Monday 6th July 2020

Head & Neck Cancer: My Life Now: 3 Years On. 41.1/2020.

Head & Neck Cancer: My Life Now: 3 Years On. 41.1/2020.

In April 2017, after much searching for “why” my upper gums and palate were so sore, swollen and inflamed, I insisted that my dentist “take the bridge and teeth out, please as…I need to know what is under it.” That was done after almost 3 years of “wondering why” and being told many different reasons by dentists that it was most likely candida and “you are not keeping under the bridge clean enough. Sigh. This story can be found here along with many as I have journaled the Head and Neck Cancer story here on the blog.

On 17 May 2017, after the removal of bridge and teeth, with worsening gum conditions, I received what was, in many ways, the answer I feared or at least had considered over the past year or  more before. Yes, it is CANCER and it is called Squamous Cell Carcinoma and off I was sent to the BEST place and people ever for more diagnosis, subsequent surgeries and much much more.

 

Summing up each year as a head and neck cancer patient with a rare diagnosis. 

2017.

May & June: Meeting my surgeons at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. Examinations, testing and discussion on maxillectomy and using part of my leg. Visits to Westmead Oral Sciences for future mouth reconstruction preparation. Waiting. Testing. Being very concerned but at least I had the answer!

July: 7 weeks after diagnosis the major surgery of 11 hours. ICU and then recovery in single room at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. This was for 10 days. Learned that I recover well and that I could speak (hallelujah) and eventually swallow water with no problems. Home. Learning to live much differently. Back for checkups: particularly of my leg which had donated skin and flesh.

August: September: October: at home recovery, lots of community nurse visits, learning how for eat differently and prepare food for myself. Independent walking then became driving the car again Back for a post-op check and to hear what was next.

November: On the day the same sex marriage result was announced I went into surgery for more skin to be added inside my mouth: taken from my thigh. It was all part of hopefully allowing my mouth to eventually settle to take a prosthesis of teeth.

It was announced I would become a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five.

December: watching progress of mouth and sending photos of the inside to my lovely Professor Clark for him to see it was going OK. Always relieved to hear back ‘yes.’

2018.

January: continue as for December.

February: third surgery. Adding a stent into the top part of my mouth to allow skin to stretch and eventually be able to fit in the prosthesis of teeth. Alas, this failed as the stent was removed too fast by my prosthodontic team much to my professor’s dismay and…..

March: I got the news a fourth surgery would be happening. Initially not happy at all, but realised it was inevitable…and my mouth was particularly challenging as they try so hard to work with ‘what is’ to have me look as much as possible as I did post any head and neck surgeries.

April: more time for me to see the prosthodontist to check the healing mouth and for my team to consider what would be next.

May: almost 12 months from diagnosis, back to COBLH as I call it for short….and a much bigger stent added in another 2+ hour surgery. Wow. Thigh gave up more skin for inside my upper lip.

June. July: So many drives back and forth to Sydney for prosthodontic work: measuring, practising with models of prosthesis with the eventual promise of teeth up top…..

World Head & Neck Cancer Day: July 2018. Held a virtual Soup for the Soul a fundraiser for Beyond Five and met the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at Gosford and became a member of this group.

21 August; Yes. Upper prosthesis fixed into the abutments and I had a smile back (a good one too, thank you team) after 14 months.

From then until next year, 2019, I had a considerable number of visits back to Westmead with adjustments and I learned ‘how to eat’ with teeth that were nothing like how my mouth had been post-cancer. More on the page as linked before.

2019.

January. An unexpected visit to COBLH for my head and neck surgeon to examine ‘extra skin’ which had begin to grow near the abutments on one side. This visit, as I found out directly was to ensure “cancer had not returned”. OH. It had not but it threw me a bit because I had not even given that a thought. This was when I realised CANCER is never far away from our thoughts.

February, March, April: some visits to both professionals in my team. Making adjustments and checking progress of skin inside my mouth. I admit I was often nervous of outcomes as my mouth was pretty sore most of the time. No-one could tell me ‘how long’ that would last but I continued to be reassured by my prosthodontist in particular “everything looks OK” “you are doing a good job keeping the area clean.”

May: 2 years since diagnosis and I was proud to have made it. I was incredibly grateful to my body for healing well and to all who cared for me and in particular to my patient and good listener husband.

End May: CT scan showed “all clear”

June: Visits became more spread out to the surgeon and prosthodontist and I navigated using these teeth to eat. It was and is a challenge. My right leg had some changes from the loss of the fibula as my right foot became affected with gait. But all OK really.

July: Continued visits to Westmead and put my energies into blogging about Head and Neck Cancer, interviewing a patient for Beyond Five and being part of World Head and Neck Cancer Day at Gosford Cancer Centre.

August, September, October, November, December. Regular check ups and visits to COBLH and Westmead but longer intervals. In October it was raised by my surgeon that a possible fifth surgery could be planned if mouth needed it but he had no real plans for it at that stage. Continuing to help raise awareness of head and neck cancer in various forms via social media. In November I celebrated my 70th Birthday!

 

2020.

January: continuing own care and progress at home.

February: visit to the prosthodontist where he was pleased with how upper gums were looking. I admitted to him my concern there may be need for further surgery as outlined by my surgeon and he took photos and would confer with him as needed. Took part in filming for Beyond Five series of nutrition videos for head and neck patients, carers and professionals.

Early March: Saw my head and neck surgeon who was delighted with my progress, no surgery needed and I remain “his poster girl for recovery”…see you in 6 months!! I was a guest speaker at a Charity Ball held by 4 doctors at Avoca to raise awareness of head and neck cancer and aid the work of Beyond Five with a generous donation.

And then COVID-19 stopped us all in our tracks for quite some time.

End May: as I write. My prosthodontist should have seen me for a check this coming week but Westmead is not open for regular visits yet. I am not concerned as my mouth is OK. I am not due to see my head and neck surgeon till September. I am going to my dentist here (the one where we got the diagnosis sorted!) in early June as he ensures the 8 teeth I have remain in good order.

Record Keeping: For Me!
Visits to Prof Jonathan Clark: Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. 2 hours each way by car. M1.
2017
Diagnosis: 17.5.17.
18.5.17 (diagnosis: surgery plan w A/Prof too)
6.7.17 (surgery #1 in COBLH)
27.717 (post op: A/Prof)

10.10.17 (cancer check)
15.11.17 (surgery #2: day. Down & home same day)
20.11.17 (post op)
5.12.17 (post op St George)

2018
7.2.18 (surgery #3: day. Stayed night before)
14.2.18 (post op St George)
1.5.18 (pre surgery #4)
16.5.18 (surgery #4 day. Stayed n/b)
2.10.18 (cancer check & upper prosthesis)
– long time between checks as I was seeing Prosthodontist a lot!

2019
8.1.19 extra cancer check: skin growing ok
19.2.19 cancer check
21.5.19 cancer check & CT done. All clear.
24.9.19 cancer check

2020
3.3.20 cancer check.

17 total to date.

Next due: September 2020.

Visits to Westmead Prosthodontist. 2 hours each way by car. M1.

2017  24.5.17 (pre surgery #1)30.5.17 6.11.17 (pre surgery #2)

2018  23.2.18 (post surgery #3) 1.3.18  7.3.18  15.3.18

22.3.18 28.3.18 12.4.18  28.5.18 (post surgery #4) 31.5.18

12.6.18  15.6.18  18.6.18  25.6.1  3.7.18   10.7.18   16.7.18

23.7.18   6.8.18   9.8.18

21.8.18: Upper Prosthesis Issued

28.8.18  10.9.18   25.9.18 8.10.18 (lower denture prep)  25.10.18

5.11.18  15.11.18  19.11.18  27.11.18   11.12.18

2019  21.1.19 (unscrewed UP)  4.3.19

13.5.19  16.7.19  5.8.19

17.9.19    25.11.19

2020 17.2.20  41 to date  Due: 25.5.20 (postponed due to COVID

What is life like for me now as a head and neck cancer patient…over 3 years later?

  • I think about my cancer less
  • I maintain my cleaning of the mouth more willingly and never miss it because I would hate the spoil all that hard work!
  • I accept that whilst I have ‘teeth’ on top that look fine, they do not function nearly as well as natural teeth.
  • I know how to allow for that more these days in terms of food choices.
  • I am more grateful than ever to have had such a cancer experience so that I can share, help and be part of a community which may need assistance from a patient like me
  • I am less fearful of cancer’s return but I am never complacent
  • I do my best to help others who may find my story helpful
  • I blog less than those initial 2 years but maintain the updates about head and neck cancer as it is for me
  • I connect with others on-line to encourage, share and offer support where it may be needed
  • I like to help where I can to keep the messages of head and neck cancer current
  • I do this via my social media and re-sharing words, links and information from Beyond Five
  • I maintain social media connections via a facebook group from New Zealand for head and neck cancer patients, carers and families
  • I am willing to share my story for others: meeting them, making a speech and connecting via emails and on-line

However, I am less the ‘head and neck cancer patient’ these days.

I am more Denyse, who is a retired K-6 principal and teacher, wife to B, mother to K & M, and Grandma to eight wonderful grandchildren. I remain passionate about education: of the self, and of kids…and support on-going education at any age. I love to connect via my blog, meet up for a coffee and cake, take photos to share on instagram, make art in all kinds of ways….and get outside to be “oh so thankful” to be here…to be well….and to share!

Denyse.

23 May 2020.

Written, in part,  in readiness for World Head and Neck Cancer Day in July 2020. Events this year will be virtual and I am sure, I will be sharing more as time goes on. For now:

 

 

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Share Your Snaps #5. #LTW25/51. My Head & Neck Cancer Photos 2017-2019. 71/2019.

Share Your Snaps #5. #LTW25/51. My Head & Neck Cancer Photos 2017-2019. 71/2019.

I am choosing to celebrate my two years + since head and neck cancer diagnosis in images that mean much to me as a patient who is using this medium to show:

Surgeries,

Healing,

Gratitude,

Waiting, 

Becoming Well.

Some images may be confronting to you. The nature of having a head and neck cancer is that it is brutal in its ways of eradicating it. Be it surgery (my sole treatments), radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of all. Please consider using my experience to get your mouth checked and to follow up any pain, lumps & bumps in the head, neck, under ear areas….And please think about a donation to my Virtual Fundraiser for BeyondFive where I am a volunteer Ambassador. Link at the end. Thank you. 

 

1. Where recovery began. Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in July 2017 and realities of being home and what my body was doing to heal.

2. My ‘mouth’ reconstructed…and lots of waiting for more surgeries and needing to adapt to changes in my mouth. Surgery in Feb 2018 too.

3. And a 4th surgery…gets me closer to upper teeth but such a long wait with a stent attached inside. Getting my #HNC awareness happening & supporting the first Soup for the Soul event telling my local MP about it.

 

4. Many trips to Westmead as my mouth needed measurements, cleaning of abutments area and so on. I had 2 more surgeries to make my mouth ‘teeth ready.’ My first meeting with Central Coast HNC patients. I had not met another HNC patient till almost a year after my first surgery. And....S M I L E.

 

5. So many reasons to smile, show appreciation & help support the works of HNC groups, meet with Beyond Five, smile at my surgeon and see the realities of inside my mouth, with my prosthodontist telling me all about how this is screwed into the cheekbone and more. Yikes. No wonder it hurts at times.

6. With my recovery continuing my confidence improved.It was great to have some special occasions including a belated retirement medal presentation, meet-ups in December & Christmas at our place & to celebrate my 69th birthday at the the end of November.

7. In early Jan 2019 a quick trip to COBLH to see my surgeon where he confirmed ‘extra skin’ was just that, not cancer…and that threw me for a bit (cancer as a possibility). It was good to think about it and consider gratitude and we celebrated an 18th Bday & our Feb meeting of CC HNC support group had a special guest.

 

8. And the memories of the 2 years before were strong but I gave myself credit for getting through tough times then and now. Meeting up with friends AND authors who are friends was fab! My mouth reality is here too. Bit graphic: Before Cancer diagnosed.

 

9. Celebrated my 2 years since diagnosis with my husband on 17 May and he said ” time for the Apple Watch you’ve wanted”. Recently I’ve helped share another HNC patient’s story for Beyond Five, met my daughter for Mother’s Day, had another CC HNC group meeting at the Cancer Council, saw my prosthodontist, my dentist too…and at the special celebration of Chris O’Brien’s legacy for Head and Neck cancer in early June at COBLH loved seeing my surgeon, Prof Jonathan Clark (who became AM from Queen’s Bday honours the next weekend!) and my HNC Nurse Practitioner Justine. I am so fortunate!!

 

10. My friend updated my image for the blog after it had been showing my way before cancer image for 4 years. Now, that feels more like me!

 

Denyse Whelan Head and Neck Cancer Patient now Ambassador.

Consider a donation of $5 or more to my Virtual Event

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 was initiated 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.  World Head and Neck Cancer Day is on 27 July.

Have you shared your snaps today?

Denyse.

Kell also has a Monday linkup here. Join in!

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!

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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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Not A Smooth Recovery Path For Me: Head & Neck Cancer. 2018.133.

Not A Smooth Recovery Path For Me: Head & Neck Cancer. 2018.133.

Update One: Monday 24 December, is that whilst it is always disappointing to have changes like this in recovery, I am actually able to manage the issue of pain, when it arises and am feeling better in general.

Update Two: Monday 14 January, the pain comes and goes but the news from my Head & Neck surgeon is that he was looking for cancer when I saw him on 8 January. This made me quite concerned. Whilst there was not cancer there as he could see, I do now know there could be another surgery this year. Sigh.

It’s Friday 21 December 2018 and not a normal blogging day for me at all.

But, head and neck cancer recovery is not ‘normal’ I guess!

My blog has been a great source of comfort to me as I can write down what is happening to me, and often receive support in return.

That is lovely.

Today I just need to share this story.

Since my last blog post here, I have continued to be back and forth to the great team I have at Westmead: my prosthodontist and nurse. Each visit since October – when I last saw my Head and Neck cancer surgeon and nurse – has been about:

  • checking the health of the skin which was added to my upper lip (under it) last May
  • checking I am keeping the metal abutments clean where they are attached to the upper teeth prosthesis
  • and fitting me for a partial lower denture to add to my remaining 8 teeth

Showing my mouth’s flexibility – reduced now.

I have had some pain. It is like a sharp nerve pain and each time I mentioned it I was told it is part of ‘re-modelling’ and I have taken that to mean, this will go on as my new mouth and lip settle into their space. I am pretty good at managing pain but earlier this week I needed to share what had been noted by me after seeing my G.P.

  • the pain, which initially we/I thought was from some abrasion of the new tender inner side of the lip against the prosthesis was not likely to have been only from there…because
  • when I tried to use my small micro brush to clean in between the gaps left at the top of the screwed in prosthesis there was  no gap 
  • where the gap had been was skin, resting and immoveable, onto the top of the acrylic prosthesis

After my G.P. saw it, I sent these photos to my Professor and the Prosthodontist. The prosthodontist rang to say, stop using the microbrushes and use the water pik only to clean. The professor emailed to say “come and see me early January for a closer look”.

Yay to having responsive professionals. Very grateful.

Not so happy for the pain it is causing, the lip tightening even more and the disappointment that things are not going as I had hoped. Probably as my team had hoped too!

On the positive side, I have overcome setbacks before AND I trust my professional team BUT this is not a situation I imagined.

Skin does its thing it seems. My post here is about how the stent being taken out too soon prevented the full healing and I needed a 4th surgery and then over 3 months with a new stent.

I seem to think….more surgery may be on the cards.

Sigh.

I am taking pain medication as advised by my G.P. I am doing all I can to treat myself more gently. I am looking forward to seeing the family on Christmas Day here but my eating may be even more compromised by then. Who knows?

Many I know in the Head and Neck cancer support groups are in quite different stages of healing, acceptance of many aspects of their recovery and managing things well. I am buoyed by them, and already support for me and my update has helped. I also know as an Ambassador for Beyond Five, that those of us with Head and Neck cancers are affected by treatments long after the five years.

I am just over 19 months since diagnosis. I am also less patient than some! I am, always very grateful for my cancer treatments and follow-ups in an Australian setting here:

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse

The late Prof Chris O’Brien. In the hospital named after him.

Westmead Oral Restorative Sciences

Thank you for your support, friends from blogging land and readers!

Denyse.

 

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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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My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 2. 2018.46.

My Head & Neck Cancer 1st Anniversary. Pt 2. 2018.46.

I recently wrote Part One of the Anniversary of my cancer diagnosis here.

The second part is actually a bit harder to write.

I am grateful of course for my cancer being taken via surgery but I seriously had no idea that to recover and be implant-ready would be up to and well over a 12 month period. This is because, as I understand it, bodies heal in different ways and react like that too. I also know that this mouth reconstruction of mine necessitates a lot of work by the multi-disciplinary team of medical, allied health and dental experts.

I am ever-grateful for this team.

With Prof Clark & Cate Froggatt, Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant

I know that my Professor Jonathan Clark  leads the Head & Neck team and he is also working with the training of other doctors just as he learned as a resident with the late Professor Chris O’Brien at Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital. From the Westmead Oral Sciences comes  my Prosthodonist, Dr Suhas Deshpande and his colleagues including Dr David LeinkramDr Matthew McLachlan. Dr Deshpande’s Nurse, Ofelia has seen me through some emotional times and is a very kind person. Norma at the reception desk at Westmead Oral Sciences always has a smile for me and a welcome that’s bright.

Associate Professor Ardalan Ebrahimi was the first person I saw on May 18 2017 and who examined me and put together, along with Professor Clark what would be my BIG surgery in July 2017. A/Prof Ebrahimi was kind enough to respond to my 2 detailed emails pre-surgery and saw me post-surgery in 2017 along with  Justine Oates Head and Neck  Nurse Practitioner who re-dressed my wounds and ensured continuity of care once we were back home on the Central Coast.

In my 10 days post Surgery #1, I was cared for by a number of professional nursing staff firstly in ICU with Dr Tim  then on Level 9 North of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse where Jason was the NUM. I will single out registered nurse Roan as he cared for me most early mornings and made sure I got out of bed to get some sunrise shots!

From the Head and Neck team who were part of my first surgery was a team of doctors including Dr Laura Wang & Dr Rahaul Jayaram who saw me most days in hospital.  Allied professional staff  at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse were physiotherapist Leah ensured I could walk post July surgery after fitting my right leg with the boot, dietitian Jacqueline gave me lots of guidance for eating post mouth surgery and the speech therapist Emma made me drink a cup of water (ahh!) and speak ( not a hard task given my propensity to talking!) to ensure I was going well before leaving Chris O’Brien Lifehouse last July.

I thank the wonderful anaesthetists and anaesthetic nurses who ensured not only that I went to sleep  but that I woke up with no dramas. One was Dr Murray Stoken and another is Dr Paul Goonan. On 16 May I was cared for by Dr Stephanie McInnes. 

Of course I have the excellent and fabulous Cate Froggat, my Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant who is the gentle and smiling person looking out for me in the operating theatre and in post-op consultations.

How could I not mention Julie and Priscilla…a hug and smile each time I see them, those who keep all of us seeing Professor Clark organised with compassion and care.

Once I was home, as I have outlined before, I was also in the care of the Central Coast Public Health Community Nursing Team for around 2 months and Eileen was amazing with her knowledge and advice.

My dentist Dr Alistair Brown saw me for a mouth check last October and to clean the remaining ((and oh so important to me) 8 bottom teeth. He was the person who initially referred me to Dr Stef Calladine, oral surgeon,  who did the biopsy last May and broke the news to me over the phone that I had squamous cell carcinoma. I will always be grateful for her caring manner and more importantly for referring me to a place I had heard of called Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and to a specialist I had not, Prof Clark.

My GP. Dr Owen Greene. What a caring and understanding man he is. I saw him sometimes up to 4 times in a week when I was recovering from BIG surgery #1. He reassured, he checked on me and he continues to do so, letting me know you are doing really well. His office staff and pathology people ask how I am going tooIf I pop into the chemist next door, Tim the pharmacist is always asking how I am going too.

There are those that I cannot mention all by name but have been integral to my diagnosis, surgeries and recovery times:

  • staff at the various Imaging places in Sydney and on the Central Coast
  • staff at the Admissions Desk and Pre-Surgery Desk at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse
  • the nursing staff pre- and post-op in the recovery areas
  • my psychologist from the READ clinic in Erina saw me a couple of times and was most kind in her assertion that I was doing well without any more need for her services.
  • the social media account for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse @chris_obrien_lifehouse & the art programs at COBLH @arterieatlifehouse (Instagram)
  • those lovely people who welcome me to their coffee shops like Randa at Fibonacci Wyong  and ask after me, along with my fabulous hairdresser Tiffany, our great podiatrist Sean who came to the house to treat me when it was easier for me, and our Property Manager, Naomi, who was delighted to see me recently. Kyla who makes the most delicious cupcakes always asks how I am going when we catch up. In fact, I won a generous voucher recently and as cupcakes are something I CAN eat, this is just the best!
  • the Beyond Five Organisation: Nadia for her reaching out for me to help with publication of my story written by Kirsty. Check my photos here to see the fundraising ribbons. World Head and Neck Cancer Day in July 27. I wear my ribbon and blog about Head and Neck cancer because not many people know about this cancer. I do now!

Then definitely NOT last nor least are my friends and family. Those who connect on-line too. My blogging friends, my instagram friends and those from Facebook and Twitter. I love connecting!  To know of so much love, concern and care being out there for me after the diagnosis and through recovery in the year it’s been is marvellous. Thank you for reading my posts, checking out my Instagram pics and ‘liking’ the blog Facebook page.

Each day in 2018 I made a commitment to myself to do at least these three each day:

  • get dressed in an #outfitoftheday and go out – for a coffee, a browse, a shop or just to look at a view
  • go into nature or observe nature and then capture this in a photo
  • make something creative, be it a mandala or a pattern or just so art fun.

I cannot single any one person out from family and friends….other than this person:

My husband. There for everything for me. Always. Love IS what keeps us together…and has done for over 47 years.

Sending everyone my love and gratitude.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

In the overall scheme of things (OSOT as my husband says) this up and coming surgery is “just what it is”. My mouth has not healed the way it might have – nothing to do with my health. Apparently the previous stent, added during surgery in early February 2018 just was not on for long enough I was told last week by Professor Clark. I was also told, that some more skin will need to be harvested from my fabulously (my word!) giving right leg for that to happen. OK. Sigh.

My right leg is such a good one: here’s a collage of how much it has helped….and healed! I am one lucky lady.

But I still found the news harder to absorb because of the details. I knew the surgery was necessary after the Professor and my prosthodonist talked then let me know before Easter. What I did not know was that I would be having ‘the stent, the stinky stent’ in for MUCH longer than before. I had a little weep about that on the way home because I know how that felt in my mouth for the few weeks last time.

So…what’s a blogger to do? Write about it and add a photo or three.

On Tuesday 1 May, following that visit in the afternoon, I wrote this post on Instagram and I admit it was to write it out rather than let it sit inside my head and I received the love, support and care from many. I have always been buoyed by this because I am socially and physically isolated here on the coast, and having friends on-line helps greatly!

Of course my husband is the best listener and advisor. My extended family gets concerned about me too but I like to think I am confident about how things go for me.

Today I was here at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Camperdown in Sydney, for my pre-4th surgery consultation with my lovely Professor. This is the view down to the ground floor from Level 2 as we were waiting. We heard the piano being played beautifully later & I got to meet the lovely art-making person & make a card. It is a most welcoming and caring place to be even though why most of us are there is not for a reason we choose.

Today I learned that I will need more surgery, the addition of a stent (mouth guard) as I had in February for only weeks …will be in my mouth for months this time. This is not a pleasant thought but without it, the gums and mouth area will not stay in place for my (future)implanted teeth. . My memories of this last time was that it is uncomfortable, gets stinky & will impede eating even more. And it hurt at times. I will need more visits to Westmead in the weeks following the surgery for the prosthodontist to take the stent off & clean around it & put it back.

Additionally I learned that my lip will need more skin. My right leg will be the source of a second skin graft from the thigh. This experience last time meant a bandage on for 2 weeks, no showering and after that time, to have a bath and over time the bandage and the healing patch will come off.

To say that I am a bit disappointed is true but…… surgeries such as mine are new, they require skills and knowledge gained each time a patient is presented. So, wondering how to manage my thoughts and feeling about this, I decided that writing it helps; as does showing appreciation for all that has been done for me so far and helped me recover from the nasty news last year that I had Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper gums.

The day I have my 4th surgery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse will be Wed 16 May 2018 (day surgery)

That is one day short of the first anniversary of my cancer diagnosis on Wed 17 May 2017.

Read about that here if you are new to the blog

I was on Level 2 (where I stood today)  the very next day, 18 May 2017 to meet both the Professor and Associate Professor who would be doing my major surgery in July 2017.

That it is almost one year is both scary and amazing.

Thank you friends here and on FB for your support, kindness, messages and love.

This is what I know I will be looking like again. I guess it helps me to understand more. I am disappointed but I also trust my professional team implicitly and know what they learn each time they do this kind of complex reconstructive surgery is likely to help others.

I am dealing with this positively and with courage. I am going to wear this more, I think!

I will be spending more time batch cooking as I know I have to eat as well as I can but I also know the restrictions.

Thanks for reading thus far! I know this cancer story of mine is quite dominant at the moment which I believe is linked to The One Year Since Diagnosis coming up.

Do you remember certain days/times of year for different reasons?

I sure do.

I have always been like this.

I know there have been quite a few posts about this cancer and surgery but I am grateful to be able to blog about it and hope that you can have patience with me as I continue to get towards my goal of…..implanted teeth!

Thanks to all who read and comment. I am buoyed every time as I said in that Instagram post last week.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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