Wednesday 4th August 2021

Women of Courage Series. #64. Anne Howe. 89/2021.

Women of Courage Series. #64. Anne Howe. 89/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

Whilst Anne Howe, who is in her late 60s, and I have not met in real life, we have connected on-line via a very supportive facebook group for those affected by Head and Neck Cancer. The details are below. Anne’s story looks short yet it is incredibly full of courage from Anne’s words, taking the best chance you can as a human to survive a devastating diagnosis and allowing those who have your trust to do their best for you. Anne is a very determined woman, loved by her large family and often a carer to others. She has had more surgery since her post-HNC photo was taken and this has been, as best as it might happen, for her to have some teeth added inside her mouth.

Note from Anne:

 While I have had teeth made I am unable to wear them until I have had the screws implanted in my jaw and the bridging work made. Then its fingers crossed to hope my jaws don’t crumble due to the radiation. So still a way to go there.

I chose to use both images supplied by Anne as they do illustrate her words at the end of her story. I have, though, used her image before the surgeries for her Woman of Courage collage because it was then she needed to have all the courage she could muster to go through her many trials in her head and neck cancer journey.

Thank you, Anne. Let’s share your responses now.

 

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

My moment of courage kicked in when I presented for surgery to remove a SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) tumour from my nose back in 2017.

I was nervous and terrified as anyone is when facing surgery but the full impact hit when my surgeon came to see me.

His first words when explaining my surgery really tore through me.

He could NOT give me informed consent.

I would have to trust him and he promised to do the very best he could for me.

At best he would remove the tumour and do his best to repair the damage but at worst I could just wake up with a hole in my face.

With a very shaking hand I signed on  the line but while doing it a very gentle hand covered mine and a gentle voice told me he would take good care of me.

I woke up to find I had lost most of my nose, my top lip up to the nose, some of my left cheek, my central upper jaw and part of the soft palate.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

After my surgery I was informed by my surgeon that I was stage 4 and he didn’t think I would survive.

He had done his best to get me this far and I made up my mind to do whatever I needed to do to get through this which is exactly what I have done.

I knew I had a long hard road ahead with a lot of work to be done.

Over the last 4 years I have endured 11 surgeries on my nose and 30 sessions of radiation.

I still have further nasal surgery to have and also surgery on my mouth due to having lost part of my jaw. (this is some of  the surgery I mentioned in my introduction)

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

When I woke up from surgery and first  saw my face I thought that was it.

Never in my wildest imagination did I think it could be repaired to the stage it has.

I put my faith and trust in my surgeon which was the best thing I could ever have done.

The other thing that helped get me through was the love and support of my family and friends.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I have learned from this experience that I am stronger than I ever thought I was.

I have often been told I am very brave but I disagree.

I have fears just like everyone else but to survive I just had to put on my big girl pants and do what was needed as the other option just didn’t bear thinking about.

It really was a live or die situation.

Over time my strength has just grown.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

To anyone going through something that fills you with fear or concern my advice is to give everything you have because only then can you say you really tried.

Surround yourself with some people who will truly understand and accept you no matter what.

Sometimes I have needed to vent or just have a good cry to let those emotions out and that is important too.

Never give up.

 

My favourite saying through all this has been:

My face does not define me I am still the same person.

Anne, your courage and your story blow me away. What a great relationship you have with your surgeon. Trust is so much a part of it. I am so glad you are here, and looking after your family too…as you continue to recover. Thank you so much.

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

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. 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.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

 

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Women of Courage Series. #63. Cosette Calder. 86/2021.

Women of Courage Series. #63. Cosette Calder. 86/2021.

In July 2021 The Women of Courage posts will be connected in some way to World Head and Neck Cancer Month (July) and the #WHNCD Day on 27 July 2021. Those who have followed my blog since 2017 know I was diagnosed with a rare Head and Neck Cancer in my upper gums and under the top lip. More here.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

Those of us who have been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer never feel quite alone when there are others we can share our stories and one such place is a special facebook group (private, but ask to join) here based in New Zealand. This is where I virtually met Cosette Calder, aged 46, and she was someone I reached out to share her story of head and neck cancer, and here she is. Thank you Cosette.

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

  • In 2015 I was diagnosed with throat cancer.
  • I had a young family, full time job and life was busy.
  • Suddenly everything stopped and I had to undergo Chemo and Radiation Treatment to beat this cancer and have a chance to live.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

  • I had a brutal cancer treatment.
  • I couldn’t eat food and had to have a tube inserted into my stomach.
  • For two months I only drank water and was tube fed.
  • I lost 8kgs and some of my hair fell out.
  • I really had to dig deep to get through this treatment.
  • I had a plastic mask made of my head and shoulders.
  • This mask was for the radiation treatment.
  • My head had to be perfectly still on the radiation table so the mask was bolted across my face to the table for 20 minutes a day during radiation treatment.
  • It is incredibly scary and claustrophobic.
  • I somehow managed it.
  • I am proud of myself for the courage of wearing the mask when I was so ill and feeling down.
  • I fought hard whilst being so unwell. I didn’t realise I could be so strong.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
  • Sometimes we can’t help what happens to us.
  • Keep moving on and keep trying.
  • Acceptance too helps.
  • By accepting my cancer diagnosis I was able to focus and keep moving ahead.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

  • I am stronger now.
  • I have been pushed to the limit and I know how lucky I am to be here.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

  • You CAN do it!

 

Oh my, yes we do have brutal treatments don’t we?

However, in reading this of your experience as a head and neck cancer patient Cosette, and, now well-recovered, it is a tribute to your human qualities of strength and courage that you have recovered and now share your story. Thank you again. I am sharing the information below from the New Zealand Based Facebook Group for Head & Neck Cancers. Thanks to for all you do to share awareness!

Denyse.

Note About Head and Neck Cancer Support on-line.

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. 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.

This is a link to Head and Neck Cancer Australia too. This is where I found information initially after my 2017 diagnosis and where I am now an Ambassador.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty One. Part 2/2. 2015. 19/2021.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty One. Part 2/2. 2015. 19/2021.

The backstory first:

Well over a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty One.  Part Two 2015. Part One was published here.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members. All of the stories to date found here.

Well, it seems I survived my first half of 2015 living at the southern end of the Central Coast but wait, there is more, much much more.

Are you ready?

Here we go:

June and July.

Emotions Are Tricky!

We had some reasons for visit Sydney: my gastroenterologist who was happy to see me and with a positive outcome from an MRI done back in May he believed my insides were OK but that I.B.S. was just a part of me that needed my management.

Neither he nor the GP had any reason to be concerned about my weight loss over time which was in fact because : I really couldn’t bring myself to eat much at all as almost always it would result in some kind of stomach reaction.

It was truly horrible for me who WANTED to be social but could not go out for lunch or entertain for a meal. I stuck to coffee and cake – if I could even do that and most people who cared about me understood that.

I on the other hand was very self-critical. And would continue to be for years. Seriously. Yes, I was blaming me for things that were probably needing compassion and kindness but “black and white” thinking Denyse had not quite given up her harsh words.

We had grandkids who we love dearly come and stay for a couple of nights and whilst I love their company I got myself overly worried about things and them and found the stress bothersome. I did not like that either.

Yes I was doing meditation. Every day. I was seeing my G.P. pretty often too. She was running out of ideas for my emotional equilibrium and on one occasion when I was at breaking down crying point, put me onto an anti-depressant. I agreed to it. My husband was sceptical but went along with it. I took it once. I had such a physical reaction to it that I declared “never again”. Suffice to say, after days of diarrhoea my G.P. wholeheartedly agreed.

I blogged. Every day. By this time, I was now joining in link ups and that helped me have some conversations on line.

I joined in a private group where we supported ourselves trying to Flourish. There were some great programs in there and from there I added to my repertoire of mindfulness by doing an on-line MOOC course from a Uni in Melbourne learning about Mindfulness and Stress. Excellent work.

I had already begun my large collection of writers, scholars, and more who I would learn more from and about and this helped me feel less alone.

My post here on Calm Days and Calm Nights has all of the titles I found useful to grow and learn.

My husband was, when he could be, an amazing support. I did however, have very few people to talk to and with and this contributed to more isolation.

Dealing with family news was hard on me. I simply did not have the emotional capacity to support as I might have now because I had no skills, and I was totally trying to deal with myself.

Sigh.

August, September and October.

Dear readers, assume that I continued with my health care and seeking answers.

  • These also included things like going for a drive,
  • watching the waves,
  • walking on the beach and near nature.
  • Whilst I did (do) enjoy going to shopping centres, I am afraid to say I felt lonelier there when I saw people with their grandkids and/or friends and chatting.
  • I wanted that. I also knew, intellectually I had had that and now it was no longer happening. Sigh. Again.

We celebrated our daughter’s birthday at our place.

She took some images of us for a TV program called Compass about married couples. Our shots were part of the promo.

Family time was always welcomed but I had become hypervigilant and that did not help my stress and I.B.S.

I had my last role in education. I was invited to be part of a Teach Meet and it was to be held at my former High School. Last visited by me in 1967! It was a thrill to present there and to get to have a tour of the school to see the many changes. Grateful and proud of doing this one last talk of my career.

We had a short stay in Parramatta while my husband attended a compulsory course for his degree and I was alone for some of that time and did catch up with our family. My level of anxiety staying there and no longer being in our home rose and I would not do that again. I did see one of my granddaughters for a play and we went to tea at our daughter’s house but I was not great. Tried to look it..but…

By this time we were certain we were not staying on…in this overpriced rental nor in the area. It was a strange place. A town like no other. We have lived in country towns but this was not friendly. Sadly. I began the search on-line and then in real time of the northern end of the Central Coast and it seemed like a place and area that would suit us more.

As luck would have it, on a drive past the house we saw on line in October, the owners (former, actually) were around and asked did we want to have a look inside. Oh, yes please. Totally not supposed to do this of course, but we did and knew, if we could, this would be the one. It was to become that indeed! But more to come…

November into December. Big Months but Better Ones! 

The House. We got the new house to rent and it would be…over $150 less than what we were paying and it was a one level ducted air con, 4 bed, 2 bathroom house…very similar to what we had sold. Suddenly things were already looking better. BUT…

As we were breaking the lease of the other place, and they could not find anyone to re-lease it too, we did DOUBLE ups till the end of December. Not great.At all. However, the emotional relief was worth it.

Now instead of being separated from each other at night, as he went upstairs to bed, study and TV and I stayed downstairs, we would both be on the same level.

The move itself was OK. I took the chance to do more culling and all that but we still had a lot. Probably still do.

Nevertheless mid November we were northern end of the Central Coast inhabitants and pleased to be there.

For my 66th Birthday I tried something challenging and whilst I did it I know it was hard for me because of …..you guessed it…I.B.S.

  • I drove to see our family at our son’s place for an afternoon tea catch up and small birthday celebration.
  • I was in heaven to be with all of the family but it was tense.
  • I now know from this many years vantage point, it was not something from anything I had done. Nevertheless I feel things. 
  • I then joined our daughter’s family in a crowded and busy household for Christmas decorating day and dinner.
  • The next day, my actual birthday they all went to work and school and I saw my son’s two little ones and their mum and then drove to my Dad’s for a morning tea with my brother, sister in law and Dad.
  • THAT was a very full on couple of days for me. But, I did it.

 

Coming up to Christmas I was determined to see Dad if I could and drove down with some goodies and we said we would not travel to anyone on Christmas Day. I think that was because I was thinking about me, traffic and….you guessed it I.B.S. Truly that IS how much it affected me.

I stayed with the same doctor I had started seeing when we lived closer, and between us we always hoped things would improve for me. I began seeing a fantastic psychologist who challenged me and my often-critical thoughts and gave me assignments to help me learn by observing. She was keen for me to continue my art which grew hugely by the time we moved to this newer and better house because I had a dedicated area for my creating. That was so good. I also had space for private meditation and listening to some of the many people who helped me, eventually, find my way.

I.B.S. would continue to challenge me. It affected all I did. I could not plan to leave home unless I was pretty sure I would be OK. I had to know of toilet locations. I carried spare clothing and clean up items with me. I hated it but I did that. I did, though, find more to help me via another book and a course. All are too much in detail to outline here but they gave me an understanding that my emotions were in my gut and it was telling me how I was.

In the next couple of chapters, 2016 and 2017 I.B.S. continues to get a lead role…even though I hate admitting that.

And into 2016 here is what I hoped would help me.

And whilst it may not have worked like a charm…this did.

I got right back into blogging getting help from my kind friend Tanya (who still does my images) and with her help and my ideas I began 2016 rocking the blog with categories, and more. I blogged daily until around September 2016. More on that next post.

Phew.

Re-living this was a challenge as I wrote but I also got to congratulate myself for coming through. Little did I know, of course, that much more was in store for 2016. No, the family issues and my health ones did not go away. And then we will come to 2017…and many readers already know about that BUT we can wait, right?

Thanks for your kindness in reading these posts…if indeed you are here, then you must have!

How was 2015 for you?

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky here.

 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty One. Part 1/2. 2015. 15/2021.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty One. Part 1/2. 2015. 15/2021.

The backstory first:

Well over a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty One. Part One.2015.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members. All of the stories to date found here.

Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty One. Part One. 2015.

As I have noted in previous chapters, the memories from some years remain strong, and often are sad ones. However, despite this being true for me, I must push on, as they say, and share how life was for me…in 2015. Back then.

Time To Move (on) and More.

As mentioned in Chapter Twenty, we sold our house and were ready (I thought I was anyway, he was!) to make this big move in our lives.

January.

After new year, we continued our packing up AND memory-making. My husband was very keen to leave the house, the gardens, the grounds and the pool in tip top shape for the new owners as settlement loomed for mid-January.

I on the other hand was keen to enjoy what I would not be able to in my future,  and that meant some grandchildren sleepovers and swims and get-togethers. My Dad had his 91st birthday with all of his then family around him at my brother’s house. We made trips to and from the Central Coast house we were about to move into and I guess being THAT busy helped to block the emotional pulls that would eventually wound me.

And we were off…kind of. I went in my car, fully laden to the Central Coast house. My husband stayed back to oversee the removalists. This was not a great day weather-wise and the person we booked the move with was on holiday so he sent another team. Nevertheless most of everything that could be packed up and moved on that day was. The remainder was collected by my husband when he returned on settlement day to be with our agent and the new owners.

A note on the house we rented.

IT WAS UNSUITABLE in so many ways and I will admit this was chosen in haste, and in deference to me, my husband went along with it. Sigh. Everything I thought I needed to be for a change of residence was not to be.

Remember too, I am writing with the benefit of both hindsight and a much clearer state of emotional health.

  • I did not need to be closer to Sydney 
  • I did not take enough time ….knowing there was a rush before Christmas….to consider how this house’s structure would affect us
  • I was in a highly emotional state for the month preceding the move and could not really see any other options (then) than this house.
  • It was over-priced
  • Its two storey nature was awful. A spiral staircase led upstairs
  • The ‘only air-con comfort’ was in one part of the living area downstairs and a part of upstairs
  • We paid more than our budget told us…and literally over-paid till the end of the lease when we had moved out early. Story about that ahead.

And then it happened. Done. Settled. 

Originally we were selling to be debt-free and I was not able to continue working from a health perspective so it was the plan to sell up, pay out the mortgage, use some house sale funds to purchase new cars (both of ours were in a bad way by the end of 2014) and to have some savings behind us to maybe help buy a new house ONE DAY.

That was how it worked out. However it was not without its moments! After settlement we were able to go grocery shopping and yay for me getting a coffee too. However, at the checkout our card was declined. Oops. We had a few dollars on us. So, once home I was able to tell our conveyancers what had happened and because ‘funds are released into accounts over some days’ and we had a weekend without any $$, she arranged a transfer of the original deposit from the new owners. Phew.

Cars. We had already earmarked a car for my husband and it was ready once the funds had reached our account. My choice of a car however, should have been a heart one…but instead I made it a head one…and regretted it as soon as I drove it back up the coast. In a story of generosity and forgiveness…my husband determined that I could have the car I should have bought in the first place, and we traded in a car I had for less than a week. Lost money? Of course but lesson learned. Again.

Love my Nissan XTrail

Some family fun. January and February.

We were keen to live close to the water in this retirement life of ours and had chosen the Central Coast for both its proximity to water – still and ocean – and again, to Sydney for any family needs such as visiting my Dad and any connections with our adult children and their children, our beloved grandchildren.

Because we went back and forth a few times until school was back we entertained two grandchildren  twice and they had been coming to use for care since they were babies so it was great to have those connections still.

What Happened Next?

My husband got back into his studies for a degree in counselling and was doing two subjects on-line. He also offered to help his brother who lived nearby with some landscaping and renovations. He continued to do lifeline crisis support counselling by working shifts in a place on the central coast. He was active, productive and busy.

I was not. Well, in some ways I was but none of what I was doing helped me feel in any way settled into this new life of ours.

  1. I thought I would be driving back and forth to our family to help out, to be there and to catch up. I did for a while. I was happy to be on-call for our son’s family as they were expecting their fourth child in early 2015 and I could come down to help with picking up kids from school etc etc.
  2. I thought I would be continuing my education specialist role with the early childhood centres
  3. I thought I would drive to see my father on a regular basis
  4. I thought having made this move as a choice to change lifestyle, it would be fine.

No it was not for me.

March, April and May.

I was not well in an emotional sense and that affected my physical health. My I.B.S .(irritable bowel syndrome) reared its ugly head over and over. I would not be able to simply get in the car and go anywhere without having to medicate myself (which I HATED doing) or suffer the effects of having diarrhoea on a car journey.

We tried a little get away to Port Macquarie – a place we always loved – but I found the trip stressful due to I.B.S. and like I felt, nothing is the same.

I lost weight. Yay. But not for the reasons it happened. I was unhappy but trying to hide it. I continued to see my Sydney based G.P. who oversaw my handling of my I.B.S. and decided I needed to see a gastroenterologist. But before then we had a new granddaughter arrive.

Emotions were high and a bit low because of my sadness at no longer being around the little people I love so much.

We went back to Sydney to celebrate a granddaughter’s 3rd birthday and I was intensely happy to be with all of our family again, but sad once the inevitable farewells took place.

We literally weathered an awful East Coast low storm situation that had us without electricity for almost 5 days after the birthday party visit. I was very stressed during this but, my husband did what he could to make us a bit more comfortable going out in awful conditions to buy a generator and a portable gas stove. At least we could run our little fridge. All freezer food was ruined. We would go out in the car once the roads cleared to charge our phones. I managed to blog too.

I went to TedX in Sydney and thought that would be enjoyable. Usually enjoy learning. I did on some ways but now Sydney, where it was held was no longer where I lived. I felt that immensely.

I re-commenced my work as an External Observer with then Institute of Teachers doing an observation in a Sydney school. That was to be my last as the system changed.

I went back to my role as an Education Specialist, speaking at a couple of the pre-schools on different evenings and then one day, on my way back to Sydney to do this, I was overcome by the worst bout of I.B.S. diarrhoea ever. No details but suffice to say, I decided then and there, no job and the money along with the drive to and from Sydney at night was worth it and I resigned.

I was never sure where I fitted any more after that.

  • I was no longer the active and on-call Grandma
  • I was no longer employed using my NSW Education role
  • I was no longer working to help families in pre-schools
  • I could see my husband was content in all he was doing but I was not.

It was very confusing but I did my best to act as if it was OK. It was not.

Add to how it is to change where you live is “finding a hairdresser” and that was interesting. I got a few cuts from a person near where we moved but it never seemed right. Finding a dentist proved easier. He was “OK” and whilst I did not know it then, I would be getting insight into my mouth and what may have been causing some white spots on the gums. Mmmm. A story we do know more about but will leave it till 2017. I found a physiotherapist who was good for some back and arm issues I had. And, a podiatrist. He was lovely. Still, it does take some research. In 2016 I will share how I found my best hairdresser!

I was searching for answers to WHY….as I am a ‘help myself’ person and I found something which was a catalyst for change:

A Meditation Centre running a course on Anxiety and Teaching Meditation.

Then What Happened?

Into the next few months I managed a lot of change in and for my life.

It did not always go well.

In fact I face quite a few disappointments, some challenges and some days where I knew I was making progress with my health. Onward…and the months may get a bit mixed up so I will add points rather than months!

I tried a few of the so-called Retirement Activities:

  • An Art Class
  • Making Up a Mindful Colouring Class & hosting it
  • Going to Places for Coffee and Chatting
  • Training for a role as a Volunteer

They did not suit nor last the distance for me.

Meditation. 

The day at the Meditation centre taught me quite a bit and I felt less lonely as someone finding the new life quite tough. I met some people there and mostly the talk was about where do you live, etc etc. One person gave me a card about a great G.P. practice she liked and said that I would find a doctor there she was sure. You see, I was still making my way back to Sydney and it was no longer easy to do so with I.B.S. and generally ill-ease at returning.

I also decided to download a meditation app called Headspace and liked it very much. I am an early adopter too and it had only been on the market for a while.

I made a time for meditation each day, set up a space in my bedroom overlooking the water and waited, over time, for my cure from the ill-ease I felt emotionally. Reader: it never came.

Finding Medical Help Locally.

From the middle of the year this was helpful. I found the personable female G.P. at the recommended clinic. She and I ‘clicked’ and she was 100% understanding how hard it is to move from Sydney to the Central Coast..because she was living that life too but about a year before me.

The rapport and her understanding that my emotions needed time to work themselves out helped me a lot. To have a good listener and one who suggested ideas which might help me. Sadly nothing offered helped my I.B.S. but she was very supportive of me continuing to use immodium (I had been afraid to do so after being told off by my former gastro guy after a pancreatitis attack in 2014) as I needed. She offered the idea of seeing a psychologist. I was not clinically anxious nor depressed but I was finding the reactions and responses from all the changes very challenging.

I saw one. She was incredibly judgemental and I did not return. I then was referred to another one. So much more professional and I can share more of that later. Let me say this, it was from her that I learned this:

feelings take a lot longer to catch up from actions.

Part Two will follow. I have undertaken quite a bit sharing this so far.

2015 was a hugely significant year in my life so this is Part One, essentially till the middle of that year.

I do hope there is something of interest to you readers too.

Have you made big changes in your life and wondered about some of the emotions you have experienced?

Thanks for your interest.

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky here. 

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Telling My Story. Chapter Twenty. 2013-2014.97/2020.

Telling My Story. 2013-2014. Chapter Twenty. 97/2020.

About a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author (her story is here) that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed.

Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at...Chapter Twenty.

So, in keeping with my ethical approach to all things, I am making the chapters about MY recollections to various changes in life for me, and us, and life as we knew it. I hope I can continue sharing the story without any intentionally negative or hurtful references to others who are in my life as friends and family members.

In saying that, these two years, 2013-2014  are presenting me, the memory writer and ‘rememberer’ with some internal challenges. You see, I look at my images back then and see the very overweight Denyse smiling (as she does) for the camera and sharing what she did professionally in her work well, along with caring for her family…but as I know now (and did then) I was:

  • very unhappy
  • using some foods for comfort
  • confused in some ways about what was best for me going forward
  • hiding how I felt mostly from myself I guess
  • acting out: angrily, tearily and more

In saying this, I hope to share honestly for my sake and to keep the story telling real even though to re-hash some of the memories and to see again those self-images makes me sad. I am somewhat ashamed of the me then. However, I need to let that go…over time, I guess I do. More about my weight issues here.

I have a goal to continue to present a one more of these chapters, after this one, as a snapshot of 2020…that year that was… have a break and be back in 2021.

All the posts are here if you would like to check them out.

Mixing Up The Years 2013-2014.

Changing Priorities.

By the time the end of 2014 arrived, we knew we were to become grandparents of an 8th grandchild due in 2015. This would be our son’s 4th child. He had a 3rd child with his then wife in 2013 and we cared for her and her older sister for much of 2014. In 2013 we did some care for our daughter’s 4th child along with our son’s 2nd.

We did enjoy these days very much but they were tiring as we aged.

We did this mostly together but as 2014 changed my husband’s focus to some personal and professional learning in counselling as well as becoming a trained telephone support person for Lifeline, I was left alone with one under 1 year old and I admit, I was liking that less and less. So, the compromise was made to having her 2 days a week.

The House Needed These Improvements.

My husband had a business for some years when he was 100% well and it was in kitchen cabinet making. He had to let the business go (see Chapter12 ) but his interest in maintaining our then house inside and out, grew in the years from 2012 onwards.

Whilst we never really discussed it, the house (ours since 1997), with its significant mortgage: thanks to us (ok, me) wanting to borrow to help our two adult kids get into housing, and then making more home improvements for our comfort, was going to need to be sold one day.

That day when I had a tearful conversation with my husband came around as a first discussion point in July 2014 when I was flailing at any kind of paid work pressures. They were not huge but as someone who was now quite unwell emotionally (did not realise it in reality) and longed to be free of paid work obligations this idea filled me with relief. Much to do before putting it on the market, but it all happened. See more below.

But First….there was a lot more happening! 

  • My business: Denyse Whelan Education Specialist (I dislike Expert!) and I had a newspaper article, column for a short time (local papers), a consultancy that saw me work with a local and reputable Early Childhood chain of centres in the Hills District. I helped their staff and parents navigate the world that is “after pre-school and before school”.

 

  • The blog saw me have 3 separate ones: education, schools and teachers. I had hoped, via my role as an educator/tutor for Masters of Teaching at a local University there may have been more interest on-line but my ‘at the chalkface’ role continued as a practicum supervisor and tutor at Uni (marking too!) until I asked to stop…in time for second semester 2014. I did enjoy it, but I was ready to leave the world of accountability!!

 

  • However, I continued to be an ‘as needed’ person in then NSW Institute of Teachers to visit schools as an External Observer from as far away at Cobar (went there in one day thanks to a small passenger place) to local Western Sydney schools. I enjoyed that I got to see parts of N.S.W. as a tourist and educator. Parts of my trips were paid by me if I wanted to extend the times. I did that when visiting Cobargo PS (scenes of the awful fires in 2019-2020) as I flew into and stayed at Merimbula. I did that for a Woolgoolga trip staying at Coffs Harbour and in Tamworth for my first visit to Kootingal.

 

  • The educator role also saw me invited a couple of times to appear on television in discussions and as a so-called expert. I admit “one” was enough and luckily I already knew Kerri Sackville and the appearance went well. I “needed” a new wardrobe of course, and I enjoyed being pampered in the make-up chair and saying ‘g’day to Jane Caro as she left from her segment.

Still The Grandmother AND Educator! 

In early 2014 Rick Morton (top journalist and writer) asked me some questions for a story he was writing for the Australian. He now works for The Saturday Paper. One of the images from the day is first below.

We did have lots of fun making memories, grandchildren and grandparents. Some were at times like Easter, others ‘just hanging out’ at our place where there was always paint AND playdoh! Never mix the colours, kids!

Making Memories : for Me! 

I admitted to myself there would be much I would miss about living in Sydney and being closer to the family. So, I made sure I had some special occasions to look back on. My formative years aged 10-20 were spent living near Manly and the Harbour so this was an even more special place to make memories. Mum and Dad had continued to live at Balgowlah Heights till 2011. Mum’s death in 2007 saw Dad stay for as long as he wishes but eventually, he was ready for independent retirement living at Dee Why. That’s is where I visit him now.

Few More Memorable Occasions. 2013 into 2014. 

The Changes Becoming Realities.

At the end of 2013 my organisation energies were applied to my father’s 90th Birthday luncheon. He gave me and my brother his wish list of ideas and people, and then, we, the family sorted it for him. It was held next door to his retirement place, at Dee Why R.S.L. where he hired a room and they supplied lunch for us all. We, the kids and grandkids, sorted the presentations, the decor, the name tags and more. He, was, and continues to be, overwhelmed by it. Nearly 7 years later. Anyway, it goes without saying, he enjoyed it.

Time To Make Reality Happen. Mid 2014 onwards.

In order for us to be mortgage-free the house had to be sold.

We were both keen to do that. My husband has never really been a city person and was keen to leave for the less busy areas on the Central Coast. I agreed at the time that this was the right move. It still is. However, I knew nothing about the emotional effect the changes would have on me. I will be writing about that in 2015.

What happened though was that there was a LOT of physical work to be done to ready a house for selling. We interviewed agents. Eventually we agreed on one. We half-jokingly took him up on an offer to pay him a smaller personal percentage if the house sold for over (what we though was unreachable) $800K. Late 2014, people. Western area of Sydney.

Before then, my husband finished off the outside areas, made and painted new side gates, made the pool area extra comfy and of course added fence protection to a side garden as we realised the raised grass area made the pool fence climbable. We planted a great deal and did all we could to make the outside areas of the house private as Blacktown Council had extended their community centre to our side fence.

I started detaching from the possessions that had made our space for grandchildren. We gave away a lot, sold some things and each grandchild got their own box of Christmas decorations to use in their future. Part of my tradition since becoming grandparents in 1996 was a new tree decoration for each grandchild each year. There were a LOT for our daughter’s first 3 kids!

At the same time, in late 2014,  we were trying to find somewhere to rent on the Central Coast.

We thought we would try before buying…and now, some 6 years later we are less close to buying than ever thanks to using our sum left after sale and increasing house prices here. However, we are reasonably content with renting now.

I spent a lot of time on-line and some Saturdays up and down the M1 with little success. Our wish list then was air conditioning and the southern end of the coast..closer to returning to Sydney – my idea. The house we eventually took was because of desperation. Our place had sold, we needed to be “in” somewhere around mid January 2015 so with haste, we signed up for a too expensive and too uncomfortable house with limited air conditioning.

Then It All Came To This. End of 2014. 

  • The house sold. We accepted $825,000 on the night of the first open home. We never thought it would get to that but we had a very volatile Sydney housing market and an exceptional agent.
  • The relief was palpable but there were still hurdles to overcome including the usual inspections, delays from buyers but it did all come together on 15 January 2015. We had already moved but were assured all would be fine. And it was. But it’s nail biting. And we had almost zero in our accounts!
  • We celebrated our eldest granddaughter’s 18th birthday, success in HSC thanks to first 10% of state in Drama, her solo performance at the School Spectacular with the NSW Group of Talented Drama Students.
  • We knew we had a new grandchild arriving in the following year.
  • Our daughter kindly offered (accepted!) to have our last Christmas in Sydney at her place and both of our kids and their kids attended. It began hitting home for me…these were lasts!
  • We had a few more occasions to have grandchildren over to swim and to stay…and then…that was it.

2015 Awaited Us. 

I am glad to have written this chapter. It took some doing but it’s done. I hope that you, the reader, find it of interest.

Thanks for being here.

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne and friends here for Lovin Life Linky.

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Women Of Courage Series. #54 Leanne @DeepFriedFruit. 73/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #54 Leanne @DeepFriedFruit. 73/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week and now the series concludes today with this post. Over the next two weeks there will be a look back at those who have shared their stories. Actually 56 women. The link to all of those stories is here.

Here is the introduction to the series and each woman’s story.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

Leanne, also known by her blog’s name of Deep Fried Fruit, has been blogging FOR ever..no, not really. However, I believe she started for a significant ZERO birthday and now admits to being at the next decade. Not one to hide away from her celebrations of life, she calls her birthday a festival. In real life, and yes, we have met, this person is warm, funny, generous and very caring. In fact, she stopped off on her family’s trip to Queensland two years ago so we could meet up!

 

Let’s get on with Leanne’ story…and I admit, she has written more than was asked but all good. The more we get to know about the ‘why’ of this lady!

 

Background

  • I look back and think of all the things in my life that took great courage and I guess most things do.  Every new experience requires some amount of bravery.
  • I used to be timid and shy.  As an only child I found safety in the walls of my own home with my tiny family.  Then one day my mum was told she only had two weeks to live and suddenly my safety was about to be stripped.
  • Her bravery of fighting the disease and winning, changed who I ultimately became.  Being timid in life was no longer an option. I learned if you want to achieve results you have to stand up and take responsibility for your existence. You had to find courage.
  • As a result, I’m someone whose meta programming is set high on the “challenge” meter.  Some people take the path of least resistance in life, others take the path of most challenge. I’m the latter.

 

My favourite quote is by Sarah Henderson:

“Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel, stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.”

That’s how I live my life. I spend a great deal of time striding down great big long tunnels to turn that bloody light switch on. Which means I need a fair bit of courage I suppose.  Although I don’t necessarily recognise it at the time.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

My mum’s leukaemia, backpacking overseas alone, buying my first home, completing my degrees, creating a career, marrying into a readymade family, having kids, dealing with fibromyalgia. The standard stuff.

 

I think there are some major milestones that took more courage than others though.

  1. “Retiring” from a well-established career at the age of 36 to concentrate on my family
  2. Becoming the creator/founder of several small business initiatives
  3. Deciding to self-publish my children’s book series
  4. Watching helplessly as cancer took our (my husband’s) eldest child
  5. Re-entering the workforce at the age many retire

While point number 4 is probably the one jumping out as the most challenging event anyone could possibly face, it’s still too hard to talk about.  So, I won’t be talking about the loss of a child today.

Instead, given it’s current, I’d like to chat about number 5.

 

Re-entering the workforce.

 

How did this change you?

  • For the past 15 years, skipping merrily outside the boundaries of the paid workforce as a sole trader and finder of cool projects, I’ve been striding through many tunnels turning on a shitload of Sarah Henderson-esque light switches.
  • You’d think that with all the results I’ve achieved when I was out there on my own, re-entering the workforce would be easy. I mean, I’ve done so much! I’m a force to be reckoned with, aren’t I?
  • I would have thought so too, but no.
  • Going back to work” has honestly been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
  • Why? Because I discovered something when I went back to work in corporate Australia.  I’m old!
  • I know right.  Shocking revelation.
  • I thought I could waltz right back in there and just be amazing. But it turns out I’ve got a bit to catch up on in the corporate world and apparently my brain isn’t quite what it used to be.

 

Re-entering the workforce changed me.  My confidence, resilience and emotions hit an all time low.

According to the numbers I am fifty years old, but my heart says I’m still a vibrant, intelligent and energetic 35-year-old who knows everything there is to know about everything. Hell, there are days I’ve got the mindset, energy and frivolity of a 20-year-old and the smarts of a 70-year-old Harvard professor.  Lingo and all.   Yet despite my love of life, my readiness to be challenged and the wealth of experience under my belt, the fact is, I’ve been out of the workforce for a bloody long time.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend?

  • Every single challenge in life presents an opportunity for growth.
  • While wallowing in self-pity, I realised I’d bumbled into this job without much thought nor planning.  Somebody needed me to fill a gap, so I filled it.  Then somebody else needed me to fill another gap and I filled that one too. That was my re-entry. I didn’t create my new work life; I simply fell into it.
  • It’s hard to stride down a tunnel with purpose when you’ve fallen into the tunnel.
  • So, I downed tools, re-wrote my resume, contacted recruitment and said, “hello world, here I am, and this is what I have to offer you”.  I took back control and started striding forward on my terms again.
  • I guess I’d like to say out loud for all to hear, if you find yourself in a job you aren’t enjoying, or that doesn’t suit you, or that makes you feel less-than, then do something about it.  Don’t stay there for staying sake.
  • I’m now focussing on my strengths, adding value where I know I can and not putting so much pressure on myself to be able to do everything.

 

I have decided to create my job, rather than have my job re-create me. Or more specifically, rather than have my job deflate me.

 

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it?

  • Absolutely, 100%, without a doubt. Our challenges make us stronger.  My challenges have made me stronger.
  • Facing problems can be hard. At the time it can even feel like the end of the world.

But looking back at the times where courage has been required is a fantastic reminder that we do survive them, 100% of the time, because we’re still here!

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

 

  • When you’re younger you tend to put up with a lot more heartache in order to get your foot in the door, particularly when it comes to jobs and careers.  I know I did whatever it took to show my value. I worked hard from the ground up.
  • When I re-entered the workforce, I thought I’d waltz back in without that need to go back to grass roots, and it was quite a dent to my pride to discover I wasn’t as shit-hot a I thought I was; or perhaps as I used to be.
  • When I hit rock bottom, I thought “wow, does this mean I have to start again? Has my experience over the last 30 years meant nothing?”
  • No.  We don’t need to start again. Everything we’ve done previously is still part of us, only we’re even better off because we not only have that experience, we also have a proven track record of resilience, growth and acquired wisdom.
  • If like me you don’t like your job, and the light at the end of the tunnel is dimming, then just stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.

 

Anything else to add?

  • This “being back at work” thing is new, and I am still finding my feet.
  • But if there is one thing I know for sure; I still have a good 15 years of work life left in me in which to create something that suits my strengths.
  • I may well create my dream job or a whole new career, or I may just decide that my current income generating activity is simply that, an income source.
  • The bottom line is, if the world feels dim, I’m now old enough and wise enough to know where to find the light switch.

Denyse offering me this WOC interview has been a fantastic exercise in recognizing where my inner lion has been needed in life and how I can apply it to my current situation.Thanks so much Denyse for this opportunity to reflect and to remind me where to find the light.

 

Thank you Leanne, you are an amazing friend and definitely a great woman of courage and it’s my privilege to share your story as the final one in the series over the past 2 years.

Thank you to all of the Women of Courage.

Over the next two weeks, there will be a farewell and appreciation for those who shared in 2019 and in 2020.

 

Denyse.

 

Social Media:

Blog/Website:  www.deepfriedfruit.com.au

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/DeepFriedFruit

Instagram: @DeepFriedFruit

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

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Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #53. Yvonne McClaren. 71/2020. 

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

Whilst I have not ‘met’ today’s Woman of Courage in real life, as they say, we have most certainly connected by the common (and not ever-welcomed) diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer. Yvonne, who is 54, has shared her story below via the responses to the questions but to know even more about her and how she is facing life full-on these days, check out her links! Recently she appeared  too as part of the Beyond Five live video segment relating to food preparation and eating for those affected by head and neck cancer, particularly as in Yvonne’s case and others, relating to swallowing.

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty in swallowing. This includes problems with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, dribbling saliva, closing lips, or when food or drink goes down the wrong way.

The link to the video is at the end of this post.

Thank you Yvonne for sharing.

 

 What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

There are a few times in my life where I have had to reinvent myself both professionally and personally. I think my latest challenge with finding a large tumour on my left tonsil has been my greatest challenge.

There have been other life-threatening situations – involving motorbikes, but this was really out of my control. Once diagnosed I responded with ‘silence’ – I went into myself I realise now.

It was a difficult time as I had relocated countries, left my full time job to start a new life and career and had my heart broken all in the space of 8 weeks, then a cancer diagnosis.

Suffice to say, I had little time to grieve anything, it was get on with it and start the treatment. Everything was put on hold in terms of dealing with loss of income, loss of love and in some respects the loss of my beloved father a year earlier.

It’s only now, 18 months after diagnosis, that I am starting to mentally deal with some of the other issues going on in my life at that time.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

I had no time to consider anyone or anything else really.

I was on my own and thankfully had my mum still in her own home where I could live whilst going through the treatment.

I had had a sore throat for many, many months and jokingly said to a friend “I think it’s cancer” not really believing it, turns out 6 months later I was right.

How has it changed me?

I listen to my body really closely now, I use to before, but this has made me very aware of what thoughts I have running through my head, what niggle is going on and why… it also made me realise that every second you spend worrying about some insignificant thing is wasted time.

Get on and do it and do it now. Whatever it takes.

I lost the last five kilos I couldn’t budge and then some, so that was great for me, not an ideal weight loss programme but it started me back on my fitness journey 15 kilos lighter.

I now have to learn how to eat again and for a foodie I have found this the most distressing, depressing and difficult side effect.

Food was/ is my world and I have had to retrain and rethink what that looks like now. It also made my fledgling idea about teaching culinary pursuits in a foreign country come to fruition.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

 

You always have choices, for me, I sat with it and the implications and thought about the worst-case scenario.

I was also told by a well meaning nurse that my cancer treatment had not worked and there was nothing more they could do for me. That sort of puts things in a very stark perspective, it’s humbling and it’s frightening.

It’s also incredibly motivating when I discovered that was not the case.

Learning to manage emotions is something you also can practise and become the master.

I then figured well if that’s as bad as it gets (death / inability to function normally/ disability) then make the most of what you have now.

I also discovered that you lose “friends” along the way, whether they can’t handle the new you, or who you have become or are becoming is too hard for them I don’t know.

I have had to make an entirely new circle of friends and have reacquainted myself with ones I have not had much to do with for years.

What I can say is, you are innately very strong you just don’t know it yet.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Yes, I am doing things now that are very much out of my comfort zone, although some would say riding through Vietnam and Laos on the back of a motorbike during a typhoon is getting out of my comfort zone too, but this disease and its side affects have made me realise that everyone has a message and a story.

In many ways this disease has focused my life’s purpose, I had all the scaffolding ready but now I have the ‘reason’ to hoist the flag on top of the scaffolding.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Don’t spend time worrying about things that might happen, focus on the now and take it one step at a time.

There is literally  someone else worse off than you, I’d hate to be that person by the way whoever they are, I guess it’s all relative.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. 

 

My job as I see it now is to spend my time doing what I love, what I love is cooking and if I can help others with eating difficulties as a result of HNC and its treatment then that’s what I am going to do.

I come from a family of teachers so it is not surprising to me that ultimately, I want to use my skills to help others.

I have set up The Food Manifesto and Soup hug as a way to bring a community together that suffer from this debilitating side effect.

I like to think of myself as the food curator for dysphagia, the link between your dietitian and your kitchen.

 

What a story of resurgence here. I can say that because I did not know Yvonne until she found the friendly facebook group for Head and Neck Cancer Patients, Carers, Professionals and Families. It is here, too, where I ‘met’ another Woman of Courage Maureen whose story is here.   There is another Woman of Courage called Tara Flannery who shared about her head and neck cancer here.

And this Woman of Courage shared her story. She is Julie McCrossin AM, who is also a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five and is part of the webinar Yvonne appeared in below.

 

Thank you again Yvonne. I am so pleased you are doing all you can to be well and help others too.

This is the penultimate post in the Women of Courage series.

Denyse.

Beyond Five, where I am a Community Ambassador released this video live just before World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2020.

Please take some time to view…and see what Yvonne shares from her kitchen and share with others who may benefit.

Thank you.

Social Media Links for Yvonne:

Blog/Website:  www.thefoodmanifesto.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/McclarenYvonne

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/sustainablefoodandtravel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/the_food_manifesto/?hl=en

 

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #52. Stella. 67/2020.

Women Of Courage Series. #52. Stella. 67/2020.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

I welcome Stella, who is 70 years old, to share her story as a woman of courage. However, I also need to share that ‘we’ have known each other for decades. In fact we grew up in a similar area of the Northern Beaches in Sydney and ended up being in the same classes from time to time at Manly Girls’ High. We are both in this photo. Can you find us? This was an image I shared in N.S.W. Education Week a few weeks ago. Stella and I ‘found’ each other again via facebook and another friend from that time, who has shared her story too. Ann Thanks for the nostalgic trip!

Stella Shares Her Story In Her Words, Here. 

  • This year is the 20th anniversary of the scariest time in my life. I was 50, really healthy, working full time and bringing up my two teenagers. Life was good and I had no worries.

 

  • One afternoon after work, I lay down to read, and saw in the wardrobe mirror that I had a very swollen abdomen. It was big enough to make me head straight off the bed and to go down to the doctor.  He was very off-handed, and said “So you’ve gained weight – what do you expect ME to do about that ?”

 

  • Until that point I’d always been a very shy and diffident person, and his words would normally have made me apologise for wasting his time  – and gone home feeling stupid.  Which could have been a death sentence for me.

 

  • For once in my life, I knew that I had to be courageous and speak up, advocate for myself and demand that he  pay some attention.  He did that , and sent me for an ultrasound which revealed a very large malignant ovarian cancer.

 

  • Within 24 hours I was in the hospital and had had a very long and serious operation. A week later I started having chemotherapy.  I faced all of that alone, since I had downplayed the situation to my family. My Dad had recently died, and I couldn’t bear to tell Mum and my kids that I might be going on the same path.

 

  • I plucked up all my courage, and did the whole thing solo. Every day I would meditate, and go for walks around the hospital, thinking positive thoughts and just enjoying little things like a new flower growing in the ward garden. I read good poetry , words to give me courage to face another day. The staff remarked on how calm I was, but it was really courage which was keeping me in that serene frame of mind.

 

  • One night my doctor popped his head around my door and told me had news. All the results had come back and as far as he could see, my cancer was in remission. It was great news, and I was able to go home  and back to work without too much stress.  The courage which I’d found within myself on that first day, stayed with me and gave me a very positive outlook.

 

  • Since that experience, I’ve become a spokesperson for women with ovarian cancer. I also trained as a phone counsellor, talking to women who’d just been diagnosed with the disease. I think that the courage I found on that first day, gives me a good inspiration when I talk to women – encouraging them to dig deep to find their courage, to demand good treatment and good communication with their doctors.

 

  • Ovarian cancer used to be called “The Silent Killer” because women didn’t know they had it until it was too late. 80% of them used to die. I’m one of the fortunate 20% , and with some courage in my back pocket I can speak for those 80% of sisters who didn’t survive to tell the tale.

 

Stella Burnell 2020 .

 

https://www.ovariancancer.net.au/

https://www.facebook.com/OvarianCancerAustralia/

 

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

  • I’ve had many experiences where courage was needed – in my work as a nurse I’ve often had to pull up my “big girl pants” and tough it out, but it was really my own experience with cancer which used my courage to heal myself.

 

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

  • I’d say that since the day that I first got the diagnosis, I’ve never again been the shy and retiring person that I used to be. It was a defining moment and I often use it when talking to other women, to illustrate how courage can help you to assert yourself in health situations. I am no longer the “invisible older woman” but have found my voice and I help other women to find theirs.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

  • I learned that you don’t always need other people to support you, when the going gets tough. In the particular instance that I mention, I had to “fly solo” and in fact I found that it was easier because I didn’t have to be around other people. Solitude was a great healing factor !

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

  • Yes, I am. I found my courage at that time, and it stands me in good stead every day now.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

  • In a health situation like mine, I’d say that education is a great thing. If you find out everything you can – as scary as that can be – you will be able to face up to any eventuality with courage.

 

Thank you so much Stella, education is so important in keeping our health under some person control and if not, then to know who to go to for more help. You did this is so many ways and as I know, via the links above, have most likely helped many women who have faced a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Denyse.

 

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

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