts I have running through my head, what niggle is going on and why… it also made me realise that every second you spend worrying about some insignificant thing is wasted time.

Get on and do it and do it now. Whatever it takes.

I lost the last five kilos I couldn’t budge and then some, so that was great for me, not an ideal weight loss programme but it started me back on my fitness journey 15 kilos lighter.

I now have to learn how to eat again and for a foodie I have found this the most distressing, depressing and difficult side effect.

Food was/ is my world and I have had to retrain and rethink what that looks like now. It also made my fledgling idea about teaching culinary pursuits in a foreign country come to fruition.

 

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

 

You always have choices, for me, I sat with it and the implications and thought about the worst-case scenario.

I was also told by a well meaning nurse that my cancer treatment had not worked and there was nothing more they could do for me. That sort of puts things in a very stark perspective, it’s humbling and it’s frightening.

It’s also incredibly motivating when I discovered that was not the case.

Learning to manage emotions is something you also can practise and become the master.

I then figured well if that’s as bad as it gets (death / inability to function normally/ disability) then make the most of what you have now.

I also discovered that you lose “friends” along the way, whether they can’t handle the new you, or who you have become or are becoming is too hard for them I don’t know.

I have had to make an entirely new circle of friends and have reacquainted myself with ones I have not had much to do with for years.

What I can say is, you are innately very strong you just don’t know it yet.

 

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

Yes, I am doing things now that are very much out of my comfort zone, although some would say riding through Vietnam and Laos on the back of a motorbike during a typhoon is getting out of my comfort zone too, but this disease and its side affects have made me realise that everyone has a message and a story.

In many ways this disease has focused my life’s purpose, I had all the scaffolding ready but now I have the ‘reason’ to hoist the flag on top of the scaffolding.

 

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

Don’t spend time worrying about things that might happen, focus on the now and take it one step at a time.

There is literally  someone else worse off than you, I’d hate to be that person by the way whoever they are, I guess it’s all relative.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. 

 

My job as I see it now is to spend my time doing what I love, what I love is cooking and if I can help others with eating difficulties as a result of HNC and its treatment then that’s what I am going to do.

I come from a family of teachers so it is not surprising to me that ultimately, I want to use my skills to help others.

I have set up The Food Manifesto and Soup hug as a way to bring a community together that suffer from this debilitating side effect.

I like to think of myself as the food curator for dysphagia, the link between your dietitian and your kitchen.

 

What a story of resurgence here. I can say that because I did not know Yvonne until she found the friendly facebook group for Head and Neck Cancer Patients, Carers, Professionals and Families. It is here, too, where I ‘met’ another Woman of Courage Maureen whose story is here.   There is another Woman of Courage called Tara Flannery who shared about her head and neck cancer here.

And this Woman of Courage shared her story. She is Julie McCrossin AM, who is also a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five and is part of the webinar Yvonne appeared in below.

 

Thank you again Yvonne. I am so pleased you are doing all you can to be well and help others too.

This is the penultimate post in the Women of Courage series.

Denyse.

Beyond Five, where I am a Community Ambassador released this video live just before World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2020.

Please take some time to view…and see what Yvonne shares from her kitchen and share with others who may benefit.

Thank you.

Social Media Links for Yvonne:

Blog/Website:  www.thefoodmanifesto.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/McclarenYvonne

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_food_manifesto/?hl=en

 

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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

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

Filming with Beyond Five For Nutritional Videos. See Below.

In the past two weeks for my #LifeThisWeek posts, Head and Neck Cancer has been the focus.

Regular readers know I have had head and neck cancer, and now, cancer-free (fingers crossed) I like to share stories and help others. It was World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2020 last Monday and I wrote about this here. The Monday before, it was an update on head and neck cancer, here.

You know, I hope my readers are never tired/bored of this awful cancer being shared…because it is, sadly, a growing one here and around the world, and many of you have left me know, that if it wasn’t for my posts, you too would not have known.

FOOD!

Love it.

Right?

Of course.

Once I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer back in May 2017 and found out I was having radical and reconstructive surgery to remove HALF of my MOUTH…my inner thoughts were: “how can I eat?” Not well. Not right away and for me, in fact for the 14 months after July 2017 a very challenging way of keeping myself nourished…and perhaps even emotionally sustained by food followed.

Here are posts where I went into more detail…and some images I share. From then.

Eating After Gum Surgery Part One.

Eating After Gum Surgery Part Two.

 

Eating with No Teeth Head & Neck Cancer

 

My First Year With Teeth

 

FOOD as Nutrition. It Heals and Sustains Head and Neck Cancer Patients.

I have had an interesting relationship with food to be honest. However, I will just say, I did eat reasonably well, but I also used food to comfort and be ‘kind’ to myself. Ring any bells for you?

That aside, going into Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on 6th July 2017 to know my mouth and ability to eat/feed/nourish myself was changing forever. In the first couple of days post big surgery I was in ICU and I recall the person I now know as Jacqueline – Dietitian come by and then, once I was in my room, she spent some more time with me as I moved through more of the (dreaded, shudder, feed via the naso-gastric tube…to W A T E R…oh happy day with me and the Speech Pathologist Emma.

Here’s the thing: Head and Neck cancer patients MUST maintain their weight. Stay well. Eat as well as they can. This ‘diet’ from the past Denyse found that hard initially. However, when I told my head and neck surgeon I had put on 5kg since getting my upper prosthesis 7 months early he said “GOOD”

Jacqueline did her best to educate me about keeping up high quality protein, even if it was via a commercial mix once I was home. I spoke to her of my treats (lemon syrup cupcakes) I had made and froze before surgery and she told me the words I loved hearing:

VALUE Add to foods. So, have your little cupcake warmed through and add full fat dairy topping: icecream custard, yoghurt whatever is your preference.

I admit I ended up working on how to feed myself food I thought a mouth with much added skin, stitches on top and 8 teeth on the bottom could manage. I am creative. I did come up with some good tasty foods. By the end of 14 months of having those foods, until I had some teeth added as a prosthesis, I admit, I did not want to eat any more like them. That’s for another day.

In 3 weeks time it will be 2 years since I have had upper teeth in the form of a prosthesis and that is amazing. I am also a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five, and earlier in 2020 I was invited to be interviewed about my eating with a head and neck cancer diagnosis and what I have learned.

 

 

https://f.io/F1Z5QQpT

The remainder of the videos can be found here on Beyond Five.

https://www.beyondfive.org.au/life-after-cancer/diet-and-nutrition/nutrition-videos

 

Thank you to all at Beyond Five and the former patients and carers I met as well as the Allied Health Professionals. It was something I was initially reluctant to do, and in the end “did it in one take and a thumbs up”.

Have you ever been filmed for viewing on TV or on-line?

Denyse.

Link Up #200

Life This Week. Link Up #200

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

* Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do!

* Check out what others are up to: Leave a comment on a few posts, because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar or let others know somewhere you are linking up to this blog’s Life This Week.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog & the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. These may include promotions, advertorials and any that are overly religious or political or in any way offensive  in nature.

* THANK you for linking up today! Next week’s optional prompt: 32/51 Why Did I? 10.8.2020

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My Go-To Easy Meal. 38/51#LifeThisWeek. 97/2019.

Celebration time…and I forgot!

Last week marked 3 years of this link up. Three years, on Mondays, for over 150 of them, you and I have connected and communicated here. Thank you all so very much! Onward into 2020 for sure. I “do” have some thinking to do to find the optional prompts but it’s part of what I love about our community sharing our posts, on or off prompts on Mondays! Denyse xx

 

My Go-To Easy Meal. 38/51#LifeThisWeek. 97/2019.

My go-to easy meal is: Toast.

OK, it’s cereal. Alright.

It’s neither for a ‘main meal’ which we have in the evening but there is still a bit of a chore even to decide on a meal isn’t there?

But first: we both eat well at Breakfast time:

His always includes my non-fave fruit. Mine often includes yoghurt, fruit and more.

Eating after mouth cancer and surgeries.

It is HARD even now, some 12+ months to eat anything like a real meal. Why? It’s about chewing ability (my mouth tires) and having the capacity to chew it well enough to swallow. I admit, I do love the look of some meals I see on others’ blogs and on-line but the truth is none of them are ones I can even countenance eating. In taking the time it does to eat even a small bowl of food, it often goes cold as I try to finish and that make it unappealing. But I am doing this eating thing MUCH better than before the upper prosthesis of teeth went in.

Meals made to go along with my husband’s limited capacity to eat.

His is based on stomach surgeries quite some time back and he has, at times, some swallowing troubles.

BUT…this is not a post about “How Old People Eat” per se but it may give insight into both our changing appetites and capacity to eat as we did back in our 20s to say 50s. And my Dad in his 90s, who as my Mum used to say “lived to eat, not eat to live” finds smaller meals the only ones he can manage.

Not actually go-to meals but actually go-to the freezer and take out a meal. Some of these meals USED to include rice bases and spaghetti too but for me, 14 months of eating those has required a re-think and I have done it. I will come back to some of those meals again, but not for a while.

I do batch cooking. That means less fuss everything and not having to think ‘what’s for dinner?’ It also means that each of us two has a choice of a meal that we feel like that night.

Mid-week we dine together on a freshly made meal and one that can be also eaten the next night.

What do our batch-cooked meals comprise?

At the moment:

  • Beef Casserole
  • Savoury Mince
  • Sausage and Veg Dish
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken
  • Vegetable Soup with Ham
  • Pumpkin and Carrot Soup.
  • Meat Pies: my savoury mince inside. KMart Piemaker is a good size. Not as big as Sunbeam.

Both of us need ‘easy to swallow meals’ hence all above have some kind of sauce or fluid.

Eggs.

Such a standby for many I know.

However, I can barely look at an egg that’s been poached (I scroll by everyone’s brunch/breakkie pics on IG) but I can, at times eat scrambled egg and a family heirloom dish called Egg and Cheese.

My Dad’s mum made this in 1930s and he passed it on. My daughter likes it too. In a pan, quickly add an egg and also some grated tasty cheese, with a fork keep the ingredients together (no egg white to be seen for me) and as it comes together in the pan, it will brown on the bottom making it very tasty. I can eat this on small pieces of buttered toast.

That’s the go-to-meals for me.

However, somewhere along the line “I” have to go-to the shops and buy the ingredients and bring them home. Neither of us can handle take-away foods anymore: portions and high fat. So what we eat, is in most cases, what I cook!

What’s your go-to meal(s) story?

Denyse.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in. * Please add just ONE post each week! * Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not. * Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do! * Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right! * Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere. I don’t have a ‘button’ so a link in text is fine! *Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. * THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s optional prompt is: 39/51 Spring Stories. 30/9/19

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

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

I thought it may be of interest to readers if I outlined how I have been able to ‘feed and nourish myself’ since last year when my cancer was cut from my upper mouth, gums and jaw and I was left with…not much! Actually it was a miracle of science how my upper mouth was made from my leg and there is much to be read here for those who do not know my story.

In the months leading up to my eventual cancer diagnosis my upper gums made eating difficult as they were sore, and with a new denture it was hard work. I guess in some ways it was practice for what was to come. I could not really crunch or bite down on something like an apple or chips. I could have smaller cut up bread-rolls but not bite into one. Mmmm. I had forgotten this and now I am writing it I can see why I could not even eat steak or a cutlet. Foods I cannot eat now but am longing to have again!!

Happy Snap?: my 67th b’day: 30/11/16. Upper teeth seen are those made by a bridge/crown over 5 of my front teeth. My mouth was already irritated in the back of this area. Had been for at least 2 years.

 

I recall being quite concerned about how I would deal with feelings if I could not eat. Yes, I like to do that..and, over time, found that I still can but I am actually dealing with feelings better than I used to! Who knew!

After surgery on 6 July. I was told I would have a drip and a feeding tube inserted naso-gastrically and that I would not have any liquid until at least 7 days were up so that the area that had been added to my inside of my mouth was deemed to have sealed and be ready. OK. I did not argue but I did not like the feeling when the feeding tube would fire up and deliver the prescribed nourishment. In fact I used to think it might be regurgitated but it never did. After I left ICU and was in my own room, the amount I was fed ramped up and I had to change my attitude towards this feed. I decided I could deal with the amount of time – up to a few minutes it took to feed me because it was helping to heal me.

Feeding Me To Heal Me became quite the mantra which I used a lot at home too. My psychologist had told me that patients who have head and neck surgeries have a changed relationship with food and that it cannot always be enjoyable as it is like a medicine we need to heal.

I came home on the 10th day and my dear husband already had shopped with the list of what he knew I could eat and we thought: YES, we have got this! Not so. You see, as the patient who was still very much learning to eat again, I thought I could direct my husband to sort out the food I could eat. It did not work well as I was still highly emotional, on a very strong anti-biotic to ensure my leg wounds did not become further infected. In short, adjusting to eating when I couldn’t really eat (and was hungry) and found that my gut was rejecting everything via diarrheoa meant my early days (and nights at home) were a bit challenging. And I was wanting to do stuff for myself. My goodness. I know.

My hospital dietitian had sent me home with samples of high protein drinks, I was given sheets with lots of information about soft and pureed foods and I am a compliant person. I must do this. Right? Well, actually my body said NO. My GP told me just how much I needed to let my (IBS-centred) gut settle after being empty for over 8 days and it needed to come back to balance. His sensible approach saved me and whilst I appreciated the knowledge that was shared with me it was time to eat what I could and when I could.

I admit that with having my right leg encased in a boot and the stitches from surgery had only just been removed as well as two large flesh areas that needed healing I did my body no favours by deciding to make some chicken and vegetable soup one morning. You see, I have always been the cook and I found that if I had to instruct my husband our marriage might not last (OK, an exaggeration) and I needed some sense of independence.

Once I had that soup sorted and blended and in the freezer for future use, I agreed to stay out of the kitchen…and my darling husband became the best every toast maker and cutting it into teensy tiny pieces to see if I could eat it. He even made me vegemite toast just so I could lick the taste of it. I learned that yoghurt and honey go down easily and they helped me when I had to take oral medication as did jelly.

The early days and weeks were hard but I was also buoyed by the fact that in all likelihood my cancer had been completely removed. On a follow-up visit 3 weeks after surgery both the Professor and the Associate Professor agreed with no recommendation for follow-up radiotherapy as it has very brutal effects on the face and would change the view of cancer has gone from 95% to 97.5%. 

Part Two will be more on how I gradually learned more about the how and what I could eat…and how it is so vital that we both nourish ourselves with food as well as enjoy it.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. Happy to respond.

Denyse.

Joining in with Kylie Purtell here for I Blog On Tuesdays and with Sue here for her Wednesday link up & Leanne’s Lovin’Life Linky on Thursdays here.

 

 

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