Thursday 24th September 2020

I Want. 33/51 #LifeThisWeek. 66/2020.

I Want. 33/51 #LifeThisWeek. 66/2020.

Last week I wrote this post: Why Did I Start A Blog?

Today I conclude the ‘Why I Blog” series with ‘I Want’ because that is essentially the ‘why’ of blogging for me.

I want:

  1. to connect with readers who visit this blog
  2. to stay relevant as a blogger 
  3. to post topics of interest with a range of my expertise and interest
  4. to contribute to conversations about a range of topics
  5. to be able to learn from others who blog
  6. to know that I am a blogger who is inclusive
  7. to be a blogging friend to those who link up often
  8. to see that my posts on all topics have relevance to my audience
  9. to visit others’ blogs and connect via commenting and support
  10. to continue writing, posting, commenting and sharing my blog posts with others for as long as my work is of interest to others and I am not feeling stale nor bored

It’s been a very big learning curve to be a blogger.

I say that because, for me, it was quite foreign to my world of work in education. Yet, as  determined person who does not eschew hard work, I did my best to blog for what I had found was my way:

Conversational

Informational – based on experience

Photo-centred

Stories shared

Difficult Topics Which May Be Helpful

Creativity and Art

Health & Mindfulness

After a huge move (literally) in our lives, from Sydney to the Central Coast at the beginning of 2015 I set myself a goal. To keep me focussed on “doing this one thing EVERY day”…. I wrote a blog post Every.Single.Day. of 2015. No-one read the posts bar me, until, I re-visited the best way to connect more broadly and that was:

L I N K  U P S.

Hosted by fellow bloggers.

Yay for that. I linked up posts for some time on the Annoyed Thyroid’s link up each weekend , Kylie Purtell’s on a Tuesday and Kirsty Russell on a Monday. Great news! I was meeting up with old friends and new. Right into 2016 and I continued…slightly decreasing my posts and relieved to do so.

I found I needed a good refresher of how this blog looked and made contact with an old Sydney friend, Tanya, who enriched the look and settings of the blog already set by my techie guy and that meant 2016 was even better. I made a commitment to blog almost every day under these topics:

I was having a good time, connecting and meeting new bloggers. Lots had just started blogging, others had left and there was talk of a linky being retired and I asked if I could, perhaps, with permission take over the Mondays with Life This Week. I got a lovely approval from my friend and in September this LINK UP kicked off….and is now #202!

I was also delighted to know there were link ups happening here (co-hosted) on Wednesdays  (sadly for me, this one is finishing up soon) and here on Thursdays. Thank you for your link ups! They are great places of connection.

I Want: to write my memoir.

I had been postponing the idea of writing a memoir of my life until a friend and blogger encouraged me to try writing the chapters in blog-type posts. I did this. Here is the first one. I was not to know it would be a while before the next one!!

I Want: to share awareness of head and neck cancer.

Those who have been here since then and before will know that things changed very fast for my life and priorities when I got a head and neck cancer diagnosis in May 2017. I did think long and hard before pressing publish on this but the love and support which came back to me proved why I love to blog and love my community. The post is here.

I Want: to promote and encourage education- self and others always.

I also told the story of how I like to learn…this was because as a life-long educator I was placed in the role of student at an adult crochet class and because of how poorly my needs were understood I never went back!

I Want: to feel well within myself and portray that confidently.

As an anti-dote to cancer treatments and letting myself be positively impact each day, I began a daily routine some 4 months into my cancer and started to ‘dress with purpose’. This became a photo on instagram each day…and then over time one big boost to my self-confidence when I had no upper teeth and was still in cancer-treatment mode. Here’s what this was about. 

I Want: to have women share their stories of courage.

From May 2019 I introduced a series to the blog for women I invited (or who self-invited) to share their stories: answering 5 questions. This series, Women of Courage continues….I am so pleased this has been a success. Many women have told me what it meant to share.

I Want: to show my appreciation to you, my readers, bloggers and friends. Some even joined me for my 70th birthday morning tea late in 2019. Many of you I may never met but already feel you are good friends. This blogging business is a great way for me, a relatively isolated retiree, to connect.

I Want: to continue blogging. Writing a post up to 2 times a week is good for my health and for my connections. Over time, I expect with fewer Women of Courage stories, my Wednesday posts will be a way to make some changes of direction if that’s what I choose.

This Is Why I Blog!

Thank you all. You have made a difference in my life.

Denyse.

Link Up #202

Life This Week. Link Up #202

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: 34/51 Self-Care Stories. #5. 24.8.2020

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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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Women Of Courage Series. #48. Julie McCrossin AM. 57/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #48. Julie McCrossin AM. 57/2020.

 

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.

Julie McCrossin, in her 60s, describes herself in these few words on twitter: ‘Broadcaster and Head & Neck Cancer survivor. Dog lover.’

Having the privilege of meeting Julie in late 2018 and then continuing to be part of conversations and more on-line with Julie, I can add friendly, inclusive and passionate…about a lot actually. But this is Julie’s story to tell.

Here we are together with Nadia Rosin, the CEO of Beyond Five, where Julie and I are Community Ambassadors. Julie, as a professional speaker, MC and broadcaster is host on behalf of Beyond Five on this series of podcasts found here, made by Beyond Five, for head and neck cancer patients, carers, families and professionals.

I have deliberately added Julie’s story in the days leading up to World Head and Neck Cancer Day, 27.7.2020. Julie’s tireless work in a range of different agencies helping those with head and neck cancer, their carers and supporters is a passion. She is also host of Cancer Council podcasts on a range of topics related to all cancers. This link to them is here. She does, however, have more in her life….and recently added ‘grandmother’ to her name. That too is another story for her to share.

 

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

The Cambridge Dictionary defines courage as “the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation.”

My life has given me several opportunities to exercise  this skill. As a bushwalker with a women’s trek training group called Wild Women on Top, I climbed a high rock formation in a national park. To reach the summit I had to clamber across a large boulder above a very large, life threatening drop to the ground below. A trek leader I trusted talked me through the process successfully, but I can still recall the heart-racing fear I felt crossing the boulder and then returning to cross it again on the way back.

A very different kind of sustained courage was required to support my late mother who experienced serious mental health issues over many years. It took courage to help her in countless encounters with health professionals who, all too often, lacked empathy or training in dealing with a mentally unwell person. I came to understand that anxiety is another word for fear.

It took all the courage I had as a daughter to front up repeatedly to the accident and emergency departments of hospitals, after receiving a call from my mother or a doctor, to try to help solve an insoluble problem.

However, the most distressing challenge I have had to face, that required all the courage I could muster, was the experience of receiving radiation treatment for head and neck cancer in 2013.
The cancer was in my tongue, tonsils and throat. I had to receive 30 consecutive days of radiation to this area of my body, plus weekly chemotherapy.
The radiation therapy saved my life and I will be forever grateful for it.
The challenge was that I had to wear a tightly moulded mask over my head and shoulders to hold me rigidly in position, as I lay on my back, while the radiation machine took 20 minutes each day to deliver the targeted beam to the tumours.
I discovered that I was highly claustrophobic. I was given mild sedation and I listened to music to help me.
But fronting up every day to be bolted down by the head and lie still while the machine did its job was the hardest thing I have every done.
Of course, I was also facing the fear of death as I had stage four cancer.

 

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

I was traumatised by my cancer treatment.

I was shocked by the realisation I might die and frightened by the physical restraint of the mask.

I wept after the first of my 30 radiation treatments.

I then froze and I have struggled to cry ever since that day.

I have been unable to feel the relief of weeping for over seven years.

Do I appreciate life more keenly? Yes.

Do I value time with my partner, family and friends with a new intensity? Most definitely.

But to be honest with you, I felt life was precious before I had cancer and I have always loved the people close to me.

I think cancer has taken much more from me than it has given.

 

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

I think I was sustained during my cancer treatment and recovery by the courage and love of my partner, children and close friends.

I felt their life force nurture me as the cancer treatment drained my own life energy.

So the lesson I learnt was the value of showing my vulnerability and accepting help.

I did not need to face the challenge alone.

It wasn’t only my courage that I relied on.

It was a team effort.

I believe that this was the experience of my father as a pilot with a crew in World War Two.

He survived as a Pathfinder pilot in Bomber Command.

It was a frightening job with a very low survival rate.

I thought of my Dad and his air crew as I received my radiation treatment.

The courage I showed was underpinned by the memory of my father’s bravery and the love of my family and friends.

 

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

I honestly don’t know.

I fear recurrence of my cancer, as most survivors do.

I know I have a fierce desire to live.

I trust I will accept my fate and accept any recommended treatment if the cancer comes back.

I doubt I will be more courageous because now I know how tough treatment can be.

So I think I will be scared and anxious but I will do everything I can do to survive for the sake of the people who love me and myself.

 

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

Ask for help from people you trust.

If you are alone, let professional people know and ask them to connect you to volunteer organisations who can provide support.

We don’t need to face life’s challenges alone.

 

Thank you Julie for sharing what I know has been an incredibly challenging time when you went through your head and neck cancer treatment. Julie’s passion for connecting and helping others is seen in her on-line forum, organised jointly with many professionals including specialists in head and neck cancer and allied professionals. which she is gathering to be launched for World Head and Neck Cancer Day on Monday 27.7.2020.

I too, have had a very small part to play and my words to the forum about the psychological aspects of having a head and neck cancer diagnosis and overcoming some of my challenges will be there somewhere.

This short video also adds more from A/Prof Richard Gallagher.

Families & friends of head & neck cancer patients are vital for our survival & quality of life. 2020 Video Series is for families too. Surgeon A/Prof Richard Gallagher explains. Videos available from 27 July World Head & Neck Cancer Day. #HNC #WHNCD

Posted by Julie Elizabeth McCrossin on Monday, 13 July 2020

 

Once more, thank you so much Julie for sharing the words to help others understand how courage has helped you in your life.

Denyse.

Follow Julie on twitter here:

Julie’s Facebook Page For Head and Neck Cancer is here.

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

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

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

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The Value Of A Smile. 46.1./2020.

The Value Of A Smile. 46.1./2020.

I’ve been contemplating the ways in which smiling can improve my/our health.

Maybe too, because of being socially isolated and  when being out keeping our distance, I have noted that when engaging with people a smile cuts through any communication to be gain a positive response often with a smile back!

Have you noticed this too?

Regular readers here will know I lost my smile for a long time when the top half of my mouth (and some of my top lip too) was removed because of head and neck cancer, and that I really, really missed my smile!

Recovering from Cancer Surgery 2017. Smiling as Best I Could.

Interesting to get to know my needs for social inclusion were/are based on my ability to connect with my smile.

I think it is fascinating that of the three things I lost for a while after the July 2017 surgery: ability to eat & drink, talking clearly and smiling…that I found

S M I L I N G was what I needed to do most.

There is science in this too!

Recently I read this:

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. Peace begins with a smile.

Mother Theresa.

Years ago, I was seeing a psychiatrist for some issues and he talked of the fake it till you make it smile. It seemed silly to me then, but apparently there IS something to this.

I can share this practice , from my experiences of meditation and being mindful, of not allowing myself to retreat or resist what I am not liking. I still need to remember this. In fact, I ask myself ‘what am I afraid to admit, or do or be’?

I need to be in the moment. The only moment as that’s all I have.

Yet, the physical act of helping my body make a smile, works. It’s like a circuit breaker. I can look in the mirror and smile. Not always genuinely but it changes things.

Further advice in troubled times:

  • life the corners of your mouth with your fingers, literally putting a smile on your face.

  • let the smile remind you that acceptance is more powerful than resistance.

  • breathe deeply, then exhale slowly

  • invite yourself to be curious about whatever set of circumstances initiated your resistance.

           Ashley Davis Bush: The Little Book of Inner Peace.

I do engage as much as I can with feeling gratitude each day (and made a promise to do this every day in 2020). Smiling reminds me of how grateful I am for my health, and that even though my top lip is shrinking back somewhat, smiling is one very sound exercise as is connecting with the people around me.

I made my first vlog…I am not sure that is what I call it…but I now have the ability to make mini-videos at home and sorted my channel on You Tube to be able to do so. Yes, the ending is a bit unproffesh but the message is mine!

Take care, people….and do remember to smile.

Denyse.

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Special Anniversaries.19/51.#LifeThisWeek. 38/2020.

Special Anniversaries.19/51.#LifeThisWeek. 38/2020.

May is a month of memories for me and that is the theme for my ‘special anniversaries’.

In my life, and my family, I have tended to be the one who remembers. Dates, places, weather, occasions and more. Sometimes not perfectly well. I give my age as an excuse now, but I tend to be pretty much sensitive to time of year, weather and place. So, this is my reason for picking May….because:

May, in my instagram feed, is a time I am using memories of people, occasions and time for mark the occasion. For example, without giving years away, 3 women who are very special in my life have their birthdays in May. My 2nd granddaughter on 6th, my niece on the 22nd and my late and cherished Aunty, on 31st. It was in May 2006 we celebrated what we did not know was my mother’s last Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was an occasion for her but as the years have passed, we (the family) do not make a fuss…because, I found it was a bit of a pressure to be honest..on me! So, that my friends is how I feel. Further on I explain more.

More about May. THIS is probably the reason I chose May for this as my post. It was in early May 2017 that the investigations began in earnest for ‘what the heck was happening in my mouth’….and yes, this has been recorded here in detail. However, just before I made the news of my cancer diagnosis public, I was honoured to have my story published in Celebrating Women. It was a great distraction too. I blogged about it here.

And then I knew what was under those teeth and the bridge that covered them…squamous cell carcinoma AND it had spread to under my top lip too. That knowledge –  shocking that it was cancer but not surprising either – given how long I had been putting up such pain, aggravation and limited ways to eat for over a year!  And I got this news via the phone call from the oral surgeon, at home, alone on Wednesday 17 May. Read more here if you would like to.

The biggest challenge though for scared me (of IBS and travelling not cancer!) was that I would have to be driven by my husband to Sydney’s Chris OBrien Lifehouse on Thursday 18 May 2017 where I would have my first (very long as it turned out) consultation re my head and neck cancer and what would happen to eradicate it. All, we hoped! I have written about the courage it took for me to test my exposure therapy is a big, big way in other place, here for example. And, we set off and became better informed – BIG time – about what was next.

What on earth did I do then? Oh, I was OK…after some time to gather myself emotionally, and my husband and I drove the long drive home in the dark with a feeling of confidence that where I was to be treated and by whom meant the confidence of knowing it was right for my cancer. Both of the head and neck cancer surgeons – the A/Prof Ebrahimi and then Prof Clark ‘felt’ then after the pretty rigorous examination that surgery only would be required but until that time, and lymph nodes’ samples etc were taken for pathology they could hope for no radiation.

But wait, there is more. Always more it seemed to test me that May!

24 May and 30 May were “back to Sydney” appointments but this time to Westmead in Sydney’s west. We knew this area well as we had lived in the region for many years. It was, however, the first visit to Oral Sciences…aka the dental hospital where I/we would meet the man and his assistant we got to know very, very well over the ensuing years. I admit I needed my husband there with me and the tears on that first visit came pretty frequently as I did not compute/understand well as all what would be happening but when chatting with my husband he was very confident of the prosthodontist’s role and skill in the area where I was to have surgery. He also accompanied us to radiography to get exacting scans done and to test blood flow in my legs. It was later that I found as I had better blood flow in my right leg, then that would be where the fibula and flesh/skin would be harvested not the left as originally planned.

Other May Memories!

In my recollections of May, I found Mother’s Day to be more of a day of obligation rather than a day to celebrate mothers. My mother in particular. I have often thought it a sad thing though because it is my father’s voice of judgement I hear re mother’s day not Mum’s. Ever.

It’s a complicated thing this life and traditions isn’t it! He (Dad, now 96) was brought up in a single parent childhood following his Dad’s untimely death in 1935 and Dad’s mother grieved her whole life after that and I am pretty sure nothing that was ever said nor done for her was appreciated wholly.

For whatever reason, then Dad made sure “we” celebrated our Mum. I have memories of breakfast in bed for her.,…and she did not enjoy that! I do recall her appreciation of cards and flowers. We, as then grown up children, might try to combine a mother’s day morning or lunch or even dinner.

To me, also a mother, it felt like “I” missed out. And I dislike that I even thought that.

So, despite my now-knowledge of where all this probably emanated…I still thought similarly in ‘shoulds’ around Mother’s day. So, I often got disappointed…and I am embarrassed about that. I vowed sometime back never to do ‘that’ to my adult kids so celebrated without any fanfare at all nor expectation until we left Sydney.

The first year I heard from no-one.

Yes, I was sad…and on subsequent Mother’s Day I may have had a card or a phone call or both from one or either of our adult offspring. In 2017 not knowing of my cancer investigations I had a visit to our place. Nice. We put on lunch. See photo above.

Then in 2019 I met my daughter and we had morning tea out together. No kids. Just us.

This year, as this is posted, we will have had our first visit in COVID-19 back to her house for a mother’s day morning tea.

Making New May Memories. 

  • Mum taught me quite a bit about cooking and often have her in my mind as I try to replicate her recipes. To that end, as I am visiting Dad this week I have made Mum’s recipe of lemon butter just for him. Food is such a powerful memory!
  • Mum also advised me about colours and planting of colourful flowers and I use this knowledge in picking and placing plants.
  • Mum’s smile was one I inherited….and a liking for brightly coloured clothes.
  • I make May a time for reminiscing but also for celebrating…..how far I have come, post head and neck cancer!

ONE Year ago in May I got my “end of two years” of cancer surgeries and treatment Apple Watch and it is worn with pride every day and continues to motivate me to move more!

My reward for 2 years post cancer: apple watch

TWO Years ago in May I became more resilient than I knew I could be as I faced a 4th (the last, I hope) reconstuctive surgery because my mouth and skin had not recovered well enough for the upper prosthesis to be fitted.

Post surgery #4 was a shock!

THREE Years ago in May I found how many people in my life cared for and about me and it was humbling. Many of those are reading this post now. Thank you all so much for being who you are.

That’s my special anniversary….May!

What special anniversaries are part of your life?

Did you celebrate Mother’s Day yesterday?

Thanks also for your kind words last week AND 100% of bloggers who linked up, commented on my post.

That IS a win/win!

Denyse.

Link Up #188.

Life This Week. Link Up #188.

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 weekly optional prompt is: 20/51 Share Your Snaps #4 18.5.2020

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Women of Courage Series. #38 Tara Flannery. 37/2020.

Women of Courage Series. #38 Tara Flannery. 37/2020.

Trigger warning: domestic abuse, cancer, psychological help.

 

 

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.

Tara Flannery, aged 48, and I have never met but we have much in common. Firstly we are teachers. Secondly we share a similar team caring for us as head and neck cancer patients. Thirdly, we want to help others  and this is why I was delighted with Tara agreed to share her story as a Woman of Courage. We are planning to meet for a coffee and a chat as soon as we can post-COVID-19. It will be a long and much needed catch up for us both. Welcome to the blog Tara and thank you again!

 

 

 

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

I have had a couple of moments where I have had to dig deep.

Becoming a single mum with a 18 months old and finding studying full-time, no home, no family support

Discovering I had cancer and the treatment that followed.

 

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

I learnt I could do anything I set my heart too.

I learnt that that there are a lot of generous people out there.

I learnt that there are a lot of judgmental people out there.

I learnt that it is not easy to walk away from domestic abuse. It is easy to tell someone to get out but to actually do it is another thing completely.

I learnt that the love I have with my husband is unconditional.

I learnt that others take on your cancer as their problem and can turn against you.

I learnt that I have amazing friends who still loved me even though my anxiety turned me a tad neurotic.

I learnt having a cancer diagnosis will not make family who have turned their backs come back.

I learnt that not many people have the ability to empathise or self-reflect and that is OK.

That is their personality not mine.

I learnt to appreciate every moment I have with my friends, husband and children.

 

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

Don’t let other peoples perception of your reality be yours.

You don’t need to be strong – if you need to cry, scream, throw something. Do it!!! Of course without hurting others 😉

Go talk to a psychologist. It is nothing to be ashamed of. You need a safe place to vent and sort through your emotions.

I didn’t realise how deeply I was depressed and filled with anxiety until I had a year of therapy.

If you are prescribed medication to keep you calm. Take it. Again – nothing to be ashamed of.

Your mind will be racing – you need sleep and rest. These medications are not forever. I took valium and antidepressants for 18 months.

I am off the valium (except for procedures where I need to be awake) and am on minimal dose of antidepressants for most likely the rest of my life.

I suffer Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Trust your medical team. They have helped numerous people before and will continue helping people like you.

Trust their judgment and advice.

Don’t make major decisions – you may come to regret it later.

Eat well – try to evaluate your nutrition. Fresh whole foods.

Try alternative therapies – it can’t hurt (research them thoroughly before you do – there are a lot of con artists out there!)

Learn about self-reflecting. Try to be aware of how you are acting.

Try not to take other peoples behaviours personally.

 

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

I think I would probably handle it the same way I did.

I consider myself a resilient person. But having a cancer diagnosis is traumatic and I don’t think I would be calm if diagnosed again.

If I had to go through a divorce again. I would be mentally prepared and I know I could support myself and get through it.

 

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

Try to choose a reason why you need to be here – or set a goal.

My goal is to be a Grandma. My girls are only 21 and 15 but setting that goal and having that as my focus helped.

I also had a family holiday booked that I was keen to participate in.

I worked hard at rehab and was assured by my medical team I could do it.

Do not set unrealistic goals.

Accept help. Any help. Try not to be a martyr.

 

What an amazing and heart-felt story of courage from Tara. So grateful we ‘found’ each other on-line and thanks for sharing the ups & downs of head and neck cancer surgeries and mouth prostheses so I know I am not alone either!

Denyse.

 

 

For readers of this blog post: 

The following information may be helpful to you or another. These are Australian-based.

Your Family G.P. can be a helpful person to listen and make referrals.

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636

Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for 24 hour assessment, referral, advice, and hospital and community health centre contact details

Qualified Psychologists can be found by visiting https://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/

Australian Counselling Association is on 1300 784 333 to find a counsellor

Cancer Council Australia https://www.cancer.org.au/

Beyond Five. Head and Neck Cancer Organisation. https://beyondfive.org.au

 

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

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

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

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Share Your Snaps #3. 15/51. #LifeThisWeek. A Love Story. 30/2020.

Share Your Snaps #3. 15/51. #LifeThisWeek. A Love Story. 30/2020.

In July 2018 I met the members of the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at the first Soup for the Soul event in Gosford Hospital’s Central Coast Cancer Centre. That day was the first time I met other people who had been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer. I was “still” toothless but was made very welcome. Interesting isn’t it that it took me a year to get out to meet anyone at all in a setting like this. My surgeries and treatments for my head and neck cancer were all in Sydney. I had no idea of what support there was where I was now living until that month, close to World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2018, when I was invited by Lisa Shailer the Nurse who oversees and assists all head and neck (and lung)cancer patients who receive diagnosis and treatments at the centre to attend. I met many of the members, and it was good to share our stories where we could.

The couple I will now introduce, with what I have named  ‘A Love  Story’ are Stuart and Jill.

Stuart shares the story now after some questions for this post. Thank you Stuart and Jill for sharing.

We are Stuart and Jillian (Jill) Garfatth.  We have been  living in the Central Coast town of Toukley for the last 6 1/2 years.

 

How did head and neck cancer affect your lives?

The cancer had a very significant effect on both of us, of course, more so Jill than I.   It has completely changed our outlook on our lives, we realise how incredibly lucky we are to be living in Australia,  particularly the Central coast, because the treatment Jill was able to have has left us in no doubt that it is the best in the Western world, both medically and the people who cared for Jill in her time of need, of course the financial cost was virtually nil, which was a great help in eliminating that particular stressful component of treatment. We both have a vastly different outlook on life, we do things that we normally would not do,  get out and about, travel internationally much more than we normally do, and enjoy every minute of it!

 

 

How long have you both been members of the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer group?

We have been members of the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer group since August 2015, and it has benefited both of us a great deal, particularly the knowledge that we are not alone is a major factor of our membership of the group.

 

 

Do you have any particular stories to tell from your involvement there?

We don’t have any particular stories as such, but we always look forward to the meetings, gaining and sharing information about a great range of subject matter pertaining to Jill’s and everybody’s treatment and experiences. Of particular note presentations by people who are at the ‘coalface’ of research and treatments, they just reinforce the value of on-going research regarding advances in cancer treatment, very heartening indeed!

 

 

There is a story about your motorbike, and why it is special, can you share more?

Yes, there’s a bit of a story about my Sterling Autocycle motorbike. In April 2016, my twin brother rang me and suggested I get on the internet and have a look at a rather unique motorcycle, built to order by The Black Douglas Motorcycle Co. in their workshop in Melzo, just south of Milan, Italy. The company is registered in the U.K. but each bike is hand made, taking about 200 hours per bike, and no two are exactly alike, given differences in overall colour and applied finishes, like pinstriping, and other materials used in their construction.
I told my brother that I thought they were rather nice, and certainly ‘different’ to what is being mass produced by the very large manufacturers, but I could not see me buying one as they were a little ‘pricey’, and I didn’t see a need for me to have one. He replied, “Well, I’m buying two, one with a 230cc motor, and the other with a 125cc motor, and you can have the smaller one”.
“WHAT!, you’re paying for both?!,  I was stunned to put it lightly. Well, after getting over the surprise, I contacted the company founder, Fabio Cardoni, and set the wheels in motion to import the first two Sterlings into Australia.

Can you share more please…I know there IS more! 

As my brother is not on the internet, everything fell to me about liaising with all the relevant Authorities, both in Australia and Italy, little did I know what was to come!. Our greatest stroke of luck came about when I contacted the owner of Ballina Motorcycles, Joe Fisher, who has over 44 years experience in the industry,  he proved to be fundamental to the successful outcome, that took 3 years to bear fruit, and have our bikes registered to ride in Australia, his tenacity and unflagging determination, despite some very serious setbacks, was incredible, but for his efforts, our two bikes would never have been imported and registered here, his honesty and dedication to the task was incredible to see, we cannot thank him enough.

There is a down side to the whole saga though.  Our bikes landed  Australia June, 2016, and after a minor delay, we took delivery and put them into Joe Fishers hands, and he started what turned out to be a 2 year process of getting them legal for road use, and boy, what a story that was! Then towards the end of November 2016, the company ceased trading, it was bankrupted by some new owners who thought they could do better than its founder, Fabio Cardoni, so our two Sterlings are now the only two in Australia, and ever will be.

 

 

Please tell more about how the ribbon for Head and Neck Cancer (named for Jill) came about.

The head and neck cancer ribbon I have put on at the front of each side of the petrol tank came about when I soon realised that when the bike was out in public, it attracted a lot of attention,  many many photographs  taken, many questions are asked,  I was even videoed  once whilst riding, so this got me thinking.  I had the ribbon professionally designed and applied, so that whenever an image of the bike was taken, and published, particularly on the internet, the public profile and awareness of head and neck cancer could grow, which it has, as the image has been seen in the U.K., Europe, North America and Canada.

 

 

What else would you both like to add to this love story?

I had Jill’s name applied within the ribbon for two reasons. One, the bike is unique and very pleasing to the eye, and two, so is Jill!

As my bike is the only one on this planet with such unique livery, and Jill is the only Jill also on this planet, I felt it fitting that I should pay my homage to Her by naming my Sterling after her, and ever it will be.

 

Thank you Stuart and Jill for sharing the story of love, as I named it. I know you won’t argue there. I trust that there are many more days to come, sharing the bike, its story and the head and neck cancer ribbon…once we get through the challenges our country is in now thanks to the COVID19 pandemic.

This was a Share Your Snaps with a difference, and I am glad I saved the photos and story till Easter. We all need a lift in spirits I think and with this story I know I was smiling as I compiled it.

To Love…and Stuart and Jill.

 

Denyse.

In writing here,  partly in my role as a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five, the organisation which helps raise awareness of head and neck cancer which is Australia’s 7th highest, I acknowledge Stuart and Jill are also raising awareness with their bike and meeting attendance at the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group. Coming up in July, it’s unlikely there will be a Soup for The Soul at the Cancer Centre as in 2018-2019 – sorry Stuart, who enjoys serving the soups with Jill and sampling them too, so it’s vital we continue as individuals and groups to share the knowledge we have about our head and neck cancer stories.

 

 

Life This Week. #184.

Life This Week. Link Up #184.

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

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Next Week’s weekly optional prompt is: 16/51 I Heard 20.4.2020

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

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

Next week, I have been asked to be a patient-participant in a video being made for Beyond Five on nutrition. As many of you know I have been a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five – the Face of Head and Neck Cancer – since late 2018.

Announcement of My Ambassador Role.

I was enthusiastic to take part in this video initially…then had a small crisis of confidence (for the want of a better expression) and began doubting my relevance. I was, and still am, firmly encouraged by both the CEO of Beyond Five and my husband that I do have that quality! Thank you.

There is a back-story to this and I am going to share it briefly before making my points about the GOOD that has come for me in terms of changes from a diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer.

Denyse and eating…before Head and Neck Cancer. 

From early days in my teens and twenties I would self-soothe with lollies, chocolate and whilst I did not over-eat significantly, I did establish a pattern of eating for comfort. None of this was ever really a secret (certainly I did not have any kind of eating disorder, for which I am grateful) but it still was something I would not admit to doing (except me) and then over time, it probably began the life-time (decades rather than all of my life!) of eating for reasons other than hunger or to nourish myself. The bigger picture (pun intended) was first written about here and then, as I became more accountable for my past behaviours around eating, I updated here. Blogging is so good for this!

The above posts show that I acknowledged my eating and what it was doing to my appearance, general well-being and health. Yet, the ‘same amount of weight’ that would come off over a few decades (3 times at least) would also go back on.

What was I missing?

  1. Probably other ways in which to see food.
  2. Or maybe the maturity (even though I was mature in years) to see through the hard yards.
  3. But maybe none of this.
  4. I think as a serial dieter/eater/non exerciser and one who ate emotionally I just did what I did.

A Breakthrough of Sorts: Not Great Though.

From 2013 onwards, I acknowledge how serious my weight had become as a result of eating and less movement when my GP challenged me to try to reduced weight or she would be sending me for a Glucose Tolerance Test as I was becoming pre-Diabetic 2 in my test results. I managed to do as asked and my weight reduced enough to see progress. Yay.

Then from 2014, my anxiety ramped up (we were about to sell our house to pay out the mortgage as I needed to stop work at almost 65), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome re-entered my life after a few decades absence. From then I found I literally could not eat as I did before without the effects of mostly explosive diarrhoea. Yes. Unpleasant and socially restrictive.

Over the time of our move to the Central Coast, and some of my emotionally challenging times to adapt to life’s transitions, this continued to be a pattern and without ‘any real effort’ my weight slowly reduced.

I did, however, raise with my doctors, that I might have had cancer. I did look pretty gaunt. No, they said. OK. I did feel anxious almost all the time.

My Diagnosis of a Rare Oral Cancer: 17 May 2017, and How That Changed Me.

My story is told here on this page: Head and Neck Cancer.

This is a little reminder for me of what I went through back then. I was told on 18 May 2017 that where my cancer was located (upper gums and under top lip) I would require a compete removal of the top half of my mouth. THAT took a while for me to get over, in terms of the shock. Then I went home with my husband and thoughts raced in my mind. One was, if this is making me stressed, then how can I self-soothe or calm if my well-ingrained practices had been to eat something sweet, salty, crunchy or whatever. It was a rhetorical question. I had 7 weeks to wait for surgery and I was so anxious, eating was not high on my list.

Early Days And Getting Hangry! 

Following my 11 hour surgery, 3 days in ICU I was transferred to a room at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and added to the regime of drips was, via my naso-gastric tube,  some nutrition. The liquid kind. It was, for me, yucky but in one way that was my aversion to milk-type drinks. However, as each feed slowly dripped into my very, very empty stomach I had to change my attitude towards this feed. I started by telling myself “it is healing me and nourishing me” as I get well. I know I was going well as each time my professional team dropped by, they told me so. BUT…even when I finally got to try to oh so good nectar of WATER orally, I began to feel hangry (cranky when hungry!). By Day 8 I was allowed some clear fluids. Hallelujah. Broth, jelly, and then over time until my day of departure: Day 10 a few more soft food choices. No teeth, except for 8 bottom ones AND a very stitch-filled mouth!

And then I Came Home. Lots of Eating Ahead? Maybe.

Before I left hospital I was visited by the dietitian who was incredibly helpful with guidelines for me, and offers of samples of food-in-a-bottle and that she would follow up my progress at home via phone calls. I remember her words “now, you need to put on weight”. WHAT? No-one ever had told me that. It was a complete revolution in terms of instruction. I now know that yes, head and neck cancer patients need to keep weight on but no-one has ever really revealed why. Note to self: ask at next visit to my team.

My return to eating caused a great deal of distress in me because diarrhoea came back with fury as my emptied stomach  rebelled with a strong anti-biotic inside. I did not, as I thought I had to do, follow the dietitian’s advice but that of my local GP who had already seen me through diagnosis and now post-operatively. His words were “eat what you are up to and can keep you going.” Drink water as much as you can. With that, I did share the news with the dietitian when she called and I appreciated her services on offer but has to do this ‘my way.’

What I Did Then. 

My mouth did restrict my intake of food but I learned to adapt and seek foods that were both nourishing and pleasurable in texture/ taste. Mind you, my reconstructed mouth was quite a barrier to a variety of tastes but it was important for me psychologically to eat normal food. But also the words from the dietitian echoed and to “add value to food”. This meant a tiny lemon cupcake would have some dairy added to it: yoghurt, custard, ice cream. I became well-versed in the inner conversations re “fun to eat but also eat to heal”.

None of this food preparation or meal decisions came really easily and it required patience on my behalf as I was normally the meal-maker and my right leg’s giving up of its fibula, skin and flesh for my mouth, meant I could not stand for long…nor did I have much energy. But, my patient husband (and then full-time carer including grocery shopper) would help me as he could. I might not have been able to bite into some vegemite toast but I could savour the flavour and add some slices of avocado for nourishment. There are posts here, and  here about eating in those days.

Before I became affected by the anti-biotic, this was what I ‘could’ eat. Soft, slippery and full fat foods.

And Over Time, I Made Changes as My Mouth Healed. 

From July 2017 until August 2018 I had only 8 teeth in my mouth. It is amazing however, that humans can adapt! Mind you, I also add, THIS human had to become creative in her eating as boredom set in quickly and a sense of resentment about what head and neck cancer brought to my now lifestyle. I did make the effort to feel more grateful and appreciative of all that had been done for me. There were 3 more surgeries too, inside my mouth, to prepare it for an upper prosthesis of teeth.

Creativity included:

  • value adding to sweet foods like small cakes which were easy to swallow AND made me feel less deprived
  • making up some small plates of foods that would have me feeling like I was not missing out
  • inventing dishes for me: crustless pies, taco-less tacos
  • finding more and more ways with mince. Thank you to my A/Prof who advised mince would be a good food and my iron levels did slightly improve
  • allowing foods like small pieces of milk chocolate to melt on my tongue
  • iceblocks and paddlepops eaten with a spoon – my mouth did and still does love cold

Weight Was Good  Healthy…. Then I Got Teeth!

Notice my crossing out of good.

This is a judgement I have made like many over many years about eating. I now see, and have learned to see that my weight can be HEALTHY even if the numbers have increased. I was incredibly excited to get the upper prosthesis attached permanently to the abutments in my jaw. I remember fantasising about crunching food, chewing food and more. Well….that is what it was… a fantasy.

A reconstructed mouth is a blessing alright in terms of appearance and function for sure. But it does not do all that my mouth could do, so again, I have needed to adapt.

Adaptation took some tearful routes where my disappointment in not being able to eat something was palpable. I know I tried various foods including crunchy chips and they were/are a huge disappointment as they sting inside my newly re-skinned mouth and I could not swallow them. Onward to crunching into a piece of apple. Actually no. But I can eat small pieces or even better if I grate it.

I could add many more adaptations and they will form a new post in the future.

What I want to write about now is my weight, self-images and stories that can be untrue.

Changes in Me For the Good. Health and Head and Neck Cancer.

From August 2018 until February 2019 my weight from the rather steady figure of around 69kg increased by around 5 kg. I could feel it but I also LOVED feeling well and having more food choices. I was somewhat disappointed for a bit that some of my clothes were more snug…then I said to myself “that was because you could not eat much nor as well as you can now”. It was to be an on-going inner conversation (of self-judgement) for a while.

When I realised what I looked like (one aspect of me) was HEALTHY I began to accept that this was a good thing.

  • In fact, I knew it was. I did however let the old weight-centred thoughts creep back.
  • I started to believe I might get back to the much more heavy person I had been in 2013-14.
  • I was scared but the clothes and the scales did not lie. I stayed around the same.
  • For many months, and now it’s a year. It has not happened.
  • In fact, I am a little less on the scales than a year ago.
  • I use my clothes now as a measure of how I am going.
  • Very steadily and the scales are used rarely but they are telling me what I feel it true. So, no more stories!

My Appearance on the Beyond Five Video on Nutrition.

I now look forward to helping present the patient’s perspective on what I have learned personally about nutrition and how to nourish my soul as well as my stomach and mouth. I can honestly say I eat for both pleasure and health yet in a different way from any other time in my life.

This is why I am grateful for my diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

I have learned to sooth myself through meditation, talking with my husband, using my journal, art and going out for coffee. This is one important strategy in my every day self care. In fact, the more I self care, the less I even think of a need to soothe with food. How grateful I am for that.

Each time I go out, or plan a meal or snack at home I often have to re-think from the old familiar paths of pre- head and neck cancer.

  • Quantities are very different. That’s fine.
  • I make mall dishes I can freeze.
  • I carry small packs of biscuits in my bag to have with a coffee.
  • I know too that I can manage certain soft sweet foods with my coffee and will often ask for a bag to take half home.
  • I have still not ventured out for a ‘real meal’ but neither of us are that interested.
  • We had had lunch with family and entertained here.
  • I am less self-conscious of my eating these days.
  • I do always have a small bottle of water nearby.

 

I Am Going Well! 

This is my stock standard answer when I am asked how I am. It’s true. I am indeed. I am glad to have seen the good that head and neck cancer has been for me and my eating. This is me on Thursday 20 February enjoying being back near the water after attending the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Group Meeting..and catching a treat of a small iced cupcake with a coffee on the way home.

There will be some updates after the making of this video but already, just writing out what was making me feel less than my normal confident has done me good.

Onward!

Denyse.

 

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