Sunday 22nd May 2022

But It IS Still About Cancer. 2018.103.

But It IS Still About Cancer. 2018.103.

Since spending much of last Tuesday, 2nd October, at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse (my cancer hospital) in Sydney, I have been affected by the fact that the reason I am in need of regular visits is because I have cancer. Specifically a Head and Neck cancer that was removed from my maxilla and upper lip named:

“Hybrid squamous cell carcinoma showing features of both verrucous squamous cell carcinoma & conventional squamous cell carcinoma”

On Tuesday I got a copy of the Histopathology report from 6 July 2017 surgery. It was ‘less confronting’ to read from this distance of time but it did have words in it I found hard to read.

With no risks per se, other than age, it seems my cancer took hold. I reckon it was there for many months before it was discovered after having my bridge/teeth removed when the gums were so sore and growing over the teeth (my request to do so in January 2017 was not heeded until April 2017). Diagnosis came in mid May 2017.

Why am I writing this now?

Because after all the surgeries (4 in less than one year), and many, many visits back to Westmead for my prosthodontist to make my mouth ready to accept the upper prosthesis of teeth, I thought I was almost done.

I am not.

Cancer is and will always ‘be there’ and in fact, my Professor and lovely Cate, reminded me “It IS about cancer” and that is why I come back for check ups and need to be vigilant myself about any changes.

My day of catching up, meeting people and doing my trip to Sydney independently was wonderful and I am so grateful that all of these people care about me and helping others with cancer. But it came home, forcefully, and is affecting me today with some sadness;

Cancer is always there. I had let it hide for a while behind everything else I was doing. I appreciate you reading this far! It is important, always, once I have something impact me as this has, that I share.

My husband is a wonderful person I can chat with always and I saw my GP to update him as a de-brief.

But before I go on, I had a TREMENDOUS day on Tuesday, noteworthy too because it was the first time I had driven myself to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

Asking Others For Their Thoughts.

I asked around  facebook friends who I know are through the active stage of treatments for their thoughts and some kindly replied with these words.

From S.:

“I’m past the ‘active’ part of my treatment, I’ve had surgery and radiation. Now I take a once a day tablet to prevent recurrence and I got 12 months all clear. But some days I feel just awful with fatigue and other side effects. I spend whole afternoons sleeping on the couch. I don’t feel like myself and it’s really hard when people say ‘oh you must be back to normal now’. I’m not back to normal and I don’t know if I ever will be. The weight of expectation (my own and others) feels so heavy and overwhelming sometimes. Depression, anxiety and feeling down even though you survived cancer feels inevitable and like I am lacking gratitude for my recovery. I’m not, it’s just hard”

From V.:

For me post cancer treatment is a mixed bag. I’m so grateful for my recovery but the fear and uncertainty for the future is still there. It’s a monkey on your back forever and you have to find a way to live with that monkey. The monkey is very loud and cheeky at times. Other times I give my monkey a time out and she sulks in the corner. At my recent follow up appointment I sat in a waiting room full of women ( I had early stage breast cancer).   They all had that haunted ‘how in the hell did I end up here’ look on their face and you just bravely smile at each other without any need for words.

From S.:

It’s my cancerversary on Tuesday so I’ll be blogging about it too! I don’t think the cancer shadow ever goes away but I try not to let the worry of it steal my joy of today.

From M:

 The elation of hearing the words “all clear” faded more quickly than I imagined and in its place was anxiety. Having been so closely under the microscope for so long,  I felt anxious that the cancer might return and it wouldn’t be spotted. Over time, this does ease and I look forward to my six-monthly check ups for continued reassurance that all is ok.

From M in N.Z.:

It’s normal to have a slump in mood after treatment ends. I availed myself of the Cancer Society psychologists who are trained to help us deal with the transition from treatment to the new normal.

I also went to the NSW Cancer Council website and found this article about ‘after the cancer treatment stage’.

Can cancer be a positive experience?

  • Many people find there are positive aspects to having cancer. Some even refer to the disease as a life-changing experience.
  • Cancer may cause you to re-examine your life choices, and may motivate you to travel, take up new activities or make lifestyle changes (e.g. starting exercise or quitting smoking). This shift is often gradual, as even positive change can take getting used to.
  • After treatment, some people want to help improve the cancer experience for others through advocacy or volunteer work.

Read more at https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/15289/b1000/living-well-after-cancer-45/living-well-after-cancer-back-to-normal/#sUFxCMjbDj1ZGQz4.99

New friend to me, and known to many is journalist and M.C.  Julie McCrossin, who is now 5 years down the track from her Head and Neck cancer diagnosis and she sent me here, to her podcasts for the Cancer Council, and this one of fear I listened to again.

Liverpool Hospital Head and Neck Patient Support Group listening to Dr Ben Smith, Ingham Institute on cancer recurrence anxiety. Learn more about managing anxiety. Listen to The Thing About Cancer Managing Fear podcast cancercouncil.com.au/podcasts/episo… @beyondfiveorg @CCNewSouthWales http://feeds.soundcloud.com/users/soundcloud:users:314217701/sounds.rss

Julie said “I find the fear catches me unawares, like on my recent birthday”

Thank you friends for sharing.

So, I am not unique.

Always good to know.

And I can share my worries and fears with others who ‘get it’.

Having cancer never really ends, but I am always grateful for the friendships and new experiences I am having as a result of cancer.

Thank you one and all.

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie for I Blog on Tuesdays here and with Sue and Leanne here 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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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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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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