Thursday 24th June 2021

My Head & Neck Cancer Patient Update. Been A While! 51.1/2021.

My Head & Neck Cancer Patient Update. Been A While! 51.1/2021.

I am coming up to four years since my head and neck cancer diagnosis on 17.5.2017.

I wrote a great deal over the years about my head and neck cancer to both help myself process it all, over the many times I faced challenges including surgeries and long recovery times and I wrote for others. This is why my blog has a head and neck page to be found here.

Then in late November I wrote this.…and was very pleased to put my head and neck cancer posts away. Even though, I have included parts of this in various posts such as Life This Week and Telling My Story since, today is the first time I am writing an update.

What Happened When I Was Issued With My Upper Prosthesis.

  • I smiled A LOT.
  • I had an expectation to be able to eat foods I had missed.
  • I was told, I now know was a feeble attempt at a joke, by one of the prosthodontists, that I had to bite into an apple before I could leave the day I got those teeth.
  • I am so annoyed  disappointed, even over two years later, that I was misled with some kind of joke because life WITH an upper prosthesis is nothing like having my own teeth or even an upper denture.
  • I have no feeling in my upper lip as it too had cancer and was partially reconstructed.
  • I could eat some foods I had missed initially: missing crunchy foods….but I have to guide whatever I am eating towards my mouth and use my tongue to sense what is coming, and then the food is put in my mouth by me
  • I still have challenges.
  • I still, after all this time, cannot always guess the right amounts of a food and suffer with mouth spillage at the sides.
  • I often put too much on a fork or spoon…because I am hungry…because the food is warm…because that is life time habit

These are lessons I am continuing to learn each day…and it’s my third year of living with the reconstruction in my mouth.

My inner mouth – gums at the front and behind the upper prosthesis are skin that was harvested from my thigh. My palate is the same. My wonderfully kind and knowledgable prosthodontist (not the ‘joker’) tells me skin from the leg was never meant to be in our mouths so it will always be a challenge in terms of my management to keep it healthy as I can and for me to put up with the level of daily discomfort.

What Life Is Like For Me Now As a Recovered and Well Head & Neck Cancer Patient.

  • There is no sign of cancer within me. My head and neck surgeon does not need to see me until September 2021 – a full year since last visit
  • I am seeing my prosthodontist in mid May to have a 6 month check and CT scan for bone changes.
  • I am self-caring well for the upkeep of cleanliness inside my mouth using a water pik daily, a micro brush around the abutments I can reach and cleaning my upper prosthesis, partial denture and remaining 8 teeth with care.
  • There has been no addition gum overgrowth and for that I am incredibly grateful.
  • I keep smiling.
  • I love to share my story.
  • I continue to be an Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia
  • I will reduce my local head and neck cancer group attendance
  • I will help raise funds in the Soup for the Soul event locally where I have sourced some great help from a cafe.
  • I will share the stories of others along with my updates on social media.

BUT…here is some more:

  • I continue to learn that I have to live with restrictions.
  • I can no longer eat anywhere other than home unless it’s a manageable ‘cake’ and ‘coffee’ somewhere.
  • It makes travelling overnight anywhere a bit challenging. Mostly I can take my own foods and utensils.
  • I cannot go to someone’s place for a meal and I think…even though I do not make any fuss of it…most people really do not even think to perhaps ask what may be suitable. To offend no-one, I have to say, it’s a morning tea or afternoon tea or very light lunch that I can probably eat.
  • I feel, even though I look normal, that to understand what is happening for me inside my mouth it is better that I admit to what are my limits and stick to them as I do not want to offend….
  • It is messy when I eat.
  • I often have food spill from the sides of my mouth (particularly if I have put a bit much in) and I constantly wipe the sides of my mouth needing paper towels and tissues nearby.
  • I always have water close to me.
  • I often eat alone…not because I want to but because I take so long and I can no longer really eat and talk…my husband has kindly told me, of the ‘look’ of food at the front of my mouth.

Why Update Now?

  • I was sore eating yesterday. Stinging sore inside my mouth.
  • I know I have to expect a certain level of this.
  • My mouth is much smaller inside than I remember …because of the hardware that’s been placed inside.
  • I knew I had to change somethings about my eating habits to help.
  • I did this initially by using a large teaspoon for cereal instead of a dessert spoon. It was better.
  • I have now cut up foods into small pieces and resist putting larger (as I was) amounts inside.

I am admitting my self-care and knowledge of how to help myself needed to be written and spoken about. For too long, I have looked and sounded right…and that is good…but for many of us (and now I include me) we are never the same post- head and neck cancer.

I am forever grateful for my professional team who have ensured my wellness to this day!

I used to think I couldn’t admit to having some issues because I have had such an awesome and great recovery. I now know that in being human…and a vulnerable one at that, I had to ‘out myself’.

This is why I posted today.

Update: got some largeish teaspoons. And, have cut up food into smaller pieces. Winning at changing habits!

Take care everyone,

Denyse.

 

 

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Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCDay 2019. 64/2019.

Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCday 2019. 64/2019.

It would be remiss of me not to do an update in June….yes it would!

Having a CT ‘Surveillance’ Scan.

Following my 2 year (and every 3 month) cancer check my Professor determined it was now time for a ‘baseline CT scan’ of head, neck and chest. Ok. OK! It is a funny old thing, this cancer business until you “know” what the results are. There were no visible signs anything would be found…but…

I went. I was a bit nervous. I was finished in 20 minutes. Then I waited for a day, then another. Until I sent an email: already knowing my surgeon had a huge week but hoping he had a result. He did, I was told on the phone by his lovely practice manager: “ALL CLEAR”. Yay.

That week I also visited my dentist – the person who I convinced to remove the bridge & teeth in April 2017 where cancer was eventually found. He was able to check out all that had happened in the past 9 months and clean my remaining 8 teeth. I have an amazing team caring for me.

The First Week In June 2019.

This week marked the ten years since Professor Chris O’Brien, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon, died from brain tumours. His legacy is so many people who trained and worked with him at R.P.A. and now at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. His widow Gail O’Brien said recently that without Chris getting cancer he would not have understood the need for cancer patients to be cared for nor treated as well without his vision for a ‘one stop cancer care’ place. He knew that a specialist hospital -comprehensive cancer centre – would happen but he did not know of course that its obvious name would be his in the title.

On Monday 3 June I attended Lifehouse to hear the ‘stories’ of working with, knowing and loving the man called Chris O’Brien. This was a presentation about his legacy in head and neck cancer and as a patient with #hnc as its shorthand name is on twitter, I learned from those who have treated me and who paid tribute to Chris. In fact my surgeon’s final words of his talk were “there’s a little bit of Chris in everyone’s role”.

Later when I got to say hello again to Gail and to thank her for the work of Chris O’Brien, I said even at my most scared – one day after being told I had cancer – when I walked into Chris O’Brien Lifehouse I felt different. It was not a ‘hospital’ as I knew, it was full of interesting places and spaces and caring people. I felt safe and cared for. And still do. Each time I walk in, I look up at the various images of Chris and others and I am very grateful.

Being An Ambassador For Head & Neck Cancer Awareness with Beyond Five.

In June it’s time to ramp up the Head and Neck cancer awareness as we lead into the last week of July 2019 where World Head and Neck Cancer Day is marked with programs, conferences and more on 27 July 2019.

The colours for Head and Neck cancer world-wide are Maroon/Burgundy and Cream.

 

My #HNC & #B5 Lanyard with my card & Ambassador badge

Beyond Five. 

For Head and Neck cancer patients, family and friends. This is a website and offers lots to help. It continues to grow and change but with no government funding, some donations by companies in related fields and one part-time business manager, a fund-raiser began for them in 2018 called Soup for the Soul. Soup is often a food that patients with head and neck cancer can manage and it is comforting.

Soup for the Soul is already live and I have a Virtual Soup for the Soul page here. More about that as we get closer to World Head and Neck Cancer Day on 27 July.

World Head and Neck Cancer Day: 27 July 2019.

Soup For the Soul Event at Gosford: Central Coast Cancer Centre. Tuesday 23 July 2019.

In June I will be working with the local Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at Gosford to prepare for our Soup For the Soul and Head and Neck Cancer Information and Awareness Day on Tuesday 23 July 2019 at Central Coast Cancer Centre. A year ago I went to the first occasion and met people who also had head and neck cancer and were carers and professionals too. It was the first time I had met anyone else with head and neck cancer. Now the people there have become friends of mine.

From 2018 World Head and Neck Cancer Day & Soup For the Soul at Gosford:

 

This post is to also support others around the world who will be part of the World Head and Neck Cancer Day in 2019.

Do support the charities which help with research and awareness of Head and Neck cancer.

In my case, the link in the story about my virtual Soup for the Soul event will take you directly to donate to Beyond Five’s continuing awareness updates and programs to help those affected by Head and Neck cancers.

Thanks for following my Head and Neck cancer stories. This is the link to where all of my Head and Neck cancer posts are as well as those that have been published elsewhere.

Warmest wishes

Denyse.

 

 

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One Year After My Major Cancer Surgery. 2018.59.

One Year After My Major Cancer Surgery. 2018.59.

This space, Denyse Whelan Blogs, has been a life raft to the outside world and a connection from me to you, the readers and fellow bloggers. I am aware that since my first May post “I have Cancer” there have been a significant number of posts about this cancer and me.

In reaching the 1st year anniversary of the major mouth surgery on 6 July 2017 last Friday, 6th July, I decided that whilst there will be occasional updates, there will be a general easing away from the focus as I get to look forward to a broader life view.

However, I cannot predict when that will be, as a year ago I might have been given the impression that my recovery, i.e. surgeries and healing to gum and jaw readiness for implanted teeth might be 8-9 months. I am in my 13th month now. My mouth has needed a 4th surgery and a second skin graft taken to enable the lip the be more prominent and for there to be enough space for teeth to go in. THIS is why I am on a drive every.single.week until mid August so that my excellent prosthodontist can do the best first stage of teeth for me. Implants remain much further away.

I wanted to do a snapshot of how it has been for me as I have recovered and some of the ways in which I have been able to adapt and adjust to life with no teeth on top, 8 on the bottom, and a skin graft inside my mouth, along with a bone made into a jaw.

Life went on…after hospital but I needed to adjust significantly to home life as I was restricted with movement: a boot on the leg where the surgeons had removed my fibula and skin/flesh for my mouth. I also could eat with difficulty and there were some tears via trial and error. Over time I learned how to better cater for myself after sending my husband on early day missions for soft foods like jellies and mousse. I admit I still find the eating restrictions hard but do what I can to keep up nourishment as I need protein each day and some iron-rich foods. Since late last year I started cooking mini-meals and freezing them.

I am not someone to sit around for long and once I could drive, 6 weeks after surgery, I set out for small drives to be used to both managing the car, and that I was stable on my feet when I got out. I soon re-engaged with shopping. Even though I had not enjoyed shopping before the surgery (I was anxious and I was not interested in clothes or books or even browsing) I found my shopping mojo again when I knew I needed a focus for each day. Along with the enjoyment I have always had for being near the beach or finding places to photograph, going out every day became must-do for my emotional health. I dressed well, had a photo taken and went out to chat with people I met and have a coffee and do some art.

For the first part of 2018, being holidays everywhere, I waited out the time before planned third surgery in February by distraction, activity and going to the beach as well as out for coffee. I had also had a second surgery in November 2017. It was always hoped that the February one would be my last or maybe that was just me??

The February surgery saw my mouth healing well and the prosthodontists took my stent off. This was short-lived (darn it) because my surgeon wanted it back on. Alas, the reason it was needed was the area between my upper lip and jaw was very tight and in fact left no room at all for the addition of teeth. I found out, much to my disappointment that a 4th surgery, and skin graft to make the inside of the mouth even roomier would be on in mid May.

This is where I am at now, almost 8 weeks from that time. The stent is doing the job. It has been mighty sore and uncomfortable at time but my fortnightly, now weekly visits to the prosthodontist at Westmead sees this being removed, trimmed and re-fitted. It can take over 2 hours. Nevertheless I am a very co-operative patient and I want it to work too. Over the coming month and more I will be at Westmead for longer visits and with luck on our side, the first fitting of a set of false teeth for the upper gums.

Thank you if you have read this far.

I was of two minds about posting this. I said to my husband “I am sick of my posts about cancer and recovery” and his comment was “then other people might be too.” However, I also decided that it was IMPORTANT to me to keep the update and to mark this occasion of ONE YEAR since the first surgery and that’s why this post is here. So much of my recovery has been, and still is, mental. It is about attitude, some courage and a willingness to see this through. I have been, at various times angry, impatient, teary, frustrated and downright “over it”.

However, I am MUCH better at picking myself up, dusting myself off and starting all over again…

Denyse.

 

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

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