Saturday 25th September 2021

Questions. 31/51. #LifeThisWeek 94/2021.

Questions. 31/51. #LifeThisWeek 94/2021.

I am a question-asker.

I tend to ask a lot.

I am also an answer giver too.

However, I remain naturally curious and so, as a result have asked a LOT of questions over my 71 years on earth.

When I was seen by my head and neck cancer surgeons on 18 May 2017 I may not have had many questions because to be honest I was in shock as I had only learned of the diagnosis,the day before.

So, in the weeks that followed I found I did have specific questions, that I did not want to try to navigate on-line and my husband and GP did not have knowledge, so one of the kind surgeons answered them for me after I sent an enquiry to my head and neck surgeon’s office. His words helped me so much and reduced my worries.

I also found out then:

Do NOT be afraid to ask questions. There are no SILLY questions.

It’s now over 4 years since I was that very worried woman in a clinic room at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, where the head and neck team met us: me the patient with B my (now) carer.

August 2017

I have, over the years, also had the help of a psychologist to get my somewhat faulty  thinking and ideas sorted. I was not a 100% emotionally well in the years 2014 into early 2017 but I am also a problem solver. However this was one problem I could not solve by thinking my way through. I needed to both accept the emotional upsets I had and why along with the BIG life transitions I was coming to terms with. I have written about some of those experiences in past posts.

Before I continue. Last year, this head and neck surgeon from Adelaide tweeted his explanation for cancer. I have always felt there is an element of ‘blame’ attached to some cancers. These words resonated. Thank you @guylrees.

 

This year I was sent a copy of a book which I said I would review. There was a throwaway line by me when I saw its title via social media when I said to the publisher, send me a copy and I will review it. Exisle Publications were serious. They did.

I have read the book by Dr Toni Lindsay and it answered even more questions for me.

  • Questions I did not know I even wanted answers for.
  • That is the thing about a cancer diagnosis, sometimes it takes a long time to determine what you need or want to know next.
  • This then is my summing up of the book: from a Head and Neck Cancer Patient At Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

I have never met Dr Toni Lindsay but I do know of the many other professional services that are offered where I had my surgeries.

 

The Cancer Companion: How to navigate your way from diagnosis to treatment and beyond by Dr Toni Lindsay.

My Views As a Cancer Patient.

  • This is a well-written and set out guide, and its name suggests it can accompany a person (cancer patient, family member, carer) throughout the cancer experience.
  • It’s easy to read, and divided into sections:

Part One: On Treatment.

  • And then it was cancer
  • Normal
  • Finding your purpose and meaning. Part 1.
  • Preparing the treatment and having a plan
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery

I identified strongly with ‘hearing you have cancer’ as it still comes as a shock even though I had guessed. Of course, for me, like all, there were fears and worries. Lots of days when I know I would be doing something, and then it would hit me like a punch. “I have cancer”.

So, what I got from this part, as someone who remembers how it was, is that all is perfectly within an expectation as a newly- diagnosed patient.

Having a plan helped me but the plan often came in the form of a check list from me, to prepare for trips to Sydney where I would need to have surgeries, treatments at the prosthodontist and for the first year, my husband would need to drive me and stay somewhere close by while I was in hospital.

Even though we no longer lived in Sydney where everything I needed for my on-going treatment, we felt fine with the drive, and sometimes a stay overnight. My husband bore the brunt of times waiting…sometimes visiting our family, other times going for long drives until he heard he could pick me up.

We are also fully retired (aged over 70) and so making a plan was relatively easy as we did not have to take work and family priorities into account. There is quite a bit in this part for carers too.

Part Two: Off Treatment.

  • Finishing treatment
  • What if it comes back?
  • Finding your purpose and meaning. Part 2.
  • Why is everyone behaving like I am back to normal?

My reactions to what I read here were as if Dr Lindsay was in my head!

It did help ‘normalise’ my thinking and my progress.

For that I was grateful to have confirmation from someone professional.

I have a husband who is a trained counsellor and his help was good in that he could sometimes ‘calm my farm’ as they say when my emotions when a bit awry.

I am now, almost 100% able to do this for myself.

Ah. The advantages of time passing and experience as well as cancer free results at surveillance visits.

 

Part Three: Living With Advanced Cancer.

  • Living with advanced cancer
  • Finding your purpose and meaning. Part 3.
  • Planning and decision-making (even if you don’t need it!)

I read this section with feelings of sadness because I know of friends with head and neck cancer, and other cancers, who are living with advanced cancer.

I do know, however, that if there can be others support systems for example, psychologists and/or palliative care team with experience of helping people through, the prospect of what MAY lie ahead could feel less fear-based.

I would highly recommend not only reading this section but acting upon the help offered too. 

 

Part Four: The Psychology Part: How Can I Manage All of this.

  • Mood vs treatment
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Fatigue and exercise
  • Body Image
  • Relationships and sexuality
  • Working
  • Being present
  • Being grateful
  • Managing other people
  • Pain

I have a great G.P. He started being my G.P. about 6 weeks before my diagnosis in May 2017.

Like my husband, he has been what I call a ‘cheerleader’.

Someone in my life who helps, encourages and supports me.

In the various times when I have been worried and scared, and this was prevalent a LOT in the first year, he was a voice of reason and reassurance.

I also have a professional team in Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and at Westmead Oral Sciences who I can call or email. Their help, at the other end of the phone after I have sent a photo or text has been exemplary.

In turn, all of the above has helped me see my way through.

Having a rare cancer: both statistically and type, I often found “I” became and still am, the expert in my mouth and its care. I

have learned a lot from those who helped reconstruct my mouth, along with my local dentist, but from my 4th year of recovery (about this time in 2020) I became the ‘one who knew’ most about my cancer and my recovery.

Some Final Thoughts.

This is a section in the book…

and I will add mine.

Knowing how I felt at the beginning of my diagnosis and how hard it was to concentrate with the spectre of an 11 hour surgery ahead of me, I could not have contemplated picking this book up and reading it.

I did ask my husband though and he says it would have been ok for him to have it at that stage.

Now, as I review my reactions and responses to my cancer in over 4 years, I would have been ready by about a year in.

That was for me.

Oh, and about the red balloon on the cover. It took me a while to find out about its significance. Dr Lindsay uses the balloon the illustrate how when holding a balloon on a string, it may occasionally pop back onto you, just like the occasional anxious thinking about cancer. In other words, the thoughts do come and go but they are not there forever. Or indeed they can be batted away. No longer controlling us. 

Others may see it differently.

Thank you to Dr Lindsay and those at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse who support patients and families and carers on the psychological path of a cancer diagnosis.

Thanks too, to Exisle Publishing for the book. No payment was made to me for this review, it was the gift of the book only. I am a truth teller and this is my review.

I give my permission for Exisle Publishing and Dr Lindsay to use my words within this post.

Denyse Whelan.

Blog Disclaimer:

My stories and photos along with suggested links and websites must not be seen as medical advice.

I write this blog from my experience as a head and neck cancer patient.  Denyse Whelan. 2021.

Link Up #251

Life This Week. Link Up #251

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. It’s a kind connection I value as a blogger! 

* 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, sales and any that are overly religious or political or in any way offensive in nature.

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Head & Neck Cancer: Eating & Drinking Challenges. 29/51 #LifeThisWeek. 88/2021.

Head & Neck Cancer: Eating & Drinking Challenges. 29/51 #LifeThisWeek. 88/2021.

 

July: World Head and Neck Cancer Day. 27.7.2021.

As it’s July, I am publishing more posts relating to Head and Neck Cancer as 27 July is World Head and Neck Cancer Day. It only started back in 2014 I think, with Michael Douglas the actor making the speech to open the world congress for all Head and Neck Professionals. Michael has had #hnc as it’s often abbreviated.

In my role as an Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia, I will share more on-line and links about it too.

Blog Disclaimer: see end of post.

Denyse:

Those of you who have followed me before and since I was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, know that I continue to write and share about this awful cancer which affects more people than ever. And, for me, back in 2017 I was completely ignorant of its existence.

To inform, educate and to make aware is what I like to think is something I can contribute these days on-line.

I’ve been given a new book to help cancer patients and their carers to read and review. It’s by Dr Toni Lindsay, a qualified Clinical and Health Psychologist who works in Oncology at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. This quote resonated with me, as I am guessing it would with the other people I have mentioned in this post:

Eating is one of our most social activities and often forms much of our connection and engagement with our family and friends. Feeling you are not able to engage in this way can be overwhelming and isolating. So if you are likely to be unable to eat for extended periods of time *it is perhaps worth thinking of ways in which you can continue in social activities that don’t involved food. 

*We understand this, of course, as part of our recovery but, we are also able to eat again and yet, it remains a challenge. Please read on! Thank you.

This is why I am sharing about the challenges of eating and drinking after head and neck cancer with a lot of help from my friends, and Head and Neck Cancer Australia.

This is one place you could find information:

https://www.headandneckcancer.org.au/health-and-wellbeing/diet-and-nutrition/nutrition-videos

This image from the day of filming at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Here is my blog post about that day, the ways in which I have had to adapt my eating and drinking and more.

And those of you who know me in real life, know that I can socialise but it’s helpful for me to have a coffee and something sweet to eat so I tend to choose going to a late morning tea with friends and family and they may have lunch. I cannot eat a meal outside the house unless it’s with family and I can pick & choose. Sound fussy? Not really but practical.

You see my mouth can only hold so much food at a time, and chewing only has two small areas in my mouth, towards the front and food congregates there as I try to get it right for swallowing with ease and not choking.

It’s something that you cannot tell by looking at me, right? But it is like this and I now share more frankly as a result.

I also lose fluid at the side of my mouth unless I keep up with the paper towels/tissues. My upper lip was reconstructed and it does not seal any more. However, it is all pretty good, and the more I share, the less I am embarrassed I guess.

Maureen:

Like me, Maureen is often seen on social media with a coffee in front of her. It is NOT the same double shot as mine but one she truly enjoys and can have it with friends.

Maureen is  a Woman of Courage who told her story here.

She sent me these notes about her eating & drinking challenges.

What adaptations have you had to make to daily life and eating/drinking post head and neck cancer?

  1. My case is unusual and my eating is marred by dribbling so I have to have facecloths to my lips every time I consume anything.
  2. I’ve lost teeth and my marginal mandibular nerve.
  3. I have two boxes of cloths, one on each end of the sofa and I take at least 3 wherever I go.
  4. Believe me, tissues are not enough, even big fat hospital tissues. I
  5. have to do a machine wash every day.
  6. Never had any help with this as I guess there is nothing else you can do.

What advice would you give to others as they recover and are back ‘in the real world’ post HNC?

My advice as such is that it is good to meet up with other non-social eaters and have a coffee.

Coffee is manageable – in fact I often have two cups when I’m with “normals” who are eating. Maureen’s personal blog about Head and Neck Cancer is here. 

Maureen is one of the leaders of this amazing Head and Neck Cancer Facebook Group and she is also the person who blogs about head and neck cancer here and has been instrumental with other people connected with head and neck charity in New Zealand, starting this way of helping others. Head and Neck Cancer Aotearoa Charitable Trust. https://hncsa.org.nz/

IF a family member or someone you know does have a diagnosis of a head and neck cancer or that person is a carer, the value of a good facebook group cannot be over-done.

The friendly space that IS this group for eligible people to request membership is a good one. https://www.facebook.com/groups/HNCSupport.Aotearoa

There are people from all over the world but the group is not huge so personal connections can be made. It is mainly made up of New Zealanders, and Aussies too…along with those from the U.S. There are questions to be answered to join and it IS strictly for those with a head and neck cancer. Link is here.

 

Yvonne:

Readers here have met Yvonne via her post as a Woman of Courage here. 

Yvonne has appeared in an on-line Soup for The Soul event for Head and Neck Cancer Australia last year when we were prevented from doing anything ‘live’ because of COVID. Yvonne’s cancer has changed so much about her life, and the link here, to her newly published book tells more.
1.What adaptations have you had to make to daily life and eating/drinking post head and neck cancer?
  • Meals and what they consist of have completely changed for me.
  • I note now I eat a lot more vegetable and pulses.
  • I do add fruit to my smoothies but sadly just biting into fruit and eating it is out of my range unless it’s mango, lychee or something of that consistency.
  • Drinking alcohol is now pretty much non existent and I was quite the drinker in that I was a party girl and loved nothing more than to sit with friends over a bottle of sparkling or 3 !

So that has also changed for me. It has had a bigger impact too I think because pretty much COVID hit when I was convalescing and of course I had already quit my job and moved countries.

Picking at food and tasting whilst cooking is non existent too these days, I miss just jamming my finger in my mouth to taste stuff, my taste buds thankfully have come back but I still surprise myself with flavour layering occasionally and find sharp and sudden flavours ( acid and sour) sometime confrontational.
What advice would you give to others as they recover and are back ‘in the real world’ post HNC?
I am also very keen to see more support around the emotional and psychological fallout of HNC treatment, I think this has a huge impact as does food in terms of how people come out the other side.

Do my program!  : )  Mind Food Body Program as part of the nofeedingtubes movement.

Yvonne introduced me to this word. Yes, I understand this well. Thank you.

Commensality – eating and drinking at the same table – is a fundamental social activity, which creates and cements relationships. It also sets boundaries, including or excluding people according to a set of criteria defined by the society.

 

Marty:

Marty is a fellow Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia. He and I chatted recently about the challenges of eating post head and neck cancer.

We met back in September 2018 and I was so excited to not only meet up but to share a photo as I had only just had my “teeth” installed.

Interestingly some of his responses were ones I have heard before from members of the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group.

Marty is more than 17 years post his cancer treatments. Radiation was one.

Marty spoke of limitations of eating rice, fried rice and spicy foods.

Food that were previously enjoyed. It seems taste and texture remains an issue.

And often because of the loss of salivary glands or damage, swallowing becomes hard.

So like others I asked, Marty finds he has to adapt his eating practices often making sure there is a liquid element to the meal such as soup – this is why the fundraiser for head and neck cancer focusses on soup – and to have a drink of water nearby.

Most of us carry out own small bottles of water.

For some of us, it’s a lack of saliva and we need to replenish our mouths to be able to talk. For others it’s about making sure some lingering food crumbs and pieces can go down.

This group photo of some member of the Central Coast Head and Neck Support group at Christmas time 2020 tells an unwritten story.

 

At this table there are 7 head and neck cancer ‘survivors’.

  • Each of us has had different treatments and each of us has been left with eating (and sometimes drinking) challenges when we go out.
  • There were some here who had to have lots of gravy (as an extra) added to their meals, others asked for their meal to be “blended”…oh that is not something some places like to do.
  • Seriously hard on the person who could have enjoyed the baked dinner that way.
  • Instead, from memory the meal became mashed potato and gravy.
  • Others had to make sure there was nothing spicy or with chillis.
  • And as for me, you already know, I chose what I knew I could eat from a mouth concern and how much my stomach could handle.
  • I enjoyed coffee and some date loaf. I have learned not to be embarrassed because the social part of the get together was for me, the important part.

And More From Denyse.

I cannot use a straw any more. My mouth does not seal.

I can have a Christmas lunch. It just needs to be adapted by me.

Here is what I ate on Christmas Day 2020 at home. We were in a covid concerning time and chose not to go to Sydney. So, I made up for my disappointment this way.

Soup for The Soul.

Sadly, due to on-going Covid19 restrictions and closures in our area of New South Wales, this event will not proceed as hoped on World Head and Neck Cancer Day. We “are” however, hopeful of having it at another time. 

Tracey and Me: Soup For the Soul.

Tammy.

In keeping with my own learning about the effects of head and neck cancer, I am adding a paragraph, written by a woman who is both carer and wife in a long term marriage and as things go, can never again have the pleasure of the simplest thing: eating a meal with her husband who has had devastating head and neck cancers taking away his ability to talk – he can communicate via Ipad, but his wife can no longer remember how he sounded…but it’s this, as she gave me permission to share, that I feel needs to be thought about and taken into consideration:

I also think of those who never eat again. For many of this group, communication/talking is not an option either. I know its a very small/rare group , but it’s one dear to me. Socialising involves talking, eating and drinking with others . Its what makes us Human Beings. For a small group of H&Ners, none of this is possible.

Thank you Tammy. I am grateful for your words.

Denyse.

My stories and photos along with suggested links and websites must not be seen as medical advice. I write this blog from my experience as a head and neck cancer patient. Words from others are accordingly from their personal experience and not to be taken as nutritional/dietary/medical advice. Seek what you might need from qualified health professional  who understand the needs of cancer patients.  Denyse Whelan. 2021.

Link Up #249

Life This Week. Link Up #249

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. It’s a kind connection I value as a blogger! 

* 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, sales 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: Share Your Snaps. #6. Mine Will Relate to Head & Neck Cancer Awareness. 

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Share Your Snaps #6. 30/51*. #LifeThisWeek. 81/2019.

Share Your Snaps #6. 30/51*. #LifeThisWeek. 81/2019.

*The World Head & Neck Cancer Day and Soup For the Soul Version 2019.

Every 5 weeks here, there is a photo-based post called “Share Your Snaps.” I sometimes need to add words…that’s me. This time around I am letting the photos tell the story of World Head and Neck Cancer Day and Beyond Five’s Fundraiser: Soup for the Soul.

July 2019.

July has been chosen internationally (since 2015 I believe) to have one date noted as “World Head and Neck Cancer Day” 27.7.19. Like most ‘events’ health-wise, this one has an origin in the U.S. and the colours for Head and Neck cancer internationally are maroon (burgundy) and cream. In Australia those who follow Queensland in State of Origin would be impressed. Moving on.

The only charity devoted to Head and Neck cancer awareness in Australia is Beyond Five. Regular readers will know as a head and neck cancer patient I was keen to help share information about this little-known cancer and late in 2018 I was invited to become a volunteer Ambassador. I have written more here.

How did this July go?

I held a virtual Soup for the Soul event which raised $355. $385 as of time of publication! Thank you all.

My Soup for the Soul

I promoted Soup for the Soul via social media and there was also a ‘real event’ at the Central Coast Cancer Centre: hosted by the centre and the head and neck support group with donations of soup, rolls, the space in which to hold the event, prizes we got as donations for a raffle and my tiny cupcakes were sold. There were quite a few of our group there and here we are. FYI, in this photo there are 7 of us with head and neck cancer.

Some snaps from the day.

Beyond Five Information Sharing.

Promotion of WHNCD and Soup for The Soul via My Local M.P.

Last year, the Federal M.P. for Dobell, our area, Emma McBride kindly came to our place to meet with me to hear more about head and neck cancer and to support Soup for the Soul.

July 2018.

From time to time, I have kept Emma apprised on my progress, and recently wrote to her about this year’s event. She was able to meet with me, on the ACTUAL World Head and Neck Cancer Day to both offer her support and then share via social media. Emma and I also discussed the importance of carers and she is now the shadow minister for carers and mental health. Thank you Emma and also Jacqui for organising this!

July 2019.

What Next?

I admit I need a little break from all things head and neck cancer but then again, how I would do that when it is part of me, I am not sure!!

I am making a walk each day my focus and I am getting back to noticing nature and of course, the dressing with purpose and going for a coffee EVERY day remains essential to my wellbeing.

How do you go looking after yourself after an intense time of busy-ness?

Denyse.

 

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

Next week’s link up: 31/51 Gratitude 5/8/19

 

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Head & Neck Cancer: “Beyond Five” Ambassadorship.2018.130.

Head & Neck Cancer:”Beyond Five” Ambassadorship.2018.130.

Last week I wrote a post called Farewell and Hello. It was pretty long so I stopped at Farewell promising to be back for Hello. Here we go!

Regular followers here know that I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in my upper gums and under the top lip. The whole story is here, in posts, from the day I was told until the recent post on adjusting my eating requirements when I am out of the house.

Hello, I am now a Beyond Five Ambassador!

How this came about was partly after this day in October 2018 when I was back at ‘my’ hospital Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, but I had offered earlier this year if there was any way I could help spread the news about head and cancer awareness I would like to do so. I had already been sharing the work of Beyond Five here on the blog for World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2018.

Following that day, the Board of Beyond Five met, Sr Froggatt and Professor Clark are board members and Nadia Rosin is Manager, Business & Communications,  and I then received a formal letter of invitation to become a Beyond Five Ambassador.

Role of Community Ambassador

  • • Share your personal head and neck cancer story for use in Beyond Five communication e.g. website, social media portals etc.
  • • Raise awareness of Beyond Five through family, friends, other personal connections.
  • • Where possible, attend events e.g. patient support group meetings, education days to help raise awareness of Beyond Five.
  • • Support Beyond Five grant applications where relevant e.g. as a consumer representative.
  • • Provide feedback to Beyond Five to help us improve and develop the way we work.

About Beyond Five.

Background

Beyond Five was established in December 2014 and is Australia’s only not-for-profit organisation supporting patients with head and neck cancer, caregivers, family and health professionals.

Beyond Five was established to provide evidence based, comprehensive, easy to understand and easy to access information to everyone, regardless of where they live.

Beyond Five is the first organisation in Australia supporting patients and their families through their cancer journey, from diagnosis to treatment and life after cancer.

Mission

Beyond Five’s mission is to improve the quality of life of everyone affected by head and neck cancer through education and access to support and to raise awareness of head and neck cancer nationally. We are committed to working collaboratively with all specialties across Australia to achieve our mission.

 

I have joined the inaugural Ambassador, Julie McCrossin and Marty Doyle too. Their stories and mine, can now be found here on the Beyond Five site. There will be more ‘thinking time’ for my involvement and what form it may take as everyone is going to be on a break soon. We are getting together in February 2019. I look forward to helping where I can especially now I am post almost all of my cancer treatments and now in ‘check-up and check-in’ mode.

I know that I am keen and ready to help others learn more about head and neck cancer as it is not well-known. In fact I had no idea you could get squamous cell carcinoma inside your mouth (and other areas of the skin inside the head & neck region, till my day of diagnosis in May 2017.

And here we are sending Season’s Greetings.

I wish that no-one had cancer of any kind, of course, but the fact of life is we do. I want as many do, to help pay back the time and effort and research that has gone into the amazing surgeries and mouth reconstructions I had. That I can smile and eat well again is testament to the wonderful work of my team and their integration of allied professionals too. I have written posts about how many helped get me well again. Now, it’s onward….and to say I am glad to be an Ambassador for Beyond Five is an understatement. It is an honour and a privilege to be in this new role.

I want to do the role justice, and help others as I too have been helped.

Thank you to the Board of Beyond Five for entrusting me with this role as your Ambassador.

Denyse.

Joining with Sue and Leanne here for Midlife Share the Love and with Leanne here for Lovin Life link up.

 

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My Bookmarks & The Big Hug Box. 2018.121.

My Bookmarks & The Big Hug Box. 2018.121.

Regular readers would know I have a ‘thing’ for creating with paint, markers, crayons and pencils. In fact, this creative side of mine has bloomed in the past few years. I made a pact this year to create daily and I did until about a month ago. Here’s the post about my creations which focussed mostly about mandalas. I will come to the bookmarks soon!

I am someone who has learned to enjoy the process of creating as well as the product. Many of my mandalas have been given away or made into coasters and placemats after laminating.

Before mandalas became a thing for me, I created patterns in grids, patterns in free form and more. I just get/got a lot of relaxation and meditative experiences through taking my time, letting my mind flow and enjoying the sensations of adding colour to blank pages.

Then: I still am a product-person too! I began to make bookmarks using strips of the patterns for friends and family. I laminated them and it was pleasing to see them being used and appreciated by others.

But: I ran out of people to give them to…

Until: I heard of the Big Hug Box. Lisa Greissl, a cancer patient herself 3 years ago, wanted to help ‘give back’ and to raise funds for cancer research. I followed Lisa via the Big Hug Box and could see how special her “boxes of hugs via gifts and more” were. I wanted to help by contributing and asked Lisa would my bookmarks work in her gift boxes.

Her response was as joyful and positive as she is. YES. Emphatically YES. A bright, hand-made bookmark would be a great addition.

I loved my skills being helpful to others with cancer. In fact, I was stoked to see an Instagram photo from a friend I met via blogging…who sadly has cancer…but had a Big Hug Box given to her and one of MY bookmarks was in there. I felt like I had contributed to her HUG.

Above is a selection of my most recent delivery to Lisa: 200 bookmarks. I have probably donated well over 100 before this!  I admit I now streamline my making.

  • Firstly, the art is cut into suitable size,
  • I have sheets of coloured card which I cut to match The Big Hug Box’s dimensions. I need, in future, to make slightly smaller ones for the Random Hugs of Kindness Boxes.
  • I paste my patterned paper on one side of the card
  • On the other side I add a now-signature Owl stamp at the top of the bookmark and a little quote that is on the bottom
  • Somewhere along this side of the bookmark I write an individual “My Bookmark”, later I embellish that side with some dots of paint.
  • On the front, where the pattern is, I often add a star, or heart symbol sticker and then as Lisa suggested, a little message from me on a sticker: Hand Made For You By Denyse Whelan Who Blogs Here: denysewhelan.com.au
  • Then I place 4 or 5 into an A4 laminate sheet and start the slow but careful job of feeding them in.
  • Lastly, over time again, I trim each card and the group becomes  individual bookmarks.

I do take a few days to a week to make a group of bookmarks. I recently made 60 on top of these at the request of the Central Coast Cancer Centre Head & Neck/Lung Nurse who is part of the group I meet with once a month. She will be adding them to new patient packs.

One reason I continue to make these is that I can share my love and care for another person affected by cancer as I was. I do make a definite and  conscious decision as I create each one to send loving kindness.

Update!

A little while back, Lisa, who lives only 5o minutes away was planning a “packing of Big Hug Boxes and Random Acts of Kindness Boxes” morning at her place and I accepted her invitation to attend. There were a few of us connected to Lisa via friendship and/or cancer. I even got to meet the creator of Colour Me Well who asked me to supply some of my mandalas for cards she was selling to patients.

It was a heart-warming morning, and at the completion, we had some photos taken. Lisa then went to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on Monday 12 November to deliver 40 boxes, ready for gifting to cancer patients, and donated by various groups and individuals. I was thrilled to play a small role.

There is much to be said from helping our fellow humans and connecting and for those of us with cancer even moreso. Do check out Lisa’s wonderful work on The Big Hug box and she is now partnered by Cancer Aid app (another start-up from Chris O’Brien Lifehouse). Do share the information about the Big Hug Box widely…it helps all of us.

Lisa’s story on Channel Tenhttps://tendaily.com.au/news/good-news/a180530vxb/cancer-survivor-gives-back-with-the-big-hug-box-20180530

Thank you Lisa for your initiative and hard work. I know it’s for the love of it too but with a young family and working, it is a lot that you do for many!

Denyse.

Joining Kylie for I Blog On Tuesdays here and Sue & Leanne here for Midlife Share The Love linky on Wednesdays.

 

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Cancer Is Always ‘There’. 2018.84

Cancer Is Always ‘There’. 2018.84

It is rare these days for me to compose a post and publish it immediately. I have planned posts, scheduled posts and draft posts. Today is different.

I need to write out my truth and my feelings based on recent, significant events for me: a Cancer Patient.

What Do I Mean “Cancer is always ‘there’?”

  • Once diagnosed with cancer I held onto the belief, rightly or wrongly, that my surgery would eliminate the cancer in my upper gums and behind one side of my top lip.
  • It did. In terms of reports back from the many lab results, biopsies at the time of the major surgery in July 2017, and the reassurances from my professional team.
  • However, I do, like many others who have been diagnosed with cancer, “know” that it could come back in another way or form….and also that the reason for my four surgeries has been because I had/have cancer.
  • The many (22 now) visits to Westmead Oral Sciences to have treatments and checks for the progress of my mouth healing, stent wearing and health of my gums is because of cancer.
  • This came home to me yesterday, ONE week after re-gaining what I thought I wanted most: my smile, when it appears that the top lip (cancer site) is tightening again and I need to do some exercises to help it gain more suppleness.
  • There I was, thinking (albeit naively) that the cancer thing was almost gone.
  • Nope, no and not at all really. Check ups, doctor’s visits, mouth checks …..it is not gone nor over by a long way.

Explaining My Mixed Emotions and Responses/Reactions via My Photos.

 

Thank you for reading.
I wonder if any readers who have cancer/had cancer might identify with this.
I am a relative newbie (only 15+ months since diagnosis) yet it feels like I have had cancer forever.
I guess I do.

Cancer is always ‘there’.

Denyse.

Linking with Sue and Leanne here for MidLife Share The Love linky.

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Oral Health & More From This Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 2018.71.

Oral Health & More From This Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 2018.71.

I know!

Another post about Head and Neck Cancer!

But there is a very good reason why!

Not many people, including our “every day” health professionals are all that familiar with the signs of a possible Head and Neck Cancer. This is why, over the past month, there have been posts, tweets, instagram and facebook status from various people, including me.

This list of symptoms is from Cancer Council. Head and Neck cancer does not cover brain cancer.

On 27th July 2018 it was World Head and Neck Cancer Day. The 4th one ever. The first one held in 2015 after it was announced by former President Bill Clinton in 2014 and H&N cancer patient, actor Michael Douglas seen and heard here:

Do you know I disliked (hate is too strong a word) going to the Dentist?

I started when I was under 5. Apparently my teeth ‘came up decayed’ after an early childhood illness of mine and so a trek to a very painful experience at the dentist in Wollongong as a kid became part of my life. Urgh.

I had to have fillings and extractions (my 6 year old molars came up and were taken out!) without any anaesthetic. Thanks Mum and Dad (not) for never letting me know you could have a needle to dull the pain. Dad recently corrected me on this ‘fact’ saying he did not know either. The dentist, Mr Stone, worked in a surgery up some stairs in a  building in Crown Street Wollongong. Recently, at Westmead Oral Restorative  Sciences I saw ‘the set up from my childhood’.

My dental history, once we moved to Sydney (and I found out about injection for numbing the fillings!)  continued from 1962 until 2017:  with the usual fillings, removal of teeth in my latter years, root canal therapy and finally a bridge with a crown in 2011 was placed over my front teeth. I also had a partial denture in the upper gums and one on the lower gums.

Sometimes, in the past 5 years,  a “new to me” dentist would proclaim that I was not cleaning well-enough behind the bridge and candida was forming. I followed instructions, I bought products to help, I swallowed more fungalin than anyone needs to…and I had a biopsy on a white spot at the top of my mouth between upper gum and lip. Nothing but more candida was the response. Oh. the stuff I used….and still nothing really got better until late 2016 into 2017..read here for the details.

The people who are so kind and helpful to me at my local here, and oh so relevant Dental Surgery are the ones who understood my anxiety re travel to their surgeries, “got it” when I had to cancel at the last moment (IBS) and were just the best when it came to me having my HUGE challenge of all the top teeth & bridge removed in April 2017 BUT were “there” for me from the receptionist to the dental nurse to the dentist. It has been on of my life’s real blessings to find them. Here I am in June when I had a check-up.

Moving On…in more ways than one!

To have my cancer removed from my gums, allowing for margins, I had the ultimate extractions on 6 July 2017…my whole upper mouth! But, of course, the wonderful professional team I have, knew just how to replace what had gone. Use my leg! Good old right hand side leg had better blood supply so, it would be the agreeable donor of a fibula, some flesh and skin. OH alright then!

In recovery time: both in hospital and at home, learning to walk somewhat well with a boot protecting a very big and fleshy wound was hard. I had some physio & head & neck cancer nurse advice from Chris O’Brien Lifehouse before coming home. I had/have a very good GP and of course my husband on 24 hour call who knew I could walk and wanted me to be as independent as I could. Photos are of late July – 2+ weeks since surgery.

I also had (and still do) a very helpful and caring professional …my podiatrist Sean. He came to the house to give my nails some care and to check out what had happened. He keeps on eye on my gait as my walk is OK but sometimes I can feel like I might fall when I pivot. Memo to me: think before pivotting! Here’s where he works. 

One year on…thank you to Sean ( a new Dad now!)

How Do YOU Thank Someone Who Told You “You have cancer?”

In person, with cake. Yes, that IS my modus operandi. I come with little home-made cakes and a home-made card of appreciation. The moment I heard I had cancer held my attention  for a long while and will never leave me. However, even on the phone, from Wagga in NSW south west region, my Oral Surgeon, who had done my second biopsy in 12 May 2017, told me with care, compassion and a practical message!

She told me that she would be referring me to a Dr Clark in Sydney. I had no idea who or where but I took down the details then rang her surgery at Ourimbah  where I had my biopsy. Stef Calladine works in various places in N.S.W. and I am impressed by her work and her patient relationship. When I called the surgery, the lovely ladies there knew and helped me as much as they could, with a name (Dr Jonathan Clark), the place (Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney) and a phone number. More of the story itself is in the post above.

It was a couple of weeks ago I finally locked in a day when Stef was in and I could go to Ourimbah and what a delightful reunion it was. She has been following my progress professionally with follow-up letters and reports after surgery. I also got to ask the mystery (to me) question. How did Stef, someone who had trained and worked in the UK till a few years back, know to send me to Professor Jonathan Clark at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse? She didn’t but her nurse, Cathy, did! Oh thank YOU Cathy! That was the best decision.

About THE Teeth…when??

It is not a $64 thousand dollar question but I do want an answer of course. From the work done by my amazing and caring prosthodontist and the prosthesis makers at Westmead here I am getting the idea I “may” have something like a set of top dentures added to the upper gum by the end of August. I have to add I am a bit nervous. Gosh, people, I have not had upper teeth for a LONG time. Here’s a series of pics to remind my readers of how much work goes in to seeing I eventually get a smile with teeth!

Is this nearly the end? No. Sorry.

I have no idea of the end…of the treatments and the addition of teeth. I know I have weekly appointments till the end of August. I know this is the start of helping me get teeth inside my mouth again. I will be given very explicit care instructions as this prosthesis will be screwed in so cleaning will, at the least, be challenging. I will be guided by my professional team about the progress. I have no follow-up cancer appointment at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at this stage. I do believe the little ‘hole’ that appeared under my nose post stent re-insertion  in late May has closed over by itself. Phew. Or that would have meant a fifth surgery.

My prosthodontist talks to my Head and Neck surgeon often as they perform other cancer procedures. I also keep in touch from time to time with an email…and yes, they do know about my blog.

I was pleased to meet people from the local Head and Neck cancer support group recently and join a very active Head and Neck cancer Facebook group too.

 

There is more than one Head and Neck cancer…there are many. Mine was contained in the mouth, not spread and was not HPV. I say I am fortunate. I say that a lot.

Wishing you all the very best who read this.

It’s Dental Health Week here in Australia! Do take care of your teeth and mouth. Only 13% of Australians regularly see a dentist. I am one of those…and yes I had cancer detected but that IS not the norm! Just take heed & have a look here.

Thank you!

Denyse.

P.S. I have an update: Monday 6 August my prosthodontist took the stent out from my upper gums and fitted the wax model of my “teeth to be”. He was very pleased with the fit (all his work, over the weeks of my visits and his knowledge and skills) and we both smiled broadly at the result. In 2 weeks it is planned to fit the FIRST version of false teeth (prosthesis) in my upper gums. But on Monday it was the sweetest surprise for us all:

 

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

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WHNCDay, Beyond Five, Soup For The Soul & Emma McBride MP. 2018.62.

WHNCDayBeyond Five, Soup for the Soul & Emma McBride MP. 2018.62.

Let me start with this.

I was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer in May 2017.

I had no idea that a cancer could be in my mouth.

Many posts here have charted my journey and it has been ever so helpful for me to post, learn and help others too.

What is WHNC Day?

It is World Head and Neck Cancer Day and is on 27 July each year. Last year, on this date I attended my first post-surgical appointment at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and there was nothing anywhere to indicate it WAS WHNC Day.

This year IS different. For me, and for more people who are coming on board to spread the word which is AWARENESS.

You see, as I was ignorant of mouth cancer, many who may eventually be diagnosed with a head and neck cancer (not brain cancer, it is a different group and speciality) and sometimes too late for life-saving treatment.

I’ve been wearing a ribbon from Beyond Five for the past weeks and having my photo taken to raise awareness. The ribbons are $3 each and available from Beyond Five (address is below)

Around the world there are organisations of professionals, patients and carers gearing up for this date with meetings, a conference is being held in Melbourne where I know my surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark is attending along with my Specialist Prosthodontist, Dr Suhas Deshpande and an event, in Australia for the very first time called Soup for The Soul.

Beyond Five 

I first heard about Beyond Five in June 2017 as I was approaching my BIG (as I still call it, because it was!) surgery when A/Professor Ardalan Ebrahimi answered my long email very helpfully and suggested I check out Beyond Five as it was an organisation he and the Professor had started. At the stage I did glance at areas on-line but my mind was not able to take in much.

As I have moved well into recovery mode, my story was added to Beyond Five’s patient experiences in April 2018. As an educator AND blogger as well as head and neck cancer patient I became better acquainted with the organisation. Here is part of their mission.

Beyond Five is Australia’s First Head and Neck Charity supporting patients with head and neck cancer, as well as their families, carers and the healthcare professionals who care for them.

Their Story:

In 2014 a team of passionate people working within the field of head and neck cancer care had a common desire to provide access to information about head and neck cancer to people all over Australia.

Head and neck cancer is incredibly complex and diverse. It includes more than 10 different cancers that can affect a person’s:

  • mouth
  • tongue
  • salivary glands
  • skin
  • voice box

Each type comes with its own causes, symptoms, characteristics, complexities and treatment options.

There was a real need to provide comprehensive information in one place that was easy-to-access.

We spent 24 months gathering the content with the input of:

  • surgeons
  • radiation oncologists
  • medical oncologists
  • nurses
  • speech pathologists
  • dietitians
  • dentists
  • plastic surgeons
  • psychologists
  • health literacy experts
  • patients
  • carers

We included information for all of the stages of the cancer care journey from diagnosis through treatment to life after cancer. This means that patients and carers can easily find the information they need at the right time.

Beyond Five launched in September 2016.

(side note: my diagnosis date, May 2017)

Why Beyond Five?

When we talk of curing cancer, we talk in terms of  five-year survival. However, in patients with head and neck cancer the effects of the cancer and their treatment stay with the patient forever. These effects may be seen as scars on the face that cannot be hidden by clothing or may be difficulties with speech and swallowing.

The name ‘Beyond Five’ refers to the long-term need of patients which they often need more beyond five years after diagnosis. Find Beyond Five here: 

Soup For The Soul.

The sotry above indicates that Beyond Five is a charity that is new to the scene to help patients with cancer. In fact, this year is only their 2nd year in full operation. So, the FIRST every fund-raiser is happening and it is called Soup For The Soul.

Why that name? It IS winter, so it is a great idea to have some soup with friends and ask for a donation towards Beyond Five and their messages needing to get out to more. Another, and even more important reason is the symbol of what soup means for people with head and neck cancer. It is often the life-line food of nourishment and care. I had a lot of soup last winter and more this winter even though I can get some less liquidy foods down now.

For the week 20 July to 27 July (WHNC Day) there are events and meals and gatherings planned around Australia. I am off to one at Gosford on 24 July with a head and neck support group. I am hosting a “virtual” event for my blogging, facebook and other friends and I have opened a fund-raising page here.

Please donate what you can afford. I suggest $5 as that’s a bowl or a cup of soup!

Here is the link to my page, where the donations are sent directly to Beyond Five after the organisation looking after the funds takes a certain amount for their costs. This varies according to the amount donated.

Emma McBride M.P.

Emma is our local Federal Member and I wrote to her asking if she would accept a fund-raising ribbon from Beyond Five from me. A very busy lady as you can imagine, I was surprised and delighted to receive a call from her office in Canberra to say Emma wanted to come to our place, if that was convenient, to find out more and to accept the ribbon. So on Monday 9 July we did have a very pleasant chat and took some photos which went on social media and I am told there may be something happening on 27 July to raise some awareness for head and neck cancer and some funds via Soup For the Soul. I am very grateful!

I know there was a lot to read and get through today but this post has been getting ready to be published in advance of World Head And Neck Cancer Day and I wanted to cover all the information.

Thank you for reading…and I hope, commenting!

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie on Tuesdays here

Joining with Sue and Leanne here on Wednesdays.

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