Saturday 26th 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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World Head & Neck Cancer Day 2020. 29/51 #LifeThisWeek. 58/2020.

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

World Head and Neck Cancer Day is coming soon. On Monday 27.7.2020.

In this week leading up to the day, I am sharing more about head and neck cancer.

From Beyond Five, this information:

There is currently NO screening test for Head and Neck Cancer.

 

What Are Some of the Symptoms?

Here is a link to the page on Beyond Five to share more on symptoms.

*sore tongue, mouth ulcer(s), red or white patches in the mouth

*neck lump

*pain in the throat

*ear pain

*hoarse voice

*painful or difficulty in swallowing

*blocked nose on one side and/or bloody discharge

IF you have any ONE symptom for THREE weeks, seek medical advice.

 

How is head and neck cancer awareness and information shared?

In a world unaffected  by COVID-19, this coming week  would have been a time for gathering together for fundraising and awareness raising in our country, and nearby neighbours, New Zealand. Sadly, this is not possible in most cases.

Last year, we were able to do this to raise awareness at Central Coast Cancer Centre, Gosford Hospital.

We are moving toward the on-line spaces more, by necessity and now design and hope you can find some help, information and support there too.

On Sunday 26 July 2020, Beyond Five, where I am a Community Ambassador, is holding a Live Event. 1 p.m. AEST. The link to join in this great initiative is here. It’s one of teaching and sharing….soups and more and is hosted by fellow Ambassador Julie McCrossin AM, featuring these people, including South Australian HNC patient Yvonne McLaren and Founder of The Food Manifesto, to help others with eating issues following HNC and those with swallowing challenges. Check this out:

 

Why July is a strong memory for me.

July IS Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month.

I did not know that nor anything about head and neck cancer till my diagnosis in May 2017. My memories are S T R O N G each July as it reminds me of what happened inside my mouth, outside on my leg and then more.

Just to recap…I share my memories of going into surgery. 6th July 2017.

 

In ICU: where I stayed for 3 nights after surgery on 6 July 2017.

  • July is my “big month” of memories….of going into Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at 6.00 a.m. on Thursday 6.7.2017 with my husband and then having been checked & readied for surgery & meeting the wonderful anaesthetist Murray who reassured Bernard he would be in contact with him throughout the long day ahead….I got to say goodbye and was eventually wheeled to theatreS!
  • Oh, your surgery I was told, requires 2 theatres because there is a team of around 24 for your very complex & long surgery. Close to 7.30 a.m. by the time I got inside..but wait, there is more..
  • Whilst getting my mind around that, and the fact that when I woke (fingers 🤞) I would have had half of my mouth removed….I recall one of the team, actually I think it was Murray bringing in the corrected surgical procedure (originally it was to be remove fibula and skin/flesh from left, but blood supply was found after CT to be better in right) for me to sign. ✔️
  • Murray & his assistant were incredibly busy readying my body for the big surgery by placing monitors and more on me and tapping into 3 parts of me to lay tubes (I don’t know the terms) in left ankle, left & right arms/hands. Why? I had to ask. “Well, Denyse, is one spot fails or we need to move to another, we are ready, we don’t have to muck around in theatre”…

Now, I have but one memory to recall….as I was wheeled into theatre, I glanced to the left where there were teams of people dressed in scrubs & I admit I was searching for a familiar face….and there he was, my prosthodontist from Westmead, looked up and across at me. This man was the one who would, as the day progressed, use all his measurements and findings from my visits in May to “take my fibula after removal” and add abutments to it and ready it for placement inside my mouth.

Well. The memories ended for me.

  • I am told my surgery needed that many people because one team was the one operation on my right leg to harvest the bone, skin and flesh to go inside my mouth.
  • My professor led the team working inside my mouth, and entering the neck area for adding the blood supply from my leg’s flesh into my mouth to form the roof of it. All of my upper mouth was removed…even the last of my natural teeth up there…all 3!
  • There were samples from my neck taken and sent to pathology during the surgery. All were OK so “only” surgery was within mouth and under the lip.
  • My husband told me he was contacted as promised through the day. The day that saw my surgeons and team work for 11 hours to give me the best chance possible to eat, drink, smile and speak again.

By around 8.30 p.m. I was in I.C.U. as I had been told would happen. My body felt different. My left leg was in something that kept moving to ensure circulation & my right was Ok but encased in bandages and drains were coming from large wound area where skin had been harvested. I had an oxygen mask on, a nasogastric tube was inserted and I was pretty sore but not in huge amounts of pain. I barely used the pain pump and by the next day they said, we will take it away. Fine. However, I remained tired. But very pleased to NOT have a tracheostomy ( told it might happen) and could utter a few words. I also was put on a nebuliser for a long time and had oxygen in my nose. The nurses checked me often for drains & radiographer with a portable X-ray machine came in to see nasogastric tube was in ok.

That was my 6 July 2017.

Blogging my Head and Neck Cancer from diagnosis onwards to help me put in down and to help others too. On my blog- denysewhelan.com.au Here is the link to all the head and neck cancer posts.

July 2018– I was about 6 weeks away from have my upper prosthesis put in. Before then, I had 3 other day surgeries to give my mouth some bulk & ability to have the prosthesis attached to the jaw made from my leg. Those surgeries were Nov 2017, Feb 2018, May 2018. Joining local Central Coast HNC support group.

July 2019– Going well. Regular check ups have been good & there is no cancer…found anywhere. May 2019 check. Helping raise awareness of Head & Neck Cancer as an Ambassador for Beyond Five.

July 2020– Continuing to do well. Before Covid restrictions I saw my Prosthodontist in February who said my prosthesis care is excellent and saw my head and neck cancer surgeon in March who said “see you in 6 months”…with a CT scan beforehand to ensure all OK…still.

This is why July means a lot to me…and I share the story of my HNC because it might be rare but there is a need to notice symptoms of HNC and the onus can often be on us, the patient. Beyond Five’s regular updates and professionally reviewed and verified information is my go-to site and that is why I recommend it and work as a volunteer.

 

From Beyond Five’s Website.

“Who Are We?”

There are many people who are part of the organisation called Beyond Five. Professionals in the field are prevalent. The professor I refer to as ‘my surgeon’ is the chairman and one of the founders. With Professor Jonathan Clark AM.

Nadia Rosin. A communications and project management professional with over 20 years of experience in health promotion. Since 2016 I have had the privilege of working with a passionate team of Head and Neck Cancer clinicians, patients, family members and carers to launch Beyond Five, the first Australian not-for-profit to provide education and support to people affected by Head and Neck Cancer.

Experienced in strategic planning and communications, stakeholder engagement, fundraising, project and operational management. I am passionate about collaborating with key stakeholders to provide evidence-based information and support to patients, carers and health care professionals, raising awareness of Head and Neck Cancer in Australia and advocating for Head and Neck Cancer to form part of the public sector funding and health policy agenda.

Julie McCrossin is a broadcaster and journalist. In 2013 she was treated for oropharyngeal cancer and is now one of Australia’s leading head and neck cancer advocates. Julie is Beyond Five’s inaugural Ambassador. Her story was featured here as a Woman of Courage recently.

Denyse Whelan is a retired K-6 NSW School Principal and has also taught English as a Second Language. Denyse was treated in Sydney for squamous cancer in her top gums in 2017 and is passionate about sharing her ‘new normal’ to help others.

Marty Doyle worked for 36 years in the media as a radio announcer and TV presenter and is now a personal and executive coach. In 2004 he was treated in Brisbane for metastatic squamous cell carcinoma with cancer of unknown primary and has been a passionate advocate for head and neck cancer ever since.

Meeting Marty Doyle – at HNC support group.

Mike George had a total laryngectomy in 2017. Mike is well known to the laryngectomy community in Victoria and is passionate about securing Heat and Moisture Exchanger (HME) funding across Australia and educating emergency services and medical professionals about how to resuscitate a laryngectomee in an emergency.

Mike shares his story here.

May you all stay well.

Denyse.

Link Up #198.

Life This Week. Link Up #198.

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!

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* THANK you for linking up today! Next week’s optional prompt: Share Your Snaps #6. 27.7.2020.

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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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