Saturday 4th July 2020

My Latest Head & Neck Cancer News.120/2019.

My Latest Head & Neck Cancer News.120/2019.

For those who are new to the blog and my head and neck cancer story, all posts can be found here. 

As I reach the end of the year, it’s timely to do an update of how it is to be living with the results of head and neck cancer.

Specifically for me, the cancer was found inside my mouth: top gums and under the top lip.

It was named squamous cell carcinoma at first diagnosis after the initial biopsy but after my first surgery here, the results from the massive pathology testing done then according to my head and neck cancer surgeon was a form of verrucous squamous cell carcinoma. I do not pretend to understand my version of head and neck cancer. It IS oral cancer but for ease of others finding my blog I file it under head and neck cancer.

I am told by my professor that my version of this cancer is rare. The fact that head and neck cancer like mine (no Human Papilloma Virus/HPV cause) and no risk factors like smoking or drinking alcohol makes me “rare of rare”. Professor Jonathan Clark AM 2019. Sigh. Ok, I am glad it’s rare I guess but there is a puzzlement always about the how and why of my version of this cancer that I discuss with my dentist (who ordered to original biopsy after I had him take the bridge and teeth out…so I have learned to accept the no reason as best as I can.

Always grateful for my head & neck cancer surgeon

Supporting Others Helps Me Too.

My Blog.

This place (right here!) provided me, initially, with a way to tell my head and neck cancer story. I am glad I still keep going with the updates. Now as I hear, it can also be a place that others who are newly diagnosed, family members, friends and professionals can pop in, using the top of the page link to see all posts.

My Social Media Presence.

Twitter.

I like to talk (!) and connect so when I want to do this, without face to face catch ups (we are all over the world!) then it’s to social media I go. I have an active twitter account https://twitter.com/DenyseWhelan1 where I follow head and neck cancer patients, carers and professionals. Some of those include Beyond Five where I am an Ambassador, my fellow Ambassadors Julie McCrossin and Marty Doyle. The New Zealand based Facebook group, found here, has two of its admins Maureen Jensen and Tammy Von Keisenberg who are on twitter.

Facebook.

My blog’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/denysewhelanblogs/ is where I do my main connecting these days and also use this profile in the Head and Neck Cancer Support Aotearoa. If you have head and neck cancer, or a family member or friend does, this group with over 500 members is an active and supportive place to share, read and find information. Meeting up with Fergus was a delight and getting to know Tara too. These people are the first who have also been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer in similar place to mine and we all have Chris O’Brien Lifehouse as our cancer centre.

Groups.

The local Head and Neck Cancer group for me (Central Coast NSW)  has a social media presence with a public facebook page found here: 

Beyond Five: found here, also lists meeting days and updates from groups around Australia. This is the link to the general page.

Most months I attend the Central Coast group meetings and next year will continue the practice. The group is open to all, and each 3rd Thursday of the month from 10 – noon we can be found at Erina’s Cancer Council rooms, within Erina Fair. Gary Mar is the group’s facilitator.

Beyond Five Ambassador.

I am delighted to announce I am continuing in this role for 2020. I have really enjoyed learning how to be the Ambassador that works for me and for Beyond Five and this is going well. It was in this role that I supported Soup for the Soul Fundraiser back in July for World Head and Neck Cancer with  my own (on-line!) and the event held at Cancer Centre Gosford Hospital in July. The group is grateful for the Head and Neck Cancer Patient Co-ordinator Nurse Lisa Shailer for her insights and lead and to Twynette Dickinson from the Cancer Council for her interest and presence.

Eating

I planned my eating in advance of going to the Christmas Lunch. It’s the best way for me.

  • I have found eating some foods fine. These include breakfast cereals with milk, some cracker biscuits with cheese, a small cake, grapes, mango and some meals which include mashed potato, meat (like cutlet or steak) and some tomatoes which can add some liquid to the food. It is a challenge for me to eat outside the home so I have accepted that unless it is say at my daughter’s house, I will be fine with a cup of coffee, a cake or something to dip into the coffee.

At Head & Neck Cancer Support Group Christmas Lunch this was my manageable and enjoyable choice to eat while socialing.

 

  • The foods that can be ordered out take me far too long to eat and my mouth gets sore inside. Whilst I have upper teeth they are tight inside my mouth and up against the gums and the biting and chewing that is enough for safe swallowing takes time. I get tired. The food gets cold. I tried to eat a meal out once and was refused a bag to take the rest home so another reason for no eating out is it is very expensive to waste money on food I cannot eat in two stages.

 

  • My main meals at home are like a bread & butter plate size. Or I use a regular plate and eat half one meal, cover it, and refrigerate it and eat the rest the next day. Because I have found this is a good strategy it means at least once a week I am eating some red meat (iron) that I love and some accompaniments and also sharing this meal with my husband. Most meals though, are ones I have made in bulk and are in small containers for me to eat after defrosting.

  • Occasionally I will try a salad as caesar salad is a favourite but again, I take so long and my mouth gets sore, so I make it in two halves. I cannot eat corn on the cob, tomatoes were lovely but they are affecting my mouth by stinging now (skin is very sensitive) and an apple…well, how long do you have? I cannot bite into it and the skin is too challenging, so if I give an apple a go, I may just grate it.

 

  • I have never been a spicy food person and would be hard pressed to have anything like that now or anything too hot. Cold is better in my mouth than hot.

 

  • Inside my mouth the skin is of different ages – some was added in 2017 and the remainder in 2018. My right thigh is the donor for my delicate areas between the gums and inside of lips. I have, as you would know, the flesh and skin from my right leg as my palate.

The wounds are where the bone (fibula) and skin/flesh were taken in July 2017

  • What is interesting is that because the top of my mouth is made from my leg (skin, flesh and bone) it acts like a legI am fortunate that the palate no longer grows hair.

 

  • However, I cannot taste nor feel any food in the top half of my mouth. IF I really want to savour a texture or taste, I need to put the food upside down in my mouth!

Appearance

Unless there is a reason to do so, I no longer mention to anyone new that I have had cancer. The reasons I did in my first years was about the way I looked. I certainly DID look different with no top teeth (upper prosthesis) and a mouth that was healing along with my leg. It was, for someone like me, a talking point or conversation started in 2017 and until I got my upper prosthesis in August 2018.

After that for a few months those I had met before were amazed to see me with teeth and smiling..even my head and neck surgeon (above) who remarked “Denyse you look fantastic…great work Suhas” when I’d sent him the email photo of me after Suhas (the prosthodontist) had fitted my upper prosthesis.

My top lip on the right hand side is pulled in (still) despite the months I spent with a stent trying to push it out. At least the stent did the work for me to have the upper prosthesis fitted. My top lip and under my nose is completely numb. It is very dry too and can itch. I have bought tube after tube of lip creams/balms/ointments to be told that there are some nerves in there that no longer work and so I just need to keep things in better condition for me to feel more comfortable instead of this constant tightness. The top lip appearance changes completely when I smile. So, I smile as much as I can!!

Nothing is as it seems. Sometimes.

I would be less than honest if I did not make a comment about this. I have found as time passes, that with little visible differences now in me, there is no real interest in my head and neck cancer. This is in my family and friend relationships too. I have pondered this and I believe once the novelty (strange word to select) has worn off this cancer diagnosis of mine  – it was very unusual – then people move on. In some ways I have but I also can never forget I have had cancer.

Each time my mouth moves one way or another, I feel the difference. No-one can see it of course, but I know it. When I can not stretch out my right leg or even my right foot then I am reminded of the sacrifice one part of my body made for another.

In the lead up to my third year of living with the diagnosis of a head and neck cancer (May 2020) I do take time to count my blessings and express gratitude (of course) but there is something quite profound about having a part of your body placed in another part of your body so you can function and live as well as possible.

Celebrating my 70th Birthday: with my husband who has been by my side throughout almost 49 years of marriage, but even more in the years since I was diagnosed with HNC.

I do get on with my life (as a now 70 year old!!) of course but have to say, despite the head and neck cancer existence for me, that I am noticing I can be more distracted and interested in hobbies such as my art and designs, getting out to meet people, going to the shops..ahem..for coffee of course. NOT always clothes shopping as my husband seems to think.

Am I grateful?

Yes I am.

However, I will continue to be monitored and tested for a return of cancer until at least 5 years has elapsed from diagnosis. So, I will be looking at May 2022.

Appointments scheduled.

Ask any cancer patient and they will likely say that once the more frequent appointments spread out (for the good news reasons like mine) there is an initial feeling of what now? I did have that this year once I got to May and was told my future appointments would be 4 monthly. So I am back to the Prof early March 2020 at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. My prosthodontist who saw me for my…40th appointment late November does not need me to return till mid March at Westmead. I am never quite sure of what the next appointments will entail. I trust I will continue with my path of wellness for which I am very grateful.

Head and Neck Cancer Patient Forum. 2020

On Friday June 12 in 2020 at the Garvan Institute I will be a patient who is interviewed about my experiences with head and neck cancer. It is open to patients , carers, family and more. The details are here. Costs are free to attend for some and a small fee for others. The link is here and I will be updating no doubt in 2020.

About my word of year 2019: Integrate.

When I chose this word at the end of 2018 it was after a conversation with my husband where he pointed out that maybe my cancer could be less important in my daily life. Mmm. Easy to say from a non-cancer person but much harder to do for me. Then. However, when I had the word engraved on the bracelet I have worn daily since 1 January 2019, on the back it says “HNC & Me” meaning that over time I hoped to grow to the point of head and neck cancer being a part of me but not the main part. I can now announce, I have noticed this for myself in the past few months so like all things, it happened in its own time.

Thank You.

The blog is my place for recording what I can share with the wider world about what it is like to have head and neck cancer. I now know some newly diagnosed patients and families have been assisted by reading the blog posts which I keep in a special page on my home page – right hand side. When I give someone my business card, the website is there and my information as an Ambassador for Beyond Five; head and neck cancer awareness on-line.

Top: L: Beyond Five Ambassador R: My Prosthodontist & Nurse: Westmead Bottom: L: Professor Jonathan Clark AM R: Sr Cate Froggatt

 

Earlier this year, I was published here too if you are interested. Life, Death Whatever take submissions from around the globe and a book will be coming in 2020

Thank you to my readers. This was a long-ish update!

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 and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

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

 

 

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

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

I know!

Another post about Head and Neck Cancer!

But there is a very good reason why!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving On…in more ways than one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About THE Teeth…when??

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

Is this nearly the end? No. Sorry.

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

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

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

 

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

Wishing you all the very best who read this.

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

Thank you!

Denyse.

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

 

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

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