Sunday 26th June 2022

About That Smile. Mum & Memories. 28/2021.

About That Smile. Mum & Memories. 28/2021.

Why pink?

Why not…actually because remembering Mum, who died 14 years ago this week, bright pink was one of her favourite colours. Not being too maudlin about it, this was the best photo of her in her last months, taken at my parents’ Diamond (60th) Wedding Anniversary Lunch with family, and it was the outfit we chose for her final journey. The photo which sat atop her coffin, is in Dad’s place and is one I feel privileged to have taken. It was of “just” Mum edited from this photo.

Why memories?

On 5th March 2007 Mum finally died following a relatively brief illness based on a January 2007 diagnosis of secondary brain tumours. For a couple of years before that however, things began to shift and change for Mum in her body and her demeanour but none of us, including her G.P. of many years and neurologist treating her for a parkinsonian-type condition knew what was actually going on until a CT scan followed by an MRI. More details here. It was, an awful time for her, Dad and those of us who loved her as Mum, mother-in-law, grandmother and great grandmother.

Why smile?

It’s her smile, I believe, that I have inherited from her and although we are/were totally opposite in many ways, we were both able to find something to smile about when with family, friends and especially when meeting new grandchildren!

Circa 1969.

When I Could NOT Smile.

I know I have much to smile about now and will always appreciate getting my smile back after head and neck cancer. But I know when I was anxious and sad in the years 2014-2016 I would do what I could to summon a smile…especially when I was with my grandkids, and this one in particular. Miss J. has, I say, inherited my smile and that of my mother. We say this anyway!

With Miss J late 2016. Before my cancer was found “under those fake teeth”

A visit from J always included a selfie post my cancer surgeries.

My first social outing following my 2017 cancer surgeries: to Miss J’s 21st!

And now.

SMILE is my Word of The Year. 

I wrote about why it is the word of the year for me here. I remain glad I have!

So you smile naturally or is it troublesome?

I know I was more self-conscious in earlier times when I felt my size and the way my teeth looked affected me, but I had to change that internal story somewhat or there would have been NO photos of me at all!

Thanks for the memories and the smile, Mum!

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne here for Lovin’ Life linky on Thursdays.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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New Normal For Me With Head & Neck Cancer. 43/2019.

New Normal For Me With Head & Neck Cancer. 43/2019.

It’s occurred to me that I’ve been writing posts about how it was for me BEFORE a cancer diagnosis hereand there are the series of posts about my surgeries and progress found here….but I have not done any updates of NOW.

Now as they say in cancer circles, is the new normalwhich is described here:

Finding a ‘new normal’

Many survivors* say that cancer changes them. After treatment, they may feel different, even though they look the same. With time, survivors often find a new way of living. Many call this a “˜new normal’. It may take months or years to find a “˜new normal’.

Misconceptions about treatment  ending

  • I should be celebrating.
  • I should feel well.
  • I should be the person I was before cancer.
  • I should not need support.
  • I should feel grateful.

Read more at https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/15289/b1000/living-well-after-cancer-45/living-well-after-cancer-back-to-normal/#xc5f7pBq7VeQ7Oeq.99

Fellow Head and Neck Cancer Survivor, Julie McCrossin AM, the inaugural Beyond Five Ambassador hosts a series of podcasts here called About Cancer.

About the word: survivor. My personal choice is this one. However, it is not always looked upon well by some. I have no word to replace it for me. I personally do not like warrior nor does thriver work for me as it does for some. It’s just me. I tend to use patient maybe because I am still getting cancer checks. To each their own, right?

Now, back to MY version of New Normal.

I have really been considering this in 2019 as it ‘felt like’ and ‘looked like’ I was back to Denyse. But which version of Denyse? I am ageing too and I wonder if some of my thoughts are also linked to being in my 70th year.

When I was in pre-cancer times, I was so ‘caught up’ with managing my stress and emotional load at having moved from Sydney and all that entailed in getting used to a new normal for that situation. Suddenly, new normal meant:

  • no longer living in a house we were paying off
  • no more employment for me
  • no more regular contact and care for our grandkids
  • being a more stressed-out person than I liked
  • trying hard (so hard) to be better able to manage the life I had then: 2015-mid 2017

Then cancer entered my life.

Very suddenly I took on a new way of looking at life, and learning what was ahead.

OK. I was stressed but in some ways I knew what was coming and even though there were unknowns, I do know NOW, I have made it through

  • diagnosis,
  • 4 surgeries,
  • recovery times,
  • many prosthodontist visits and treatments,
  • adjusting to life with less ‘in my mouth’ to help me eat,
  • then getting more in my mouth to help me eat…
  • and bingo, the smile is back so…
  • back to normal, right?

OH no, so not true. For me at all.

Partly it was my belief I could be back to eating what I used to eat.

I even bought these foods after not buying anything crunchy for well over a year and they disappointed me greatly. Perhaps, for the chips, a good thing.

However, some of this is true but more is not.

I can only crunch and chew for so long.

It is almost a year since the last surgery inside my mouth to add more skin to the inside of my upper lip and around the top ‘jaw’ abutments. I got my upper prosthesis screwed in on 21 August 2018 and it has been removed only once for adjustment by the prosthodontist. I do upkeep: two routines daily, involving 4 steps using this:

In being totally honest with myself, I can say I need to remember more than anyone that I have changed because of cancer in my mouth.

Head and Neck cancer never really leaves us. This is the reason for Beyond Five where I am now an Ambassador. This site helps patients, carers, families and friends with ‘the years after cancer’s 5 year checks are up’.

Announcement of My Ambassador Role.

It’s stays as it affects our inside and outside areas of the neck, head and inside the mouth, cheeks, sinuses and down into the throat and more. In my case, it is all in the mouth. I was told pre-big surgery, no-one would know you have had cancer or surgery once this is all done, and that is true. In some ways, that is a reason why it is up to ME to manage my new ways of eating rather than expect, as I look normal, others will be able to guess what I need.

This comes home to me even as I can still struggle to eat a meal I have prepared. It takes a long time to eat and sometimes, I just divide it into 2 meals as it tires my new mouth and makes it sore.

This is what I know is my new normal.

  • I get myself up each day between 8 and 8.30 a.m. to eat a nutritious breakfast or weetbix or cereal with fruit/yoghurt and milk
  • I take time to eat as it takes time and as I am retired, I get to enjoy reading the morning paper that’s been home-delivered
  • I will do any minor household chores which are shared with my also-retired husband e.g. a load of washing is put on the line
  • I check my emails, my blog (I have a blog which posts a new post 3 days a week) and any social media
  • Time to get dressed for the day. In October 2017, following the first major surgery I had lost a lot of weight and enjoyed the fact that I needed to buy new clothes. As a previously very overweight person, this was F U N
  • However, I found this to be a new normal for me called #dresswithpurpose and I joined in #everydaystyle for around a year and what a great community of support surrounded me post-cancer. I had no top teeth but as my husband said “I smiled with my eyes”.

Dress With Purpose photos: 2017 into 2018.

  • Each day, after a photo taken by my husband, I venture out for a coffee (and now more often, a treat to eat) somewhere local or more distant. I love this part of my new normal.
  • I have my coffee, I take out my mini journal kit, and draw/write and I people watch.
  • Sometimes I browse if I am at the shops, other times I may be out in nature and enjoy that too.
  • I have my own car which helps me be independent and drive myself to all of my Sydney appointments.
  • After this it is closer to the middle of the day and I come home when I am ready and get my very crunchy lunch ready. It is a joy to crunch.
  • More reading after lunch and sometimes more work/play via the computer.
  • Some outside chores including nurturing the plants that gives me further purpose in cancer recovery
  • Then it is meal preparation or simply getting small frozen version of an earlier meal from the freezer. Batch cooking is the way I go: meat meals made with mince, lamb shanks, beef slow cooked and of course teensy cakes for treats. I love them too.

Now I know this about my new normal.

I need to appreciate this new normal and the state of health I am in. So far, almost 2 years since diagnosis, there has been no return of cancer. I have the best health professionals looking after me and I am grateful eternally for them, their skills and their care.

I will continue to learn more about myself as I both age, and get used to ‘what’s inside my mouth’. I do know that pain comes and goes. I also am reassured that my mouth continues to be healthy inside and I am caring for it well.

I do not have any mobility problems with my right leg even though the fibula was removed for my new jaw. Thanks too for the skin and flesh, right leg!

I am loved and cared for by many as I do of them. This is a very good way to live.

In my 70th year I continue to enjoy creating with art, meeting up with friends for coffee rather than a meal, travelling to other cities by car for events and entertaining our family, along with continuing my engagement with school education, and promoting more about the awareness of this rare, but not nice, cancer called Head and Neck Cancer.

My new normal is awesome.

Denyse.

This post is being shared on link ups here, on Wednesday and  here on Thursday.

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On Learning About Eating. Part One.10/2019.

On Learning About Eating.  Part One. 10/2019.

I have been eating my way through life for over 69 years now. As anyone does.

Yes, I “am” the baby. I also know my grandmother (left) and Dad struggled with weight issues too.

But, I still do not understand much about eating ….unless it is:

  • diet-based (fail)
  • managing to eat enough for nourishment after cancer surgery in my mouth (pass/fail/maybe)
  • how to moderate my choices for more than a day or so ( pass or is it fail?)

Why I am I writing about this topic?

It has puzzled me (and I am thinking many who read this) why I ate. Because I know it was often not based on sound nutritional practices and in fact was in some way disordered. I do not have an eating disorder but I do/did eat like this:

  • some secretive ways – late at night or when no-one was around
  • using stashes of chocolate to soothe me
  • having take-away food in the car

I have written a long post here about my “weight” and how I played “possum” about it. No-one could (or dared) mention it yet I was/still can be ashamed of my behaviour.

Since my cancer surgeries where I lost more weight through not being ABLE to eat much, I did enjoy the unexpected outcome of buying lovely clothes to fit me and to show my newly acquired physique…thanks to oral cancer…

And that was lovely and I will always appreciate that time in my life from October 2017 to around the same time in 2018.

Some examples of my pre-upper prosthesis meals. Mind you I cannot face any of these as a meal now I am post-teeth.

Then I began to eat more food from late August 2018 on. Because I could. Oh and it tasted so good, the senses were in over-drive and the fact that I could now BITE, CRUNCH and CHEW was amazing. This happened because “I got my upper prosthesis”. Yay.

And my weight has crept up. What did I do? I was glad I could eat from a wider (pardon the pun) range of foods but I sensed my retreat into anxiety about my appearance and that it would become noticeable to others. Early in 2019 my husband could see my emotional state had become less content since my early months of “having teeth” euphoria and we had a very frank discussion where I confessed I was worried I had not learned anything new about eating despite the privations of 14 months with no upper teeth. Because of cancer. If you want to read about my cancer, here is the page with the posts.

Organised and planner me took over for a while and this is what I came up with since that chat:

  • weigh-in once a month
  • focus when I go out on coffee part not the add-on of a food such as donuts, date loaf or muffin
  • eat more regularly: make specific time ranges for three meals a day. Add snacks.
  • plan groceries around my meals (my husband and I eat a shared meal a few times only in a week)
  • resist late-night snacking in bed by allowing hunger to be felt
  • speaking kindly towards myself in any times of difficulty (this is such a different me to old, punitive me)
  • look at the facts about my appearance rather than the perceptions aka mind-based ones
  • move more each day – it has been very hot so it has been better to stay home than to get outside BUT I can walk more when I go to a coffee place in a shopping centre

Then I heard about Mindful Eating. As someone who has practised mindfulness as part of my cancer recovery time along with when I am faced with anxious and scary times, I was very interested. So I bought the two books AND am now listening via CD to this program.

I KNEW I ate for more reasons than stomach hunger! The author who knows from experience of both an early eating issue, is a doctor and a mindfulness practitioner has opened my mind! I am doing some of the exercises and I now know I (we) eat to satisfy:

  • eye hunger
  • nose hunger
  • stomach hunger
  • mouth hunger
  • heart hunger
  • mind hunger
  • cellular hunger

The tracks on the CD are listed here. I am a work-in-progress of course.

Here’s what I am learning so far:

  • I eat visually: eyes it seems come first BUT
  • I also eat by the stomach so I recognise the feelings of fullness
  • I KNEW I ate from mouth hunger but had no idea why. It explains how much I (we) miss chewing, crunching, savouring and tasting….as I did in my 14 months after cancer surgeries.
  • I need to care for and about myself around this issue of eating. Not say anything negative about what I am doing. The inner critic needs to be back in her place. Doing well so far.
  • I need to eat at regular intervals but to also feel the stomach hunger too. I am very much into the early stages of making things around eating work for me but am proud now that I:
  • meal plan – and include some protein at each main meal
  • snacks are well & truly covered and are linked to helping my meet my mouth hunger, visual hunger and heart hunger
  • can look at my image in the mirror or photo and be proud of the body that has helped me overcome cancer 
  • am learning lessons about eating I wish I had known a long time ago

29 Jan 19 : Writing this post after going out for coffee and groceries.

Part Two will be an update. This is most definitely a project in health and head and neck cancer recovery worth taking my time over.

Is eating something you struggle with?

How do you make eating choices?

I would love to know more in the comments!

Denyse.

Joining with Sue here and Leanne for the Wednesday link up MidLife Share The Love.

 

 

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Two Steps Forward. One Step Back. My Cancer Recovery Update. 2018.126.

I am dedicating this post to the memory of a lovely woman whose life was cut too short by cancer. Chelsea, my friend Leanne’s step-daughter lived life to the max. Cancer may have been ‘in her’ but cancer did not take her spirit nor her love of life…and for her family including her husband and your daughter. My shared experience with Chelsea was that we were both patients of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and because of that connection I wrote one of the Letters to Chelsea Leanne mentions on her blog.

Thank you for sharing the love and the life of Chelsea dear Leanne.

 

Two Steps Forward. One Step Back. My Cancer Recovery Update. 2018.126.

Update to update: even though I have outlined what was disappointing to me in this post which was an event from last weekend it has also taught me more about my capabilities in eating than I knew. I like many had tended to think eating with new teeth in my gums would be ‘back to what it was’. Not so, and I am now being more realistic and flexible.

Yesterday, 30 November, I turned 69. I had a wonderful and low key birthday celebration at a morning tea for two with my dear husband. We chatted, ate well, had our favourite drinks – small latte with an extra shot for me and English breakfast tea for him. Afterwards we wandered through the grounds of this lovely nursery, bought a plant each and came home to a relaxing afternoon spent at home. It really was just as I would have liked.

Except for this:

  • it has taken me sometime to adapt to some extra teeth added to my own on the lower jaw and I am very conscious of how much ‘saliva’ escapes and am constantly wiping – especially if I am talking…and drinking/eating. But with my husband or by myself I just get on with the ‘tidying up’ and enjoy what I can
  • I know my upper lip is shrinking in. I accept that. But, did you know you cannot ‘blow out the candle on your cake’ unless you get much closer…and I also cannot drink with a straw as there is no vacuum made in my mouth
  • I have a small but significant pain area in my….index left hand finger…the dominant one..the one where I write, draw and play. I have had pain in the tip of it before, as there is significant arthritis in the joint below. But not as bad as this. Our G.P. could not see anything affecting it from the outside, so he advised anti-inflammatories for a few days.
  • both of the above are so small, in the overall scheme of things I know, but I am writing about them (not using the left index finger!) because they have both given me cause for concern today especially.

Out Socially for Lunch.

  • Last Monday I had lunch at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and was asked what I could eat. I nominated a simple cheese white bread sandwich and a lemon slice I had tried there before. Whilst I did not eat more than half of the cheese sandwich, I managed and did not feel as self-conscious as I thought. I also took my leftovers home! Win.
  • Today, I ventured to a local large club for a Christmas lunch get-t0gether with the Head and Neck Cancer group I am in. It was the first time I have gone out for anything other than coffee and cake. I gave it my best shot. It is a very friendly group and I did get to know people more today in this social setting.
  • What I found though was a reality check for me about my current status in recovery as a Head and Neck cancer patient.
  • Knowing I ‘could’ have taken the easy way out and ordered a safe coffee and cake that I knew I could handle, I decided to join in and actually have lunch! Remember I have only ever eaten a meal at home for over 2 years.
  • At the ordering desk, I asked for a small meal: I could see a baked dinner was on offer and was pretty sure I could manage some meat, potatoes, pumpkin and grave. “No”. Sorry,  we do not do small meals on Saturdays. “Can I have just one slice of meat with a couple of the vegies?” “No”. No offer of a kids’ meal (I think they would have refused that too) so I asked could I have just the potato and pumpkin and gravy. “Yes”.
  • OK. I thought, well this is a lesson. Not everyone ‘gets what they think they can’ and also maybe this establishment does not cater for people with different needs. And, I stayed quiet about it. I was a guest. Everyone else at the table was either way down the cancer recovery trail than me or could find foods to suit them.
  • I could eat one half of each vegetable and then as it takes me a while, it got cold. I had leftovers and asked if I could take them home. “No”.
  • I went and got a coffee later, no cake, chatted some more then drove home and ate….some lunch.

Why Write This?

  • It helps me to process it and maybe others who know what I am talking about can understand
  • The fact that I may have given myself something creative to do over the past 3 days as I needed to has not helped my mood much. I really miss using my finger.
  • I am hopeful, that by being patient and having the meds it will come good. Or I will go back to the G.P.
  • I am concerned I over-expect of myself, so writing this is helping me process
  • Maybe I just needed to ‘get it off my chest’ as they say!
  • It is not a post where I am wanting any sympathy but I did get insight into a world out there today that, in some respects, has no flexibility to meet special needs
  • I also know people face this as a challenge every.single.day
  • I am wondering if my ‘reaction’ was a bit of an over-reaction to a day which I had wanted to go well, and in terms of socialisation it did.
  • But it came up short for me, the head and neck cancer patient getting used to eating again in a regular environment, and so I wonder if I need to be more prepared for the situations I place myself in as I change from ‘no eating’ to ‘limited eating’ to ‘regular eating’.

It feels like two steps forward and one step back….but probably it is more like five steps forward and maybe one step back!

And maybe I will take a little container of my own next time for left-overs!

Thanks for reading!!

Denyse.

P.S. It IS most unusual for me to post on a weekend but for my emotional health I am…and I already feel better for writing it out. THIS is why I blog!!

Linking up with Leanne here for Lovin’ Life on Thursday…sending love to Leanne and her family. xx

 

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