Sunday 25th October 2020

Self-Care Stories #6. 42/51. #LifeThisWeek. 84/2020.

Self-Care Stories #6. 42/51. #LifeThisWeek. 84/2020.

Last time I wrote about self-care, I was about to have some more surgery. It was a success and it was wound debridement then application of a VAC system to help health both faster and cleaner. More about this as the post goes on.

Self Care: the Mental Story.

I cannot lie. Knowing that I needed more surgery on August 24th to fix the wound from the first abdominal surgery some 5 weeks before did not make me a happy camper.

It also was a messy situation. Literally. I had no idea that a wound could ‘dehisce’. I had also never heard of the word. My GP mentioned it as I anxiously awaited the result of her examination of my very messy & leaking wound area the Wednesday before. I literally could not see it as it was at the junction underneath my tummy where the upside-down T incisions met.

To better explain: from my search:

Dehiscence is a partial or total separation of previously approximated wound edges, due to a failure of proper wound healing. This scenario typically occurs 5 to 8 days following surgery when healing is still in the early stages.

Wound dehiscence is a distressing but common occurrence among patients who have received sutures. The condition involves the wound opening up either partially or completely along the sutures – basically, the wound reopens to create a new wound.

 

Our urgent appointment to my colorectal surgeon the next day confirmed that whilst the wound (stitched internally) was opening up, it was NOT exposing the inside of my abdomen nor impacting on the surgeries I had just had. Phew. I guess.

Trust. I had to have trust in both the surgeon and his work (along with the support of the specialist wound nurse) to come through this second surgery. I had to have an additional surgery post head and neck cancer and I remembered the disappointment very strongly. I also remembered that “if it had to be done, I needed to accept that”.

Relieved patient and doctor!

This time, it was a shorter surgery where he cleaned out the wound area (debridement) as I was under a general anaesthetic, leaving an area of 8cm long x 3cm deep and 3cm wide to be covered with the VAC system dressing, tube and ‘me attached’ to the VAC machine itself. I woke with all that done and by the next day, had the lessons in how to care for it before I would have my first ‘at home’ nursing. This was new to me and I was incredibly grateful. Our private health insurance paid for the equipment (each wound change used a new section of the VAC and was approx $80 each in value). Her travel and services for 7 visits (as was needed  by me) were paid by Teachers Health who would have paid for 10 but by 7 my wound did not need the VAC system anymore.

About the VAC system: Mine was on me, next to me as I slept, 24/7 from 24 August until 17 September. No showers but I could wash myself in a limited way.

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT), also called vacuum-assisted wound closure, refers to wound dressing systems that continuously or intermittently apply subatmospheric pressure to the system, which provides a positive pressure to the surface of a wound.Jul 22, 2020

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) is a method of drawing out fluid and infection from a wound to help it heal. A special dressing (bandage) is sealed over the wound and a gentle vacuum pump is attached.

I Found It Quite Confronting. 

I admit all of this physical attention by professionals for a part of my body rarely shared with anyone other than my spouse, was hard on me. I knew the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of the reasons. The confrontation I guess for me was about not only the wound itself – not good with them at the best of times – but that my husband or the nurse took photos of me. My body, there, where it is fat and bits of it have weathered a lot – big surgeries for example AND child-bearing. The photos were valuable because they were the proof everything was healing. I just found it hard to ‘see myself’ from this angle. I still have the photos as do my doctors as it is an important record. I have shown a couple of progress shots to family but they are not something I can nor would share publically.

 

Self-Care: the Physical Story.

In the normal scheme of things I can say that I should have been well on my way to full recovery at about the 6-8 weeks mark post first surgery. This would not be the case with the second surgery. It put me back another 4-6 weeks. I had to learn (again!) to live with:

  • physical restrictions with a tube attached to my wound, which was then wound around the bag, which I had to wear on my shoulder. It was quite heavy too, so I could leave it on the desk while I blogged or did some art. I did have to remember to take it with me though…I did have a couple of times over the 3+ weeks where I almost forgot but the dragging of the tube on my wound soon let me know
  • pain. Not much from the wound itself as it was covered and pretty numb from 2x surgeries. The skin around the wound – and some hair in the area – got itchy and a bit painful but managed with cream. Interestingly I was warned I might have needed a very strong pain killer for dressing changes initially but fortunately panadol was enough
  • recovery from wounds from surgery #1 inside and outside made for (and still does as I write) so stinging, aching and pulling sensations from my belly button area and down and across
  • I need to get some help via an arm from my husband or nurse to easily rise from lying down (when wound was being changed) as stomach area feels like I have overdone sit ups. I haven’t. Apparently it can take another 4 months for this to be better after all the cutting and stitching that went on inside
  • less resilience for staying on my feet and walking. I turned down my Apple Watch walking goals initially and over the past 4 weeks have been increasing them slowly
  • being able to drive again took about 3 weeks post first surgery…and I had just become used to that independence when the 2nd surgery happened. By 2-3 weeks post that one I had the OK to drive again. My husband has been and continues to be the main grocery shopper now and I am loving that!
  • getting more distracted by art, some reading, magazine browsing has helped while away the time during a COVID recovery
  • still doing my best to dress with purpose each day and going out for a walk somewhere or a coffee.
  • now that I have NO MORE visits to the GP for wound care – that ended last week as the wound healed fully, I have been able to drive to Sydney to see my Dad.

Self-Care Lessons.

  • I can do this
  • I have done this before
  • I have strategies I can draw on
  • I have a loving and supportive husband
  • I know this is temporary
  • I will learn more about myself by coming through this.

That’s it. A much longer self-care post than usual, but I did think it worth sharing.

Getting over anything health-wise always brings up more than we are perhaps prepared for.

I hope you are doing well.

Denyse.

And a lovely P.S. from me!

On Saturday 17th October it was 50 years since we met. As this post goes live, we will be travelling to the north west of N.S.W. to the city of Tamworth where we met, and then to have a couple of days going to towns that were of great significance in our early single, then married lives. There WILL be a post about that you can guarantee it. I may not be on-line to comment or write on your blog until I am back home. 

 

Link Up 211

Life This Week. Link Up #211

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

* Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not.

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Healthy. 39/51. #LifeThisWeek. 78/2020.

Healthy. 39/51. #LifeThisWeek. 78/2020.

When I was blogging more frequently, health and mindfulness were a category for blog posts. These days, like many, my posts are limited to twice a week.

This is good for my health in some ways as I am not feeling too much pressure to perform, aka write posts, and can enjoy the writing of the two I do more.

About Me.

  • Being healthy is a relatively new idea for me…I was raised to be healthy and was…I am talking about lifestyle & choices
  • For many years I balanced my life …in a not so good way…with eating for comfort and doing less as I was quite worn out by life
  • I knew limited ways in which to care for myself because…as many do…I was too busy caring for others: at work, and in my family life.
  • I do much much better now in the self-care and health stakes as I have learned much in my years living following head and neck cancer.

Then I Was Diagnosed With Cancer.

Those who have followed me before and since this diagnosis know that I found out I had a head and neck cancer, specifically squamous cell carcinoma of the top gums (maxilla) and under the top lip. All about that, and many more posts outlining the years of surgeries and more are here: Head and Neck Cancer.

But Before Then.

My emotional health was at an all time low from 2013 into early 2017 for a number of reasons:

  • ageing and becoming somewhat disenchanted by some of its effects
  • retirement from all of my meaningful and paid work over this time
  • my weight was the highest it had been and with encouragement from my GP and my own determination, I lost some kilos over a year with greater awareness of why I ate, and ensuring I moved more
  • finishing up grandparent care at our house and actually being glad because I was finally tiring and becoming worn out by it
  • making a move from all I knew: Sydney, our family, friends….to the Central Coast
  • this move was one I thought I wanted (and still agree it was the right move) but my emotional health brought me down into spirals of anxiety and fear along with the dreaded Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • the health professionals I saw then all said it was reactive depression and anxiety was part of the transitioning. Not a diagnosis of either. I do take a low dose anti-depressant now to help with IBS more than anything and getting off to sleep
  • I admit I am one of what is known as the “worried well”.

SO….in some ways I was not surprised that I had cancer diagnosed in May 2017 …I can see that others may have felt stress was a cause. That it is not a direct link, but from what I know about cancer, it is random.  Some people thought my immune system was down due to the appearance of my mouth. THAT,  was actually the beginning of cancer…but no-one thought that till April 2017 when I insister my dentist remove the bridge from my upper gums.

This quote sums cancer up. From an Australian surgeon:

Head and Neck Cancer Requires Frequent Checks.

From the diagnosis on May 18 2017, to the big reconstruction surgery on July 6 2017, through to further surgeries for skin grafts and checking inside my mouth, glands in neck area and many visits to the prosthodontist, I had:

  • post-surgery checks after a few days to a few weeks to see my head and neck surgeon and his surgical assistant, nurse specialist
  • three monthly checks for the first year
  • any time where I may have seen/felt an issue, such as additional skin forming, and my surgeon saw me within weeks
  • four monthly checks for the next year
  • weekly and fortnightly visits to the prosthodontist as he continued to work on the making of the upper prosthesis
  • then monthly to two monthly visits to him, until COVID. Last time I saw him was February 2020 and I am returning in mid October as he is now doing regular checks again
  • this year, the visits to Sydney’s Chris O’Brien Lifehouse were at 6 month intervals.
  • THEN, at my recent early September visit, after clear CT scans of my head, neck and chest, and after visual examination and more, I am now on:
  • a 12 month check up..so will not be back until September 2021.

“MY” Prof…as I call him, Professor Jonathan Clark AM recently became chair of a new program at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Sydney University where this grant will enable him and his team create software and 3D models for head and neck surgery on the spot. My surgery, over 3 years ago, meant a delay as my team here in Australia  and the software developers in Europe made the program for my surgery and the model for my  mouth which had to be flown in from Belgium. Here’s the announcement of the donation for the funding so this program goes ahead.

ALWAYS happy to have a photo….

How I Manage My Health Now.

Interestingly with greater ease, thanks to a limited ability to eat a lot and to a better attitude to moving more.

Photos tell that story too. It is a way of keeping myself accountable too.

However, I never feel that I am missing out either. I have a better understanding of my need to nourish this body and to also enjoy the treats when I can.

And Then I Had to Do These Things.

Have both of my eyes’ cataracts removed and lens replaced. This happened on the cusp of COVID restrictions and I was glad to be done. In Sydney, over 3 days. Then of course, I had recovery but my opthalmologist has rooms up here so visits for checks were OK. I was quite shocked that from one annual visit to the next, it was cataracts time. This turning 70 was not quite what I thought. Now 6 months on, I use readers of a lower strength and no glasses for driving. Love the clearer views everywhere.

Left Eye Cataract Done

After hiding FROM myself and my problems with rectal prolapse* and the ways in which it impacted my day to day life, in May 2020, I was forced to face the matter as I could no longer live in pretend land. I look at it this way though, in managing my recoveries – physical and emotional – from those years of head and neck cancer I could not face more investigations into what is wrong. But dear readers, there was a lot wrong. Google rectal prolapse and what it means. Let’s just say, I paid a small fortune for incontinence aids, and suffered a great deal from shame about this condition.

Grateful to be ‘out of’ another surgery.

Getting One of the Things* Above Fixed…and Added Complications. 

Again COVID changed a few things but from my GP’s referral to a colorectal surgeon who insisted on a colonoscopy “no cancer or polyps but def need rectal prolapse repair”…and then needed surgery I became resigned to what needed to be done. From early May to late July I waited for the  surgery called rectopexi. The surgeon did a great job, especially complicated by my inners where he also found (surprise) a hernia needing repair. This necessitated a horizontal incision AND, the best (not) news, a vertical incision. Meeting in an upside down T at the bottom of my abdomen. The surgery, has worked. He took the slack inner workings of my rectum and has stitched them to a bone low in my back. I have no prolapse and normal (for me) bowel movements for the….first time in perhaps a decade…and…

My recovery in hospital and at home was slow as expected but at my first post-op appointment he told me I was a star for recovering in exactly the way it was best. I liked that. Especially as I did not quite hit it off with him at my initial consult…I was scared.

Three weeks into post-surgery recovery I noticed a section of the upside T section of the wound was kind of not staying together. I showed my GP and he thought it would be OK. But take this anti-biotic and apply this cream…and let’s hope it resolves.

It did not.

Within 2 weeks of seeing my GP, I was ‘astonished to see and feel liquid forming over my nightie as I got up out of my chair. Eeek. Got an urgent appointment to the GP, who was ‘so sorry, Denyse’ but…It was called wound dehiscence and sometimes a wound will not stay together. My colorectal surgeon saw me the next day, and pronounced “can fix, back into hospital for wound debridement and we will put a VAC system on to help heal the wound over less time.”

Wound Debridement and the VAC. 

One month post first surgery for rectopexi I was back in the same hospital and cared for very well. Surgery was less than an hour. I stayed overnight so the surgeon and wound nurse could see I understood how to live with the VAC system. The best part of having paid for our private health insurance since the late 1960s it means either of us can get the best care, when and where we can. I know this is a two-part health system in Australia but I am very grateful.

Each week I was visited two days a week by the Wound Nurse. This was all covered under ‘Hospital at Home” care from our Teachers Health Program. A machine was supplied, each of the changes of dressings and the costs of visits from the Wound Nurse. This lasted just over 3 weeks.

Since then, our GP and his practice nurse is taking care of my wound dressing. The progress is amazing on the wound. I have so many photos, none of which I will add here but they give me and my husband (the photographer) updates. The medical and surgical teams appreciate my dated photo collages.

Is that IT?

I don’t know but I sure would like to be free of appointments for  the above. This is likely to occur in the next two weeks or so. At least I have no VAC on me and have full independence.

I am back to my prosthodontist in October but I am pretty sure my mouth care will be praised.

Emotionally I am getting there. I know I have gained a great deal of resilience through much of these past 3+ years but am looking forward to a some respite from health professionals for a while,

THANK you…if you got this far.

I hope you are healthy and well.

Stay that way!

Denyse.

Link Up 208

Life This Week. Link Up #208

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

* 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: Leave a comment on a few posts, because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar or let others know somewhere you are linking up to this blog’s Life This Week.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog & the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. These may include promotions, advertorials and any that are overly religious or political or in any way offensive  in nature.

* THANK you for linking up today! Next week’s optional prompt: Share Your Snaps. 40/51. 5 October 2020.

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Share Your Snaps #6 #WHNCD. 30/51#LifeThisWeek. 60/2020.

Share Your Snaps #6 #WHNCD. 30/51#LifeThisWeek. 60/2020.

Devoting today’s Share Your Snaps to: World Head and Neck Cancer Day 2020. It’s today.

Sharing the stories is part of what I am able to do here on the blog and in other social media but they are not all “my” stories. Some of course, belong to others.

The photos here cover a range of people who have been given a head and neck cancer diagnosis. Some may have had surgery, others radiation and chemo. Some a mix of all. I had surgery only.

 

Head and Neck cancer not well-known as a cancer, even by G.P.s and some specialists. The work of Beyond Five continues to offer up to date information for patients, families, carers and professionals. My work as a Community Ambassador is to share awareness of the role of Beyond Five.

Today: WHNCD,  I pay tribute to the head and neck cancer community around me and further afield.

I admit I did my first year of HNC (as it’s also known) alone until I was invited to be part of the Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer Support Group.

 

  • Sharing the stories…in pictures and some words, this World Head and Neck Cancer Day.

 

  • Women of Courage Who Are Head & Neck Cancer Survivors Shared Their Stories Here:
  • Maureen Jensen from New Zealand. Story Here.
  • Tara Flannery from Australia. Story Here.
  • Julie McCrossin from Australia. Story Here.

 

  • May there be greater funding for research into HNC AND supportive grants to Beyond Five so that more information can be shared via the website, webinars and “in real life” events if COVID ever lets that happen again.

 

  • Last week’s post was more detailed about head and neck cancer and its signs and more. In the coming weeks, as of today, Julie McCrossin AM and professional leaders in the field relating to head and neck cancer will be sharing on-line here. This on-line event replaces the Forum to be held last June which was cancelled due to COVID.

 

  • I am particularly grateful to be part of a New Zealand-based Head and Neck Cancer Support Group on Facebook. Started a while back, it is a friendly, reassuring place to be to ask some questions, find some support and to know you ‘are not the only one’ with head and neck cancer…even if it is still pretty rare. Find the group here. You will need to answer some questions first before acceptance.

 

  • To you, my blogging community, I say thank you over and over for your interest and support in this ‘hnc’ thing of mine from when I was diagnosed. I am incredibly grateful to be well…but also to be well-supported here. The link to my Head and Neck cancer posts is here. I am told this has been useful for some patients and families to read. Makes me grateful to use my blog for this purpose too.

I still have another 2 years of cancer checks to go …the next is in September. I never take it for granted that my version of head and neck cancer has gone forever.

Denyse.

Link Up #199.

Life This Week. Link Up #199.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in.

* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

* 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: Leave a comment on a few posts, because we all love our comments, right!

* Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere, or on your sidebar or let others know somewhere you are linking up to this blog’s Life This Week.

*Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog & the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. These may include promotions, advertorials and any that are overly religious or political or in any way offensive  in nature.

* THANK you for linking up today! Next week’s optional prompt: 31/51 Food. 3.8.2020

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

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

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

Surgeries,

Healing,

Gratitude,

Waiting, 

Becoming Well.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Denyse Whelan Head and Neck Cancer Patient now Ambassador.

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

For Head and Neck cancer patients, family and friends. This is a website and offers lots to help. It continues to grow and change but with no government funding, some donations by companies in related fields and one part-time business manager, a fund-raiser was initiated in 2018 called Soup for the Soul. Soup is often a food that patients with head and neck cancer can manage and it is comforting.

Soup for the Soul is already live and I have a Virtual Soup for the Soul page here.  World Head and Neck Cancer Day is on 27 July.

Have you shared your snaps today?

Denyse.

Kell also has a Monday linkup here. Join in!

You can link up something old or new, just come on in. * Please add just ONE post each week! * Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not. * Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do! * Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right! * Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere. I don’t have a ‘button’ so a link in text is fine! *Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. * THANK you for linking up today!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCDay 2019. 64/2019.

Head & Neck Cancer. June Updates & WHNCday 2019. 64/2019.

It would be remiss of me not to do an update in June….yes it would!

Having a CT ‘Surveillance’ Scan.

Following my 2 year (and every 3 month) cancer check my Professor determined it was now time for a ‘baseline CT scan’ of head, neck and chest. Ok. OK! It is a funny old thing, this cancer business until you “know” what the results are. There were no visible signs anything would be found…but…

I went. I was a bit nervous. I was finished in 20 minutes. Then I waited for a day, then another. Until I sent an email: already knowing my surgeon had a huge week but hoping he had a result. He did, I was told on the phone by his lovely practice manager: “ALL CLEAR”. Yay.

That week I also visited my dentist – the person who I convinced to remove the bridge & teeth in April 2017 where cancer was eventually found. He was able to check out all that had happened in the past 9 months and clean my remaining 8 teeth. I have an amazing team caring for me.

The First Week In June 2019.

This week marked the ten years since Professor Chris O’Brien, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon, died from brain tumours. His legacy is so many people who trained and worked with him at R.P.A. and now at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. His widow Gail O’Brien said recently that without Chris getting cancer he would not have understood the need for cancer patients to be cared for nor treated as well without his vision for a ‘one stop cancer care’ place. He knew that a specialist hospital -comprehensive cancer centre – would happen but he did not know of course that its obvious name would be his in the title.

On Monday 3 June I attended Lifehouse to hear the ‘stories’ of working with, knowing and loving the man called Chris O’Brien. This was a presentation about his legacy in head and neck cancer and as a patient with #hnc as its shorthand name is on twitter, I learned from those who have treated me and who paid tribute to Chris. In fact my surgeon’s final words of his talk were “there’s a little bit of Chris in everyone’s role”.

Later when I got to say hello again to Gail and to thank her for the work of Chris O’Brien, I said even at my most scared – one day after being told I had cancer – when I walked into Chris O’Brien Lifehouse I felt different. It was not a ‘hospital’ as I knew, it was full of interesting places and spaces and caring people. I felt safe and cared for. And still do. Each time I walk in, I look up at the various images of Chris and others and I am very grateful.

Being An Ambassador For Head & Neck Cancer Awareness with Beyond Five.

In June it’s time to ramp up the Head and Neck cancer awareness as we lead into the last week of July 2019 where World Head and Neck Cancer Day is marked with programs, conferences and more on 27 July 2019.

The colours for Head and Neck cancer world-wide are Maroon/Burgundy and Cream.

 

My #HNC & #B5 Lanyard with my card & Ambassador badge

Beyond Five. 

For Head and Neck cancer patients, family and friends. This is a website and offers lots to help. It continues to grow and change but with no government funding, some donations by companies in related fields and one part-time business manager, a fund-raiser began for them in 2018 called Soup for the Soul. Soup is often a food that patients with head and neck cancer can manage and it is comforting.

Soup for the Soul is already live and I have a Virtual Soup for the Soul page here. More about that as we get closer to World Head and Neck Cancer Day on 27 July.

World Head and Neck Cancer Day: 27 July 2019.

Soup For the Soul Event at Gosford: Central Coast Cancer Centre. Tuesday 23 July 2019.

In June I will be working with the local Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at Gosford to prepare for our Soup For the Soul and Head and Neck Cancer Information and Awareness Day on Tuesday 23 July 2019 at Central Coast Cancer Centre. A year ago I went to the first occasion and met people who also had head and neck cancer and were carers and professionals too. It was the first time I had met anyone else with head and neck cancer. Now the people there have become friends of mine.

From 2018 World Head and Neck Cancer Day & Soup For the Soul at Gosford:

 

This post is to also support others around the world who will be part of the World Head and Neck Cancer Day in 2019.

Do support the charities which help with research and awareness of Head and Neck cancer.

In my case, the link in the story about my virtual Soup for the Soul event will take you directly to donate to Beyond Five’s continuing awareness updates and programs to help those affected by Head and Neck cancers.

Thanks for following my Head and Neck cancer stories. This is the link to where all of my Head and Neck cancer posts are as well as those that have been published elsewhere.

Warmest wishes

Denyse.

 

 

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Musings On 2 Years Of Living As A Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 56/2019.

Musings On 2 Years Of Living As A Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 56/2019.

I have written frequently over the last two years about my diagnosis with a rare head and neck cancer. You can find the many posts, and ones where I have shared on other sites here. I keep the posts at the top of my blog’s home page to help any other head and neck cancer patients and their families.

Musing One.

What has happened this month?

I am a memory-keeper and in some instances that can be good, others memories remind me of not-so-good times. As May 2019 drew closer, so did the second anniversary of my head and neck cancer diagnosis. I sensed that I needed to mark it in some ways, and that was through writing starting even before May. I also used my creative side and constructed a big mandala documenting every day since diagnosis.

I did these to help me through and to show, when I shared, what the experience was like for me.

Thanks to this blog, and a facebook page along with instagram I got some caring comments and support on-line which I have always found helpful.

What I have also found is that I am the only person who really remembers the lead-up to that morning on Wednesday 17 May ’17 and then how it affected me afterwards.

I guess, “my” cancer is like any life experience that we have as an individual. It’s mine. Yes, I share. (some might think over-share: sorry!) And my dear husband “knows” the stories as he has experienced them alongside me. However, he is  was my carer and now that I am as independent as I can be, I am “the loved wife” in our long marriage. That’s great.

On my 69th Birthday 2018

Musing Two.

How has the lead-up to the anniversary been?

I thought it was good. It was like box-ticking and I felt good doing that.

Remembering what I experienced with the tests before the diagnosis. Ok. I remembered but did not over-think it.

The weather and the dates changing on the calendar also reminded me but again, I was feeling pretty good.

I had two hurdles, if you will, and they were the visit to my Prosthodontist on May 13 and to my Head and Neck surgeon on May 21. These were of concern in a way because at my last visits to each (three months earlier) there was talk of a possible fifth surgery to ‘fill out the top of my mouth.

I can tell you now, dear reader, the prospect of the surgery did not concern me nearly as much as the recovery from it…the LONG time with no top teeth and then more time with getting the mouth healed enough for a prosthesis. I have just had 8 delightful months being able to EAT again and that would be tough. Of course, the smile would change…ok.

December ’18

Musing Three.

What actually eventuated.

Visit to the Prosthodontist.

Dr Deshpande asked me about pain levels. Pain comes and goes in my mouth where it has all been reconstructed and I told him a few weeks earlier it was significant. However, as it settled I did not need to call him. I was much more confident about those calls than I ever was in 2018. He examined the upper prosthesis, the gums, and where the abutments are in the gums. Yes, there was some tiny more skin growth but nothing to be concerned about at this stage.He did a small clean around the abutments and told me what I had been doing every day was going very well and the gums were in good health. Phew. Using the waterpik twice a day was a key element. He showed me around the inside of my mouth and his nurse videoed it as best she could as he explained it all. He is so patient and very thorough and professional. After taking lots of close-ups inside my mouth he told me his view that my surgeon would be unlikely to want to do more re-construction because the skin area of concern back in January/February had not changed. Back for my check up 16 July.

Fistbump! Photo of “us” knowing each other in this professional setting for 2 years.

 

Visit to the Head and Neck Surgical Team.

This was on Tuesday 21 May. Both he and his nurse were delighted to see me and it wasn’t just because I brought cupcakes I had made. They can see a different me emerge I guess, and someone who has taken on an Ambassador role to work towards helping head and neck cancer awareness and both Professor Clark and Sr Froggatt are foundation members of Beyond Five. Again my mouth was examined and as I recalled the words of my last visit “I am a cancer doctor, so I AM looking for cancer” and it all seemed fine I was OK. He decided any choice about more surgery would be determined by what happens inside the mouth. “Could get worse, better or stay the same”. And now would not be in my best interests to do this. Phew. However, I also learned that the interval till my next visit is 4 months, not 6. And that I will require some CT scans as baseline ones. This was a wee bit threatening to my equilibrium but as I do, I went along following instructions. Before I left, I asked some questions about my mouth: here are the answers.

  1. the tightness will remain up top as so much more has been added for the re-construction than a normal mouth would have
  2. sniffing is part and parcel of having the nasal area invaded quite a few times…sniff and manage!
  3. dry top lip probably from not being able to seal off my mouth
  4. need for a new upper prosthesis? “If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix”

Thanks Cate for all your reassurance and hugs too!

Then there was this. “A Photo with Denyse with her Badge on.”

Hugs and farewells and I will be back to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to have a check up on September 24.

Musing Four.

When having cancer is a reality that I am reminded of every time I visit Sydney for cancer treatments.

Westmead.

Where I see the prosthodontist. I lived in western Sydney and had never been to the Dental part of the hospital until May 24 2017. Since then I have been 37 times. Each time could be lengthy and required patience from me in spades. However, there were some visits that were emotionally bumpy and Dr D and O handled my state of health brilliantly. When I was there recently, the lady of the front desk said “Denyse, we are like family”.

That was lovely. I would not have met so many kind people there without a rare mouth cancer, and where the expertise was right there. Someone working alongside my surgeon in each surgery. Wow. Talk about fortunate.

Camperdown.

Specifically Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, slap back in the midst of Sydney’s major health precinct on Missenden Road. Sydney University on one side, Royal Prince Alfred on the other, and new buildings mixed with the historical on either side.

This is where I first met my professional team one day after being told I had cancer.

I had my husband with me of course. He was (and is) the patient man by my side. So, I recall, being there for the first time, seeing this amazing purpose-built cancer centre which had come from the vision of Dr Chris O’Brien who was on our telly as part of the reality series R.P.A. Such a professional and friendly head and neck surgeon with heart. I sensed I was in the right place WITH the right people straight away. Finding out later that my surgeon had trained under Chris O’Brien made me feel even better about what was ahead. And so Lifehouse was where I had the first BIG surgery and stayed for 10 days in July 2017, then further day surgeries in November 2017, February 2018 and May 2018. Follow ups too mean I have been there 12 times.

Musing Five.

IF I did not have cancer here’s what I may have missed in my life….

  1. the opportunity to take on new information and run with it. I learned I can deal with more than I ever imagined.
  2. getting to know people from the health fields who amaze me with their professionalism, the wealth of knowledge, their compassion, their skills and their genuine humanity
  3. being able to recover as quickly as I did from the decline in my emotional health which was ‘strangling my enjoyment of life’ from 2014 to mid 2017
  4. meeting people from all walks of life: in real life and on-line, a facebook group in New Zealand is an amazing space,  who have also been diagnosed with head and neck cancers: Yet, I still have not met anyone that has had mine exactly: Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Upper Gums & under Top Lip: no risk factors of smoking or alcohol: rare of rare ME.
  5. the many ways in which I could grow and change to become ‘the Denyse’ I wanted and needed to be again: strong, positive, confident
  6. sharing my story of this cancer and being able to offer help when asked to others with head and neck cancers
  7. becoming someone with a role to play in terms of education and awareness of head and neck cancers working with Beyond Five. The charity to support patients, carers and family members with information, videos, print-outs and connections to local support groups as those affected with head and neck cancer need support “beyond five” years of the traditional
  8. to take more time to actually enjoy what is rather than be longing for what’s next. I add, this is me as a definite “w-i-p” because it requires constant reminding from me to me
  9. a greater appreciation for those who have been part of my life and have added their emotional and other support to me over the internet, phonecalls and visits, along with cards and gifts. I have been spoiled!
  10. to take what I have experienced and give back. I will return to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on Monday 3 June 2019 to be in the audience to listen to my professional head and neck cancer team talk of what working with and learning from Chris O’Brien was like. This week marks 10 years since his early death due to cancer.
  11. to look at the posters and information about how Chris O’Brien Lifehouse came into being and thank the governments of the day for helping it happen. Chris was well enough to know it would be constructed but his wife Gail took over his role after his sad demise.
  12. becoming part of the community at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse even though I am not there much physically, I donate materials to the art program, I wrote a blog post for their website and I have been in a couple of other site’s telling my story including Beyond Five.

 

Musing Six.

Blogging & helping others works for me to manage my emotions relating to cancer.

I have a great group of on-line supporters who have helped carry me through this story or journey as I call it. I prefer not to use war-words like warrior and ‘beating cancer’ as I also know not everyone does. I have already known of two young women die in the past two months from cancer. Not head and neck but cancer. So it does ache to even talk about that. I know though that we have many people helping with fund-raising to support cancer research and I won’t name any others than these as they are close to my cancer-heart.

The Big Hug Box. I started making some bookmarks for Lisa to include in the Big Hug box back in 2018 and loved contributing to her charity started because as a young mum just diagnosed herself with a rare cancer, she knew patients like her could use a BIG hug. For more about Lisa’s work go here.

Beyond Five. For Head and Neck cancer patients, family and friends. This is a website and offers lots to help. It continues to grow and change but with no government funding, some donations by companies in related fields and one part-time business manager, a fund-raiser began for them in 2018 called Soup for the Soul. Soup is often a food that patients with head and neck cancer can manage and it is comforting. Soup for the Soul is already live and I have a Virtual Soup for the Soul page here. More about that as we get closer to World Head and Neck Cancer Day on 27 July.

Writing my story has helped me manage emotions, experiences and responses well. I am indeed going well two years AFTER my cancer diagnosis. Thank you for being here to read about it.

Denyse.

 

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