Saturday 8th August 2020

Changes For The Good: Head & Neck Cancer & Me: Eating. 15/2020.

Changes For The Good: Head & Neck Cancer & Me: Eating. 15/2020.

Next week, I have been asked to be a patient-participant in a video being made for Beyond Five on nutrition. As many of you know I have been a Community Ambassador for Beyond Five – the Face of Head and Neck Cancer – since late 2018.

Announcement of My Ambassador Role.

I was enthusiastic to take part in this video initially…then had a small crisis of confidence (for the want of a better expression) and began doubting my relevance. I was, and still am, firmly encouraged by both the CEO of Beyond Five and my husband that I do have that quality! Thank you.

There is a back-story to this and I am going to share it briefly before making my points about the GOOD that has come for me in terms of changes from a diagnosis of Head and Neck Cancer.

Denyse and eating…before Head and Neck Cancer. 

From early days in my teens and twenties I would self-soothe with lollies, chocolate and whilst I did not over-eat significantly, I did establish a pattern of eating for comfort. None of this was ever really a secret (certainly I did not have any kind of eating disorder, for which I am grateful) but it still was something I would not admit to doing (except me) and then over time, it probably began the life-time (decades rather than all of my life!) of eating for reasons other than hunger or to nourish myself. The bigger picture (pun intended) was first written about here and then, as I became more accountable for my past behaviours around eating, I updated here. Blogging is so good for this!

The above posts show that I acknowledged my eating and what it was doing to my appearance, general well-being and health. Yet, the ‘same amount of weight’ that would come off over a few decades (3 times at least) would also go back on.

What was I missing?

  1. Probably other ways in which to see food.
  2. Or maybe the maturity (even though I was mature in years) to see through the hard yards.
  3. But maybe none of this.
  4. I think as a serial dieter/eater/non exerciser and one who ate emotionally I just did what I did.

A Breakthrough of Sorts: Not Great Though.

From 2013 onwards, I acknowledge how serious my weight had become as a result of eating and less movement when my GP challenged me to try to reduced weight or she would be sending me for a Glucose Tolerance Test as I was becoming pre-Diabetic 2 in my test results. I managed to do as asked and my weight reduced enough to see progress. Yay.

Then from 2014, my anxiety ramped up (we were about to sell our house to pay out the mortgage as I needed to stop work at almost 65), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome re-entered my life after a few decades absence. From then I found I literally could not eat as I did before without the effects of mostly explosive diarrhoea. Yes. Unpleasant and socially restrictive.

Over the time of our move to the Central Coast, and some of my emotionally challenging times to adapt to life’s transitions, this continued to be a pattern and without ‘any real effort’ my weight slowly reduced.

I did, however, raise with my doctors, that I might have had cancer. I did look pretty gaunt. No, they said. OK. I did feel anxious almost all the time.

My Diagnosis of a Rare Oral Cancer: 17 May 2017, and How That Changed Me.

My story is told here on this page: Head and Neck Cancer.

This is a little reminder for me of what I went through back then. I was told on 18 May 2017 that where my cancer was located (upper gums and under top lip) I would require a compete removal of the top half of my mouth. THAT took a while for me to get over, in terms of the shock. Then I went home with my husband and thoughts raced in my mind. One was, if this is making me stressed, then how can I self-soothe or calm if my well-ingrained practices had been to eat something sweet, salty, crunchy or whatever. It was a rhetorical question. I had 7 weeks to wait for surgery and I was so anxious, eating was not high on my list.

Early Days And Getting Hangry! 

Following my 11 hour surgery, 3 days in ICU I was transferred to a room at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and added to the regime of drips was, via my naso-gastric tube,  some nutrition. The liquid kind. It was, for me, yucky but in one way that was my aversion to milk-type drinks. However, as each feed slowly dripped into my very, very empty stomach I had to change my attitude towards this feed. I started by telling myself “it is healing me and nourishing me” as I get well. I know I was going well as each time my professional team dropped by, they told me so. BUT…even when I finally got to try to oh so good nectar of WATER orally, I began to feel hangry (cranky when hungry!). By Day 8 I was allowed some clear fluids. Hallelujah. Broth, jelly, and then over time until my day of departure: Day 10 a few more soft food choices. No teeth, except for 8 bottom ones AND a very stitch-filled mouth!

And then I Came Home. Lots of Eating Ahead? Maybe.

Before I left hospital I was visited by the dietitian who was incredibly helpful with guidelines for me, and offers of samples of food-in-a-bottle and that she would follow up my progress at home via phone calls. I remember her words “now, you need to put on weight”. WHAT? No-one ever had told me that. It was a complete revolution in terms of instruction. I now know that yes, head and neck cancer patients need to keep weight on but no-one has ever really revealed why. Note to self: ask at next visit to my team.

My return to eating caused a great deal of distress in me because diarrhoea came back with fury as my emptied stomach  rebelled with a strong anti-biotic inside. I did not, as I thought I had to do, follow the dietitian’s advice but that of my local GP who had already seen me through diagnosis and now post-operatively. His words were “eat what you are up to and can keep you going.” Drink water as much as you can. With that, I did share the news with the dietitian when she called and I appreciated her services on offer but has to do this ‘my way.’

What I Did Then. 

My mouth did restrict my intake of food but I learned to adapt and seek foods that were both nourishing and pleasurable in texture/ taste. Mind you, my reconstructed mouth was quite a barrier to a variety of tastes but it was important for me psychologically to eat normal food. But also the words from the dietitian echoed and to “add value to food”. This meant a tiny lemon cupcake would have some dairy added to it: yoghurt, custard, ice cream. I became well-versed in the inner conversations re “fun to eat but also eat to heal”.

None of this food preparation or meal decisions came really easily and it required patience on my behalf as I was normally the meal-maker and my right leg’s giving up of its fibula, skin and flesh for my mouth, meant I could not stand for long…nor did I have much energy. But, my patient husband (and then full-time carer including grocery shopper) would help me as he could. I might not have been able to bite into some vegemite toast but I could savour the flavour and add some slices of avocado for nourishment. There are posts here, and  here about eating in those days.

Before I became affected by the anti-biotic, this was what I ‘could’ eat. Soft, slippery and full fat foods.

And Over Time, I Made Changes as My Mouth Healed. 

From July 2017 until August 2018 I had only 8 teeth in my mouth. It is amazing however, that humans can adapt! Mind you, I also add, THIS human had to become creative in her eating as boredom set in quickly and a sense of resentment about what head and neck cancer brought to my now lifestyle. I did make the effort to feel more grateful and appreciative of all that had been done for me. There were 3 more surgeries too, inside my mouth, to prepare it for an upper prosthesis of teeth.

Creativity included:

  • value adding to sweet foods like small cakes which were easy to swallow AND made me feel less deprived
  • making up some small plates of foods that would have me feeling like I was not missing out
  • inventing dishes for me: crustless pies, taco-less tacos
  • finding more and more ways with mince. Thank you to my A/Prof who advised mince would be a good food and my iron levels did slightly improve
  • allowing foods like small pieces of milk chocolate to melt on my tongue
  • iceblocks and paddlepops eaten with a spoon – my mouth did and still does love cold

Weight Was Good  Healthy…. Then I Got Teeth!

Notice my crossing out of good.

This is a judgement I have made like many over many years about eating. I now see, and have learned to see that my weight can be HEALTHY even if the numbers have increased. I was incredibly excited to get the upper prosthesis attached permanently to the abutments in my jaw. I remember fantasising about crunching food, chewing food and more. Well….that is what it was… a fantasy.

A reconstructed mouth is a blessing alright in terms of appearance and function for sure. But it does not do all that my mouth could do, so again, I have needed to adapt.

Adaptation took some tearful routes where my disappointment in not being able to eat something was palpable. I know I tried various foods including crunchy chips and they were/are a huge disappointment as they sting inside my newly re-skinned mouth and I could not swallow them. Onward to crunching into a piece of apple. Actually no. But I can eat small pieces or even better if I grate it.

I could add many more adaptations and they will form a new post in the future.

What I want to write about now is my weight, self-images and stories that can be untrue.

Changes in Me For the Good. Health and Head and Neck Cancer.

From August 2018 until February 2019 my weight from the rather steady figure of around 69kg increased by around 5 kg. I could feel it but I also LOVED feeling well and having more food choices. I was somewhat disappointed for a bit that some of my clothes were more snug…then I said to myself “that was because you could not eat much nor as well as you can now”. It was to be an on-going inner conversation (of self-judgement) for a while.

When I realised what I looked like (one aspect of me) was HEALTHY I began to accept that this was a good thing.

  • In fact, I knew it was. I did however let the old weight-centred thoughts creep back.
  • I started to believe I might get back to the much more heavy person I had been in 2013-14.
  • I was scared but the clothes and the scales did not lie. I stayed around the same.
  • For many months, and now it’s a year. It has not happened.
  • In fact, I am a little less on the scales than a year ago.
  • I use my clothes now as a measure of how I am going.
  • Very steadily and the scales are used rarely but they are telling me what I feel it true. So, no more stories!

My Appearance on the Beyond Five Video on Nutrition.

I now look forward to helping present the patient’s perspective on what I have learned personally about nutrition and how to nourish my soul as well as my stomach and mouth. I can honestly say I eat for both pleasure and health yet in a different way from any other time in my life.

This is why I am grateful for my diagnosis of head and neck cancer.

I have learned to sooth myself through meditation, talking with my husband, using my journal, art and going out for coffee. This is one important strategy in my every day self care. In fact, the more I self care, the less I even think of a need to soothe with food. How grateful I am for that.

Each time I go out, or plan a meal or snack at home I often have to re-think from the old familiar paths of pre- head and neck cancer.

  • Quantities are very different. That’s fine.
  • I make mall dishes I can freeze.
  • I carry small packs of biscuits in my bag to have with a coffee.
  • I know too that I can manage certain soft sweet foods with my coffee and will often ask for a bag to take half home.
  • I have still not ventured out for a ‘real meal’ but neither of us are that interested.
  • We had had lunch with family and entertained here.
  • I am less self-conscious of my eating these days.
  • I do always have a small bottle of water nearby.

 

I Am Going Well! 

This is my stock standard answer when I am asked how I am. It’s true. I am indeed. I am glad to have seen the good that head and neck cancer has been for me and my eating. This is me on Thursday 20 February enjoying being back near the water after attending the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Group Meeting..and catching a treat of a small iced cupcake with a coffee on the way home.

There will be some updates after the making of this video but already, just writing out what was making me feel less than my normal confident has done me good.

Onward!

Denyse.

 

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Self-Care Stories. #1. 7/51 #LifeThisWeek. 13/2020.

Self-Care Stories. #1. 7/51 #LifeThisWeek. 13/2020.

 

Welcome to the first in the series for 2020.

This optional prompt pops up every 7 weeks or so.

Today here’s mine!

Before kicking off: I have made two changes to my daily routine which is helping me:

One is to consider what I am grateful for each day. I tend to think about something or someone through the day and by even thinking that way I notice a change within. I blogged about it here. I am doing an instagram post each day here: @denysewhelan_blogs and no longer have my account private. I still have @denysewhelan going and no longer private...look at me taking a risk

Two is I am listening to Calm meditation app twice a day. One session, the Daily Calm, before I get up from bed and last thing at night a session of whatever I need at the moment. I have just listened to 10 or so day of “relationship with self.”. Calm is free initially and then you can decided to buy. I got a lifetime price as a bargain in 2018 and am never sick of it. Sleep stories are ace too on nights when I am less than sleep-ready.

What Have I Been Doing?

  1. remembering to follow my daily routine: get up, have breakfast, get dressed and go somewhere for a coffee….come home, blog, read, relax, cook, sleep…
  2. this was, for the most part, pretty well kept.
  3. however and it may have been something that affected others too, I became more anxious than usual when we had extremes of threats:
  • Bushfires
  • More fires
  • High temperatures
  • Continued fires
  • And then it rained.
  • Rainfall was excessive in some places and caused:
  • Flooding
  • Electricity to be cut
  • And NONE of this directly affected me.
  • Mmmmmm.
  • so I was most fortunate to have an in-house counsellor (aka my husband) but also that my previous years of learning how to self-care via means at my disposal actually helped..a great deal.
  • but being an avid follower of social media there were signs that my emotional health was being impacted when I stayed on news and updates for fires/disaster sites for long periods.
  • I realised even before I was “told” by my husband to stop. That was a good self-care measure in itself.

 

Why Have I Needed to Do This?

  1. I know I thrive on being informed and also caring about and for others….BUT there has to be a limit placed.
  2. I do this now by asking myself “what is it I can do that will help this person/those people etc?” If there is nothing really, I do send out a message of empathy where it’s appropriate and I might even do this.
  3. The loving kindness messages are always a way for me to feel a greater connection with others.
  4. I recalled with some hyped and stressed memories of the 5 days of the 2015 East Coast Low when we first moved to the Central Coast and I needed to talk a few of those memories through.
  5. Once I had done that I also knew I am in (and still am in) a much better headspace some 5 years later thanks to all the work I have done to achieve greater emotional health.

Loving Kindness (Metta) can be said silently for yourself, for another or for many. These words above are just one group.

How Do I Integrate This Into My Life?

  1. I continue to follow my routine as much as possible allowing for days (there were a couple!) where to go out of the house meant to be on unsafe roads in flooding rains so I stayed home
  2. I managed to fill in those particular days with little and varied projects of mine.
  3. I automatically come to my art desk when I need to zone out and concentrate on ONE thing and that worked well. In fact it has been something I have done before as well.
  4. I love the variety of activities I now have at my disposal and made use of exploring more of the media too.
  5. My husband was well-occupied with his in-house hobbies and some cabinet making in the garage so with no power lost, we really did well!

 

Afterwards. Onwards.

  1. Self-care is on-going and it can change in its focus for me, depending on how I am.
  2. This week (in fact today!) I am at Westmead seeing my prosthodontist for an update on my upper mouth. I used to get quite stressed about these visits “what will he see that I cannot” and last week I said “STOP”.
  3. I had been living in fear that had no justification.
  4. It was shifting the relaxed mood in our house (and relationship) to tense because I was experiencing some mouth pain (it IS always there, it just seemed worse)
  5. I changed how I approached the pain. I stopped focussing on it by not mentioning it. I also took panadol as instructed.
  6. Self-care is pretty well an on-going matter and recently on Bev Aisbett’s Facebook page (Living with “IT” Anxiety) she posted this, with permission to share:

Recently I took this selfie looking back to  Norah Head Lighthouse in the background, the huge seas reaching the shore…to remind me of how well I am, grateful for all in my life and how far I have come. More to come too, of course!

How is your self-care going?

What do you notice if you are not keeping up your self-care practices?

I look forward to catching up with the comments after I am back from Westmead!

Denyse.

Link Up 176.

Link Up #176. Life This Week.

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, or on your sidebar.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice.

* THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s weekly optional prompt is: 8/51 Unusual 23/2/2020

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Series Concludes. 51/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Series Concludes. 51/2019.

This is the final post in the series of five.

Thanks to you all for continuing to read and comment about this very difficult time in my life.

It is only by the review of how it was, I can see and sense just how much I did endure before the cancer diagnosis!

In this month of May, I am reminded by the outside signs: weather, temperature, clothing AND the dates on the calendar exactly what is coming up.

The 2nd anniversary of being told I had cancer.

Wednesday 17th May 2017 at 9.35 a.m.

From the writing of the fourth part of this series till the timeline of this final post, I can remember:

  • trying my best to distract myself from the pain of the mouth after the extractions, thinking “this must be how recovery feels”
  • telling myself that I would be OK even if my emotions were telling me differently…via IBS and anxiety.
  • looking out for ways in which I could share on-line, via blogging and instagram to help me focus on other than my mouth
  • waiting for the first appointment in early/mid May to come so I could return to the dentist
  • keeping myself ‘busy’ with more learning about mindfulness, which included this:

Then mid-May arrived. I needed to visit my former GP on Wed 10 May 2017 to say farewell now I had found our new and current one close to where we live, and I needed some female tests done. I also had the appointment with the dentist on Thursday 11 May 2017.

This mouth of mine was so smelly, sore and downright worrying. I had not really shown the doctor even though I had seen her regularly for 2 years because it was not until the extraction on 6 April 2017 that much became visible.

Once I took the denture out, she GASPED and put her hands over her mouth. NOT a confident move but one I know was from shock.

This view spares you the details but it was no pretty at all. She made immediate arrangements for me to have a CT scan of my face – sinuses etc as she was thinking cancer and an OPG which is a special 360degree X-ray for the mouth. She knew I was seeing my dentist the next day.

Off I went home with a pit growing in my stomach…and of course, I could not think of much else. On the Thursday, I arrived at the dentist’s office with my little cakes and a card to say “thanks for caring for me at the extraction appointment”. Nice. Then it was his turn to express shock – but in a less dramatic way – after seeing the state of the gums AND to send me to the Oral Surgeon for a biopsy. THAT was sorted out very quickly when the Oral Surgeon saw me on the Friday 12 May AND could do the biopsy then. A sneaky suspicion I now have – in a good way – is that my dentist got in touch with her quick smart and said “asap” please.

Whilst I DID get through that Friday, knowing I had to wait till Monday for the results was H A R D…and it was Mother’s Day, 14 May 2017, on the Sunday. To be frank some family issues were making this a day that I was not looking forward to much but, as Mum, I did my best to cover my feelings. Not very well, though as even in this photo I remember all I was thinking about was the results the next morning. I did tell my daughter as she was leaving that I had some test results coming.

Monday 15 May arrived and once the time arrived that I could call to see if the results from the Imaging places were in, I did and I went to collect them: no sign of anything sinister. Breathe out….. Later that day the oral surgeon called with initial biopsy results …nothing sinister found….breathe out….and I called both my Dad and daughter with the news. My husband already knew.

Phew. Dodged that.

Not so fast apparently. It still did not make sense that I had this weird gum thing happening but I took the words of the professionals and believed them.

Wednesday morning, 17 May,  my husband was at Lifeline doing volunteer counselling and I was still in my chair, finishing off the morning paper after breakfast. The home phone rang and it was the oral surgeon. She apologised for the call, but had the detailed pathology report and it was squamous cell carcinoma in those nasty gums of mine. I was shocked but not surprised as I have said before…”it HAD to be something major”.

From then on, it was all-systems go…to a certain extent. I know I had to really get myself into headspace where I could deal with, of all things, the travel to and from Sydney the very next day…and the next two weeks and I did. Typical of me, on that Wednesday, after my husband arrived home and I had my big cry, I was able to go into organisation-mode, and call Lifehouse to find out who Dr Clark was (!) and to plan our trip. I did these trips and managed what I did thanks to my own work, my husband’s amazing support and our GP’s wise words and advice.

The rest of the cancer story is here….and these last words and the photo are of me prior to the first, big surgery in July 2017 and of my thoughts beforehand.

“last smiles” were/are treasured but under those false teeth it’s cancer

  • I made  plans and prepared for hospital,  making meals for later,  and making sure I had sufficient clothes and activities ready to take to the hospital but it was surreal. I was doing this BECAUSE I have cancer. It still did not make sense to me.

  • I know that I saw my GP and psychologist about the surgery and what is meant to have cancer and yes, I cried sometimes but other times I was just numb. THIS could not be happening to me!?

  • My mouth and its discomfort and smell were the source of the cancer and I began to ‘hate’ it.

  • I also knew this surgery was going to take away 3 things that were and are precious to me: smiling, communicating and eating. Made me sad and quite stressed.

  • I was resigned to what the operation was but I truly had no idea of how it would impact me because it was like I was somewhat detached.

  • I knew that the surgery would be within 4-6 weeks of our consultation with the surgeons but oh how those weeks dragged on as I wanted to surgery to be over…but I also did not want to have it. So horrible. It  ended up being 7 weeks after diagnosis.

  • It took me weeks to finally get out the hospital forms and complete them. I just couldn’t before. I had to make myself do them. Filling them out meant, of course, I HAVE cancer and HAVE to do something about it. 

  • I made a decision to stay in a ‘cheap place’ the night before surgery and I so regret this as we were uncomfortable and I spent some of the time ‘feeling guilty and responsible’ because I have cancer. 

  • On the day of surgery, at 6.00 a.m. we  presented yourselves at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, and then once ‘checked in’  I undressed and got into the paper gown which meant THIS is about to happen. O.M.G. 

  • I said goodbye to my husband and was off….the journey into the unknown…the operating theatre.

     

Thank you dear readers and commenters. It has helped me enormously to be able to document my cancer journey. At the time of publication, it will be almost the 2nd anniversary of my diagnosis. I am so pleased to be well and at this point. Incredibly grateful to many! I will be seeing my Professor, Jonathan Clark and his wonderful assistant Cate next week for what I hope will be a positive outcome and the intervals between cancer checks will spread from 3 monthly to 6 monthly.

I will have seen my prosthodontist on Monday 13 May so I hope that went well.

It did go well. I am maintaining my prosthesis well. Good news!

 

Yay for modern treatments in Australia and reconstruction surgeries that have enabled this senior citizen to have her ‘mouth’ as functional as it can be thanks to the marvels of modern surgeries and the healing powers of my body.

Denyse.

An unlikely entrant for Zen Tips Tuesday, I know, but I sure know I employed a LOT of skills to stay as calm as I could on this occasion in particular. Thank you Min for your link up here.

Copyright © 2019 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 4. 46/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 4. 46/2019.

I am heading for ‘crunch time’ now. It is almost the 2 years since I heard the words over the telephone:

“Denyse, squamous cell carcinoma was found in your gums after further investigation by the pathologist”

In the last week of April 2017 I did something very courageous…for the Denyse I was back then.

I drove to Sydney to see my father.

My anxiety and fear of IBS episodes had so built up in my mind, that I could not even fathom this trip from the Central Coast, down the M1 to Dee Why. It bothered me big time that I could not but it made me so scared just thinking about it.

“The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.”  Brene Brown.

 

Then as readers from earlier posts know, I HAD to find the courage and it was via this: exposure therapy which over time, has become my way of managing the hard things. This is discussed in a post here. And here in part two.

Remember this is not an advice post, merely my story. Wikipedia has also provided a quote.

Exposure therapy is a technique in behaviour therapy thought to help treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress.

From my post here:

My psychologist brought up exposure therapy as part of her helping me learn what I had to do next after getting myself more confident about some social things I had previously resisted. These included driving to Sydney and going to the Dentist. However, I was resistant to learning how it could help me conquer my fear about IBS and getting ‘caught’ short.

She outlined a list of 1 -10 and then asked me to tell her hardest (the 10 end) and easiest (the 1 end) activities I would be prepared to try and then to do them before the next session and report back. Exposure therapy continued to be resisted by me even though I had the knowledge, and a counselling-trained husband encouraging me. What to do? Nothing was improving, so I did some of the challenges at the easier end:

  • go out in the car about 15 minutes and not go to the toilet just to check I am ok,
  • go out again and not take an immodium in my bag just in case
  • go out for a longer time and not race home because it is too hard not to be sure about my IBS.

What does any of this have to do with my remembering the time two years ago?

It is a reminder for me, via the words and pictures, of how long it took for me to get my cancer diagnosis AND how hard it was for me emotionally to manage much of my day-to-day life BEFORE cancer came along.

What I see now, is how I did garner the strength and the courage, over time, via the help of so many:

  • People who had been through their own life challenges and as a result trained in psychology and mindfulness – these people are part of my “inner team” now as I did so much work with them on-line, via CD and streaming their podcasts and videos. I mention them here.
  • My husband, on-site caring and most knowledgeable person, who was not only training in counselling via a degree prior to me becoming very unwell but already had managed his own health issues over decades to the point of self-responsibility for his well-being and care.
  • My GPs and a psychologist who enabled me to see I “had this within me” but also gave me guidance and some appropriate medication to make my path a smoother one.
  • My friends on-line via blogging and other social media who supported my blog and the link ups, made connections via following and keeping me engaged at times I may not have wanted to but did anyway
  • Family and friends who understood this was a big transition I was going through – probably more than I would admit to – from 2014 to early 2017 and with added worries/issues I could not discuss, that worsened my reactions and ill-health for some time.

Thank you for your interest as I have found compiling this helpful for me to judge how far I have come!

There will be a final one in this series…sometime in early May 2019.

Denyse.

Joining  With Leanne on Thursday for Lovin Life link up here

AND with Alicia on Fridays for Open Slather here.

Thank you all for your link ups.

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Learning To Be Calm. 39/2019.

Learning To Be Calm. 39/2019.

Over 4 years ago, when I first began understanding that I needed to care for myself INSIDE and out, I began meditation. I went to a retreat at the local Buddhist place and learned that I liked being calm and centred. Of course I could not stop thoughts coming and going and I thought then that made me a failure at meditation.

No.

It made me someone who understood that thoughts come and go no matter what but the trick is not to engage in them. Ha. Easier said than done!

Then.

Now, I have been doing some kind of mindfulness each day AND adding around 10 minutes or so of formal meditation via an app, I KNOW I can stop some of the previous ways in which my mind would race, my gut would churn and I would go down the slippery slope (my husband’s name for it) of rumination, regret and future thinking.

I am much better now at stopping the thoughts by not buying into them and distracting myself with going outside, doing some art, driving and listening to an audible book.

Here’s what I have used in the past: Headspace. I paid for it and used it most days for almost 3 years. What happened for me is boredom set in.

I moved to another app called Calm after doing the free trial.

A for Amazing. I love its variations, I love the refreshing of the meditations, I love that I can re-do ones I get a lot out of and I love that I can explore new sessions.

Sleep Stories is a winner too. I now tend to do my meditation at bedtime (I used to be a mid-morning meditator) and then, I might also listen to a sleep story. It is just the best.

This is the link to the website and you can see there is a free trial. I did that, then paid for an annual fee and after that was offered LIFETIME membership at not much more than the annual fee. I grabbed that bargain! I am not being paid ( I don’t do sponsored posts) but I like to recommend.

I hope you find some calm in your every day in any way that works well for you!

Denyse.

Joining with Min for her Zen Tips Tuesday link up here.

 

 

 

 

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The Big C and Me. 15/2019.

The Big C and Me. 15/2019.

It’s time to share more about me and the Big C.

Yes, it’s about C for…..

CONFIDENCE!

(ha! not the other big C for cancer)

I think I give an outward show of being confident. It is not really a fake it till I make it confidence either.

It is about self-confidence in selected settings.

  • I am confident about my school life and teaching days and enjoy sharing the stories from then.
  • I love this part of me that can share now. I know there were days in education that were not always great (yes, my emotional health took a beating in 2002) but I have grown so much as a person and learner since then.

 

  • I am getting more confident of how I am managing my self-care in regards to less anxiety that plagued me for the years of my transition into retirement.
  • What good news that is! It was horrible for me with IBS thrown into the mix and I have done so well taking on board exposure therapy and a small medication routine.

 

  • I am less than confident in my belief about how well I am going in terms of my mental outlook since my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments and surgeries.
  • What is the evidence each day? None, really. It just happens sometimes.

 

  • I remain under-confident about my changed appearance a.k.a. my body’s change from very overweight to ‘almost normal weight’ and then back to a slightly ‘overweight’ status.
  • Am I taking steps to understand this huge shift and learning as I go? Yes. Every day.

 

  • I am still not as confident as I think I need to be to take on a continuing role in educating others about Head and Neck cancer because I am sensing judgment of others. I do know that I call upon courage to help me through even I have doubts.
  • Do I have evidence? Not really.

WHY?

I am who I am.

I am the product of a childhood and teen years spent in a dominant paternal household. I was told what to do. I may not always have done it but the memory of “other people’s words” being my measure for self remain.

I am able to give myself a ‘good talking to’ at times and can turn this matter of lack of self-confidence around.

But it takes energy and time AND motivation. I do not always have these on hand together and so there are days when my lack of self-confidence AND worth impact me more.

I am learning more in terms of self-compassion and how each of us is connected via shared humanity.

AM I FOOLING ANYONE?

Possibly but what of it?

  • I am on Instagram each day keeping myself accountable for dressing with purpose and going out somewhere for coffee.
  • This does help me ramp up some of my confidence in just doing so. I am not reliant on the comments as much any more because I know the effort I put in makes the outcome worth it.
  • But then when I have kind followers write comments of “congratulations, kindness and cheering me on” I do appreciate this a lot but also that inner critic rises up and adds her voice “would they say that if they really knew me?”
  • Lies. I do not tell them as far as I am aware but it seems maybe I am believing them from this inner critic. Who? Moi?

WHAT NOW?

Onward.

I know that putting these words here has helped me see that it’s my faulty thinking that has been affecting my self-confidence.

OK! How to change that?

  • Already I have in some ways as I now recognise this inner critic voice and her role.

 

  • My actions, my words and my inner life help me remember MUCH more about the confidence I like to have and know I can bring more to the fore.

 

  • Each time I dress and go out for coffee, I am embedding self-confidence.

 

  • My daily journal keeping can continue to be a ‘write it all down’ place and then review for evidence of this confidence tracking upwards not the downwards the inner critic can believe.

 

  • My on-line interactions with people from my various communities in education, blogging and head and neck cancer are ways in which I grow my self-confidence and also give back to others where I can and it is asked for.

 

  • Seeing myself as others do and may. It helps to believe that I am both good and doing good. This is something I have struggled with all of my life and want it to change. I can do this. I will remind myself more.

 

  • Maintaining practices of:

 

  • being in nature,
  • time-outs with my art journal,
  • chats with my husband, meditation each night,
  • helping my physical body to relax,
  • exercising within my limitations,
  • planning to eat well and doing the same without any deprivation,
  • cancer checks and better understanding of the fact that cancer actually never leaves but might take a back seat in my life,
  • taking time to make contact with family and friends,
  • exploring the local area’s beauty,
  • browsing at the shops,
  • reading,
  • keeping to a timetable of sorts each day for balance in my life.

Already I feel better!

Thanks for reading.

Do you have an issue with the Big C?

 

Denyse.

Joining with my blogging friends here:

Min on Tuesdays here for #ZenTipsTuesday

Sue & Leanne on Wednesdays  here for #MidlifeShareTheLove

Leanne & Crew on Thursdays  here for #LovinLife

 

 

 

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November Notes #5. 2018.125.

November Notes #5. 2018.125.

I went to a million (give or take) in-service courses as a teacher/principal.

I think they are called “professional learning” now and I also know they “count” towards accreditation each year.

I also devised and delivered many as both a teacher and University tutor and Adult Educator.

So what is this about in relation to my final November notes?

It’s how my personal development was & is enhanced by having cancer.

I am aware I have written at some length about the processes I have learned behaviour-wise and they are here, on the page “Denyse and Her Cancer Story”.

What I will do now is write about my changes in behaviour and attitude and how this can be linked to my cancer diagnosis. To make it easier and for me to see the changes, it will be in photos.

  • I gained independence
  • I became much less anxious and fearful following my diagnosis and subsequent BIG surgery
  • I tried new things with greater ease than ever before
  • I knew that to follow the processes and trust in the professionals, I would be OK.
  • I sometimes had to challenge the negative voice inside that wanted it all “done and now”
  • I found calm in more ways than I realised: particularly by going outside, into nature and doing art.

And then more:

  • As I already knew from the experiences of ‘exposure therapy’ the more I did the more I could do with increased confidence
  • Things do not occur linearly nor with ease and of course there were (still are at times) so tears that spill over and some worries
  • What is different now is how quickly I recover and re-group
  • It feels so much better for me to be a calmer person who is less afraid to travel, meet up with friends old and new and see greater times ahead
  • I can also put the “cancer voice” back in its box with relative ease by using my thinking strategies well.
  • I no longer try to ‘case manage’ anyone else’s behaviour.
  • I accept with great assurance that not only am I doing the best I can, so are most people
  • I am much more likely now to reach out a hand in friendship and care rather than recoil because of the anxiety and fear based on social engagements and effects of IBS.

And this is why and how having cancer helped me grow. It is a learning process of course. However, I am loving how my life is now and what I have gained back from this past 18 months living with a cancer diagnosis.

There is such a phenomenon called Post-Traumatic Growth. Article can be found here.

This resonates with me:

Types of personal growth

People may experience different types of change while coping with cancer, including:

  • Improved relations with others. Living with cancer may increase feelings of closeness or intimacy with family or friends. It may make it easier to connect with others who have had a traumatic event.
  • New life experiences. Having cancer may change your priorities, causing you to make different life choices. You may be motivated to make a career change, overcome a fear, or fulfil a life goal.
  • A greater appreciation for life. A cancer survivor may have an increased regard for life’s value or a new sense of vulnerability to death. This awareness may help you appreciate the world in new ways.
  • A sense of personal strength. Living with cancer can help you develop increased mental strength and a sense of empowerment. You can be proud of what you have accomplished.
  • Spiritual development. Some people living with cancer find they gain an increased interest in practicing religion or adding spiritual depth to their daily lives.

Having post-traumatic growth does not mean that you have completely overcome the stress and other feelings about having cancer. Growth and suffering can happen at the same time. In fact, most people who report post-traumatic growth also report having struggles. A person may grow in one area of their life and not another, or in a number of areas at different times.

I have been incredibly fortunate of course to have the surgeries and treatments and I never downplay cancer but as an educator I know what it has taught me and continues to teach me.

Have you had experiences that have changed part of your life and your outlook?

Please share!

Denyse.

Joining in with Leanne for Lovin Life linky here.

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What Is The Hard* Thing? Part Two. 2018.94.

What Is The Hard* Thing? Part Two. 2018.94.

Last week I began this topic here and had a number of commenters who added their own hard things to the discussion.

What was common to many was the fact that even though they did not want to really do “their hard thing” they were prepared to give it a go and in most cases were pleased to have done so.

That mirrors my own experiences.

Thank you for sharing, everyone.

I found a couple of websites here for those who want to learn more, here and here.

Remember this is not an advice post, merely my story. Wikipedia has also provided a quote.

Exposure therapy is a technique in behaviour therapy thought to help treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress.

About (My) Exposure Therapy.

I am not a trained psychologist nor therapist but I am someone who has been taught what exposure therapy is and whilst I did not like its title (I called it my challenges!) I can outline how it was explained for me.

My psychologist brought up exposure therapy as part of her helping me learn what I had to do next after getting myself more confident about some social things I had previously resisted. These included driving to Sydney and going to the Dentist. However, I was resistant to learning how it could help me conquer my fear about IBS and getting ‘caught’ short.

She outlined a list of 1 -10 and then asked me to tell her hardest (the 10 end) and easiest (the 1 end) activities I would be prepared to try and then to do them before the next session and report back. Exposure therapy continued to be resisted by me even though I had the knowledge, and a counselling-trained husband encouraging me. What to do? Nothing was improving, so I did some of the challenges at the easier end:

  • go out in the car about 15 minutes and not go to the toilet just to check I am ok,
  • go out again and not take an immodium in my bag just in case
  • go out for a longer time and not race home because it is too hard not to be sure about my IBS.

And then I HAD to face my worst fear and do a trip to Sydney to Lifehouse, see surgeons about my newly (24 hours previously) diagnosed cancer and be a passenger in the car. Three things! My G.P. said “take the valium, take the immodium” and my husband stopped at any loo along the way. I DID it all. Yes, with some drug help but no IBS.

That changed things a LOT. It did not happen just from that ONE experience…I had many more drives like that to face and surgeries but it was the beginning of getting better acquainted with of what I COULD manage by my thinking and doing.

In fact by early March 2018 I decided I could now drive myself to Sydney for the many treatments at Westmead Hospital. Yes, I still do get some IBS in the days leading up but I manage it. No, I do not scold myself any more nor cry about it. I get on with it. It will never be easy-peasy but I will continue to have my mind “do the hard things” and not be beaten by the anxiety of having IBS. By the way, this photo below is me having finished my 23rd session of measuring, treating and fitting at Westmead Oral Sciences. I drove myself to 18 of these!

Monday 10 September with my prosthodontist and nurse. No more visits for 4 weeks!

My Added Story.

Way before cancer and me learning about exposure therapy but when IBS was robbing me of experiences such as visitign the family in Sydney or going there for a social reason, I used to push myself to do some to these as it was “too hard” not to do them if that makes sense. One was (and still is) a family-duty visit to see my elderly father. I say duty because I really do not enjoy these visits much yet I also want to ensure he is OK and leave some meals and snacks I make for him. A long time ago, he tried to understand my IBS and made adjustments to my visits so we just stay in his apartment and talk. The times he insisted on going out for a meal or snack…well, they ended badly for me so he compromised.

With Dad – early 2018.

When I drove back home up to the Central Coast from the Northern Beaches  in the years preceding my cancer diagnosis I always stopped here. Sometimes I still do. In this space of nature, just off the busy and noisy M1, I get a sense of calm and success at having met that challenge of the journey and the reason. When I was there last week, I made this little video.

That’s not quite it from me in terms of the hard things.

What I have realised since even thinking about this post, is how much I do need to continue to encourage myself to take part in life’s changes. You see, I thought getting my teeth would be awesome and it is, but it added another layer of thinking to my concerns…so, if I can eat what I want to eat after so long, what will it be like if I become very overweight again and cannot fit into the clothes I bought in the last 12 months? I tells ya, it never goes away does it…this hard thing!

Comfort Zones.

No such thing really. Well, in my opinion, sitting or staying in your comfort zone helps you stay stuck.  was in mine for a while when I would go nowhere but when I think more of it is was a DIScomfort zone. I did not like the me that could not get herself motivated* to go again.

*I have not been diagnosed with clinical depression nor anxiety. I have been affected by reactive depression (sadness and tears) but that often resolves within a day. My ‘anxiety’ is more of a worry thing and has been part of me since I was a teen. My doctors and psychologists believe I am managing well. The very low dose, old fashioned anti-depressant I am on each evening is to help me sleep and it s l o w s  down my inner gut workings. If you have been diagnosed with either or both: depression and anxiety, then you should speak to your health professional about the types of things related to exposure therapy.

Moving On. My Next Challenge!! 

I am going to be OK as long as I eat well and mindfully because when I was very overweight I ate mindlessly most of the time and to stuff down feelings. See here, if you have not read my story. So, I AM different to the Denyse I was then and I have new and better skills to manage my emotions and life since cancer.

Wish me luck!

Hope you are all doing well too.

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie here for I Blog On Tuesdays and with Sue and Leanne here for Midlife Share The Love link up.

 

 

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