Thursday 26th May 2022

Grieving For My Body’s Losses from Head & Neck Cancer. 8/51. #LifeThisWeek. 10/2022.

Grieving For My Body’s Losses from Head & Neck Cancer. 8/51. #LifeThisWeek. 10/2022.

CW: images from my head and neck cancer.

This post talks about my grief and trauma before and following my cancer diagnosis.

There are images that may be confronting.

 

Links and phone contacts are here:

https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/cancer-information/advanced-cancer/grief/seeking-support/

Cancer Council: 13 11 20

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Lifeline: 13 11 14

 

Before you read on, which I hope you will,  I am  doing well.

This post, however, has been one I have needed to write, probably for some time but it was not till recently did this need become apparent.

Warm wishes, Denyse.

 

It’s a shock to the system when you are told

we will be removing all of the upper part of your mouth and replacing it with a bone, flesh and skin from your leg“.

And to be honest, it has taken me till recent months in 2021 into 2022 to understand this has been a traumatic experience and that I am, in some ways, managing a post-traumatic event.

So here goes. Blogging and sharing has always helped me.

I hope it can be seen as a way to not only get something said but for me to now divulge what a struggle it is at times to live with the ramifications of my head and neck cancer.

May 2017: following my diagnosis the day before and meeting with the men who would form my team and perform the surgery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

My particular cancer, a verrucous carcinoma was in the upper alveolus. Explained here. And the cancer had spread to upper top lip – see left.

After the 2.5 hours of examination – lighted tube down my nose, examination of all areas where cancer might have spread and of course inside my mouth I received the news of how this cancer would be removed.

And that was too much for my emotional system to bear for then…so B and I had a walk along the short corridor to stand here and for me to take a 1/4 valium, a sip of water and to view this scene…

 

and then come back to hear more about the surgery and the ‘what comes next’. I was asked if I was fit to sign and yes I was. I had no idea of some of the words’ meaning but over time I would.

So about the grief then…..2017 into 2018 and when I got my upper prosthesis.

I actually felt relief as an emotion more because I finally had an answer to what was going on in my mouth for the past year or more. I also began to feel confident that this team of specialists was there to do the right thing by me always. My husband, my biggest supporter, agreed.

I blogged. And in June 2017, I wrote this….adding now, as it helps me recall the downright fear:

When I wrote this post I thought I was managing myself quite well. Since then, I have had some pretty horrid days (and nights) where I have become fearful, panicked, and so vulnerable I wanted to go into a corner and hide and never come out.

I am shitscared right now.

I am worried about losing what I valued: my mouth where I speak, eat, share my emotions and smile. It has been days of crying uncontrollably, being held until I calm down (thank you dear B) and taking some valium (which I don’t really want to) and letting out the fears  in words between the sobs. 

I fear: the loss of ability to use my mouth for at least 7-10 days, have a naso-gastric feeding tube down my throat for those days, having the skin/flesh/bone from my right leg inside my mouth after 3/4 (I did not know then it would be ALL) of my upper jaw/palate as been removed. Dealing with the not being in control.

I am, as I write, unable to really express what it means to be facing this loss of control of my body. I will be in ICU to start and may even have a tracheostomy to start if the mouth is too swollen. This is very scary to me, and I am admitting it now.

For me to admit how vulnerable I feel right now is to say “I cannot do this without help”.

  • I know I did some reflecting.
  • I also know it took me a while to get my paperwork done at home.
  • I also got ‘butterflies’ in my tummy each time I had the thought ‘I have cancer.’
  • I did some blogging about it too. However, I remember thinking “I don’t want to be known as a cancer blogger”.
  • I thought, and it was mostly correct, that I could write about much more than my cancer, and I did but I did not take into account some of the feelings I may have pushed away…because I wanted to look like and sound like I was managing very well indeed. Almost true but not quite. Sigh.

But I was confident, from the ways in which my professional team described their views, that my cancer was likely to be taken away and most probably not return.

I did not know in the early months, and post the big reconstruction surgery in July 2017 that I would face LONG times in recovery in hospital and at home.

Months

Into over a year.

Four surgeries in total.

Countless cancer checks and times at the prosthodontist : all requiring a 2 hour drive there and back. I did all solo from March 2018 and one with B in 2020.

I found I had more resilience and determination than I knew.

I found I had patience but it too wore thin as I was in a pretty constant state of:

hunger

for foods I could not eat…and so I had to become very creative. See posts here.

Counselling and Help For Me.

Before I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer I had been successfully managing my mental health with a wonderful psychologist in 2016 and into 2017. In fact I saw her before my first surgery and she already could tell I had the many tools needed to deal with what was ahead. I saw her some months after my surgery and we both agreed I was going so well. I was, and that continued for some time. In fact I did go back last year to check in with another psychologist and after two sessions she and I agreed, that with my working through my feelings and more, I would be OK. I was and I am. But…further on…see what can happen!

What a Time: Getting my Upper Prosthesis Fitted. August – December 2018.

Such a big day on 21 August 2018 when I left home with no upper teeth and arrived back with them fitted. I was tired but happy even though they felt weird and sore. There were days and weeks spent back and forth to Westmead for physical adjustments.

Of course I was HAPPY. And of course I SMILED a lot. And was complimented over and over.

That is so nice.

It felt like a reward from the many months of hard yards of surgeries and recoveries and very limited eating.

I don’t think I stopped smiling. It was so life-affirming…yet…

my love of smiling and my smile itself drew me many positive comments and I sometimes felt I needed to share that the smile is actually not the whole story…this IS the blog post I needed to write now. 

However, by myself, there were small disappointments.

I thought (and I had been told!) that I could eat like I used to.

However that was not true I had a limited ability to bit and even more so for chewing.

The amount of physical hardware that is in my mouth meant amounts needed changing as did how long it would take me to eat.

Oh yes, I was still having my memories of 69+ years of eating and at times it would be a very disappointed me who could no longer:

  • eat at a dinner table other than my own
  • go out for a meal
  • eat in front of others – excluding my husband and family
  • use food and socialising together
  • go away to spend a night somewhere (we did but it was incredibly challenging to take all I needed with me)
  • take it for granted that I could eat a meal/snack as I imagined.

So this was the beginning of grief.…yearning for what was and had been and could be no longer….

I dealt with it mostly privately and made excuses to people who asked me to events and outings. Coffee and cake of some kind was still OK. Some people were/are very understanding and accommodating but I still did not truly accept what LIFE was for me now until late 2021.

I realised I was unwell and it was an overload of self-expectations and an unrealistic view of what I was now, as a 72 year old, living with the effects of head and neck cancer surgeries could do.

My body told me it was time to stop. Took me a while to listen!

Admission Of How I Was Feeling. Grief and Sadness. 

With so much gratitude for my return of health, following the diagnosis and being able to accept the role of an Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia, I did get many opportunities to share the awareness, the stories and more to help others. That sure did appeal to teacher-me. I have been incredibly fortunate to have my cancer removed and doing well. In fact, I guess I even have some survivor guilt. It IS a thing.

I was going well in covid times, as I was able to adapt and work through helping others with head and neck cancer and whilst we could not hold events, I remained a participant where necessary supporting others who have head and neck cancer, and doing what I could to bring my messages of  personal experiences to federal politicians.

Then this year, I became determined to listen more to my body and take better care of my emotional health and I learned that I can say “no thank you”.

It’s been hard.

I am, by nature a people pleaser and an extrovert but I also wore myself out. A post about Being Me is coming soon…and what I have done.

But before I go:

This is the point of what I wanted to say.

  • I am managing my grief now in a better way because I know it is safe to share
  • My times in nature are helpful, as is my reading about grief and cancer, along with my daily meditations

I am also telling more of the truth about what is.

Acceptance of does not mean ” loving” or even “liking” something or situation but when there is no choice..and fighting it makes it worse…then I accept that I have had a traumatic event in my life, and I now share with greater honesty.

And that whilst I have had many, many compliments about my recovery and my smile, it has been a much harder time than even I was prepared to own up to...

till a night this week when tears overwhelmed me as I realised the brutal way in which my body had to be changed…to rid me of a nasty cancer.

This series of images and then the culmination of a graphic goes some way for me to share with the world…my readers and bloggers how it really IS to have had this cancer and the aftermath.

It’s coming up to 5 years in May, since my diagnosis and that is probably playing a part in my looking back and seeing how this has been. I will never discount it as a life trauma now.

I accept it is.

I also know I can admit how hard things are. No longer hiding it.

 

This is the graphic which I made when I was feeling less than understood about how my cancer was affecting me…because it really has been MUCH more than getting a smile back. Much, much more involved.

Life’s traumas are not always obvious until later…somehow we keep going. I did till I stopped.

There are number and links for support listed at the beginning of this post.

I do hope you are OK and that reading this frank account from me has been something that you can see why I needed to share it.

I am doing well.

Thank you,

Denyse.

And I am visiting 98 year old Dad at Dee Why today so will be back to see the post later today and comment as well.

 

 

Life This Week. 21.2.2022.

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Telling My Story. Ch 26. Final. Sept-Dec 2021. 6/51 #LifeThisWeek.  8/2022.

Telling My Story. Ch 26. Final. Sept-Dec 2021. 6/51 #LifeThisWeek.  8/2022.

Telling My Story. Image #8.

The backstory first:

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

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

Chapter Twenty Six. Telling the story, Sept-December 2021 for the final time.

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

And with this chapter, a photo in March 2021…taken overlooking the harbour at Dobroyd near where I grew up close to Manly N.S.W.

September 2021.

Introducing September 2021. It was the third month of lockdown for us here on N.S.W. Central Coast which was part of Greater Sydney and restrictions. No hairdressers, no shops open for browsing, keep close to home, exercise away from home within Local Govt Area is Ok….and for me, the telehealth annual cancer check.

This image here sums up my desire to ‘keep it real’ for my appearance as well as to record the various places I visited. I got great news from my head and neck cancer team, via the phone, and that is unless anything changes for me, my NEXT visit in September 2022 will be my LAST visit. I am still recovering from that news! “I will miss you” I said to them. Apparently that is very normal!

The remainder of the images that form memories as part of Telling My Story, will have information under them.

To keep us as safe as possible, during this particular lockdown we approached going outside/away from the house, following the rules.

  • Only one of us went out for whatever that purpose was (shopping, doctor, exercise) once a day.
  • And we deliberately limited our exposure to potential Covid by only visiting two local stand-alone supermarkets.
  • We (I) missed some chances to shop for crafty items and gifts to send in care packages (we did this twice in September) and for that I visited a Reject Shop.

 

Instagram has been problematic for me since I moved to a new Iphone. And this year, I went from two accounts to one. Made it easier to keep track too.

On this day, I stopped the car and took photo after photo of Flannel Flowers.

October 2021.

Oh my goodness, it was getting  closer and closer to “opening up” again here in our part of N.S.W. and in Greater Sydney.

  • We still could only travel inside the local government area of Central Coast.
  • However it goes from the M1 at around Mt White in the south  to Lake Munmorah in north and across to the coast at many places.
  • Even so we decided to stay close to our ‘local area’ comprising of Wyong, Norah Head, Hamlyn Terrace and Toukley…until I had enough and did a couple of solo road trips south to where we used to live.
  • To pick up some items, and to have a look around again at where we lived from January-November 2015.

On 11th October 2021, we were free again to drive to Sydney. However, my Dad suggested I come a couple of days later. My husband was fortunate to get his HAIR CUT this week, and I still had a rather agonising two more weeks’ wait as my salon needed to have all working there to be double vaxxed.

I enjoyed that experience in late October, and could actually show my face with pride when we visited our son’s family. I was too embarrassed by my LONG (for me) locks when our daughter and her youngest visited pre-hair cut. No photos….

So, here are my memories.

Head and Neck Cancer is never far from my mind…even though I am well.

  • I assisted in the promotion of the submission by Head and Neck Cancer Australia to all Federal M.P.s by sending my story with head and neck cancer (page is here) too. I heard back from several, and some invited me to meetings, along with CEO Nadia Rosin.
  • Unfortunately I was unwell for one face to face meeting but did get to the Zoom meeting with one M.P.
  • It is hoped that we will be invited to Canberra (after 3 postponements due to Covid in 2021) to share more in 2o22.
  • I will not be attending. See *further in post
  • However, there will most likely be a federal election too…so we will await not only that outcome but to see how the future government might be in terms of financial assistance to this Australian head and neck cancer charity.

And by the end of October, the best thing happened. We got to drive to outer Sydney to see our son and his four kids on the acres where he lives.

 

H is 14, we cared for him from 4 months a few days week till school, R is now 12, off to HS and we cared for her for a similar time. E, is 8 and we cared for her for one year & Miss M, we got to know her from visits to us. LOVE these kids

November 2021.

We are now into my birthday month…but I seriously only celebrate on ONE day. However, because of my history with anxiety and head & neck cancer I tend to look back and recognise my developments and changes. Here’s what I mean as an example:

 

We continued our plans to have a drive somewhere each second Friday and here’s a couple of photos from those times.

And some excursions of mine…locally to beaches, the lake and more:

Visiting Dad means frozen meals made by me for him, and morning tea I bring. He enjoys the chat and the company and I feel better for having helped him too. Sometimes I do a trip back down MY memory lane living near Manly and the Northern Beaches.

Whilst it’s been good to be out of lockdown, Covid19 risk remains and we wear masks inside any building, and the shops, and use our phones to check in, and show our vaccination status. I started having a coffee out, we enjoyed John Doyle’s book. Me via Audible, B via the book. Flowers from the garden to make into dried flowers, over time. Our serious and grown up day of signing new wills and Powers of Attorney and Legal Guardianship, and two pieces of furniture made by Bernard.

And now: love capturing nature and then making collages.

And I enjoy making collages of all the people I love too….question, where is the one with eldest Grandson?? DONE! And I enjoyed another coffee catch up with my friend, and the 3 eldest grandkids’ Granny too. They asked, “do you talk about us?” No, not much, we talk about how it is getting old(er)!

Joining in with The Big Hug Box for a packing day.

  • I last did this in 2018 and Lisa Greissl’s ambition to help others when she was recovering from a very rare cancer is an on-going project with success after success.
  • She was a recipient of a local large shopping centre grant of $10,000 enabling over 200 Big Hug Boxes to be donated to those with cancer in the Hunter region of N.S.W. Covid restrictions changing but still with rules, meant she could have around 12 people join her at the cafe she & her husband now run.
  • Info about The Big Hug Box can be found here. And Lisa’s story as a Woman of Courage here!

Lisa Greissl was a runner before her cancer surgery which compromised her left leg. Determined to be fit and well via exercise, she has become a rower and now, after completing events in NSW she is determined to be a Para-athlete and will be seen trying her best to become an Australian rep in the sport.

Happy 72nd Birthday, Denyse!

I was very grateful to spend a quiet and lovely day having morning tea out with B, and receiving texts, phone calls and a card (thank you to my bro and SIL) along with Facetime in the evening with our kids and their kids…separately! Knowing you are loved and cared for is a blessing and I am grateful for their presence in my lives. Dad always calls too, and he rang later in the day.

December 2021.

This month brought weather that felt like Autumn or Winter. Accompanied by heavy rain at times, we were OK locally but many around N.S.W. were not. Flooding, flash floods and wild storms caused a lot of havoc. At the time of writing, it is 20degC and not at all summer like! However, as I edit this in early January, we eventually got to summer weather but with added humidity and rain. Not great beach weather.

Mum’s Birthday: 6 Dec. She’d have been around late 70s here.

Christmas creeping up on us. And we don’t mind as it tells us the year we’d perhaps like to forget much about, it nearing the end.

And it’s time for school presentation days, graduations, formals, exams and farewells…each needing to be done within Covid restrictions.

  • So tiring too. I felt for teachers and principals as they had so much to do and then it could all fall in a heap if there was a case of Covid reported.
  • Despite teachers and those who work in schools required to be fully vaccinated, and masks being mandatory, it does not stop people actually getting covid and at the time of writing a new variant has been found and case numbers are rising.
  • So far, fingers crossed, no-one in our family has been affected. By January, there were some with Covid.

Keeping the memories happening for me by making photo collages….

My find for learning and reading..is Brene Brown’s latest. Loving Atlas of the Heart so much.

Head and Neck Cancer: My work, my condition and more is never far from my mind.

I had been part of the inaugural Choir: Raising Our Voices for Head and Neck Cancer Australia and whilst it is elsewhere on my blog, I am leaving the video here too.

As a result of putting some information about my story, and how I can share about Head and Neck cancer Awareness, I have my first invitation*  to speak to a Probus Group in Sydney’s west in late April 2022. If this goes well, and the news is something that helps others, I will seek more opportunities to do so. It’s free of  course but it’s a distance to travel so I will see how much I want to do this. I now have a “Speaker’s CV”.

*Since writing, I have reviewed my ‘doing’ ideas and they are being stopped..in fact, I am doing to stop most if not all plans for travelling to be a speaker or participant. I have been not taking into account how much my inner health is affect, and that I cannot eat well at all unless I am at home. So, that’s it. Learning to BE. Again.

And still, even more news from Head and Neck Cancer Australia when A/Prof  Bruce Ashford, Board Member and Head & Neck Surgeon spoke on Sunrise about the rising numbers (no known cause) of young women being diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. Not HPV either.

My own cancer site was a bit sore, even though I care for it as much as possible so managed a late December appointment to see my Prosthodontist in Westmead. I was relieved all seemed well and there is no sign of any disease (as he said, but it implied cancer). Phew.

I came home on a relieved ‘high’ and with so much gratitude which was tempered within 24 hours to hear news of its return in a dear friend. I won’t name her.

Late December including Christmas. 

We got our planned boosters for Covid earlier than we thought thanks to our kind pharmacist.

We were on target for visiting our daughter’s house for Christmas Day, where we would see all of our family: kids and their kids…for the first time together at Christmas since 2014…until…

23 December, late in the day, I began to feel unwell. Like a “virus”. Lethargy, cough, aches. With a virulent strain of Covid called Omicron seeing a HUGE spike of case numbers daily in N.S.W. from the hundred to the thousands in a week, that meant a covid test. I drove from home very early to one centre on Christmas Eve, and despite it showing it was open on the website the night before, it was closed. Those of us who lined up in our cars for over an hour, had to leave and find another place.

These photos are from late December, early January experience of mine.

That time I went where I probably should have in the first place, to Wyong, and had a long-ish but not intolerable wait of over an hour, and got my test done. Still feeling so unwell, our plans for Christmas were abandoned and we stayed put.

The last week of December 2021.

It was boring, predictably, because of Covid and the need to be mindful everywhere we went (or did not in the end). I enjoyed, just on two occasions, a coffee sitting down at a cafe …after a short browse for books…until I stopped doing that because of ‘getting pinged’ by the NSW Service App. Obviously it was working but I had no symptoms therefore no need to test.

Testing…testing ….was a ridiculously awful time for many thousands of us here in N.S.W. as the pathology places buckled under the huge numbers of tests, and their drive-in and other places closed early or did not open due to lack of staff.

Whilst I detest ending the year on a pretty negative note..hey, Covid negative is a good result for anyone…I would like to hope, that in 2022 we can see ourselves coming out of it with the notion of ‘living with Covid” one that is possible. As my husband says ” we live with the flu viruses, and we have our annual shot but it doesn’t always work but we take that chance”.

Here’s the collage of my new blog photos for 2022. Changing the subject!

The posts for Telling My Story end today…..

But before finishing I want to remind myself of a few things. Where I began to feel changes happening within me that seemed strange and yet I  kept on thinking  the professionals I saw knew more than I did. Not re-telling my story but remembering the WHY and WHEN of beginning this process of sharing words and photos from my life, at age 65.

Acknowledging The Shock of My Cancer Diagnosis & Challenge of Brutal but Necessary Surgeries. 

I have taken till this post to share with you all how hard it was to both acknowledge and manage my emotions with the shock diagnosis of a rare cancer back in May 2017.

I also took me some time to learn more about the qualities of the cancer as was found, removed and sent to pathology. Nothing like having the full pathologist report but it took me some years to look at it. I just kept going because I was 100% confident of my professional team. I even called my cancer #squamouscellcarcinoma of the upper gums and under the top lip. But it was not quite like that. It took me till year 5 since diagnosis to read more, and to now share here what it was:

T4N0 verrucous carcinoma upper alveolus: is on my report. T-tumour 4 – cm area N nodes 0 none found with cancer. 

Verrucous carcinoma is a relatively uncommon, locally aggressive, clinically exophytic, low-grade, slow-growing, well-differentiated squamous cell carcinoma with minimal metastatic potential.17 Dec 2017

The alveolar ridge (/ælˈviːələr, ˌælviˈoʊlər, ˈælviələr/;[1] also known as the alveolar margin) is one of the two jaw ridges, extensions of the mandible or maxilla, either on the roof of the mouth between the upper teeth and the hard palate

I now have greater understanding of the ‘where’ the cancer was and that it has ‘cauliflower’ like appearance because I could see that under the top lip. Knowing I was female, non-smoking and non-drinking made me “rare of rare” my Prof told me once. It appears that other reasons a cancer like that could form in my mouth as that I had a bridge attached to the upper teeth and over time that could have caused severe irritation and I was often told I had candida. I prefer to take my Prof’s word that sometimes we will never know.

Doing this here makes me proud of how far I have come and how much my life as altered due to this cancer being found in the weeks after I decided to Tell My Story. And why there was a year’s gap.

Thank you dear readers and commenters. I have been delighted to see how my life story is of interest.

Yes this is the end but no not quite. Given that as a blogger I am choosing what I write about I am planning now to do a month-in-review post each end of month so, yes, in some ways life, like the stories, goes on.

Denyse.

 

Life This Week. 7.2.2022.

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My Father Is 98 Today. 3/2022.

My Father Is 98 Today. 3/2022.

In his mother’s arms. 1924.

My father, Andrew Simpson, was born in Wollongong NSW 98 years ago today.

11.1.1924.

He was the second child and first son to his father, Andrew and mother, Henrietta. His parents met via WWI when he was recovering from war related mustard gas poisoning & she was from the town where the hospital was located.

After the war, the war bride arrived to make her home in her new husband’s city of Wollongong. His family had emigrated from Scotland before WW1.

Dad went on the become brother to two more siblings. In the middle photo, Dad is around 11, and this is likely the last pic of his whole family.

Andy, Dad’s Dad, was fatally injured in a workplace accident at the Steelworks in Port Kembla.

So, it’s 1935, and already the effects of the Great Depression left their mark on Dad and his family. In fact, in a way, he has to grow up from then.

His mother, Gran as I knew her, became an embittered and sad woman not only because of widowhood but due to family matters, received no help at all from her late husband’s more well-to-do family.

What my father tells me helped him was:

Joining the scouting movement

Being an excellent student at school

Having some support from local men who ensured Dad’s education continued at Wollongong HS.

But, at 15, he needed to leave, to become employed and with his aptitude for office work, good understanding of figures, he was given an office traineeship with Australian Iron & Steel.

He worked hard, he rode a push bike to work and he revelled in the scouting connections.

From 1939-1945 Australia was in WW11, and Dad was working in an essential industry and could not enlist. He did community work with the Rover Scouts but it bothers him still that he could not play a part as many did…friends and family, to help his country.

By 1946, life sure stepped up a notch or 3, and he’d done very well with his clerical work and was on his way to being an accountant…and met a lovely woman who was a lady cub master, at Mt Keira scout camp, marrying her on 2.11.1946.

Dad found a different and more loving extended family via Mum’s relatives and was accepted by all. They worked hard, saving money and after 3 years, just about had a brand new house built in Gywnneville with the help of many friends, ready to welcome their first child, Denyse.

Sadly for Dad, and Mum too, he was obliged to go and work in Melbourne for most of my first year of life as it was company policy. He rode it out though, helped by me and mum flying to Melbourne to stay for a while.

By the time Dad returned and was told for his continuing employment – after all, this was a big company which had trained him and given him work experiences for over 10 years, he would be based in Melbourne.

With much thought, and in discussion with some independent mentors, he resigned and took up a role as the works accountant with a fertiliser company based in Port Kembla.

Life was improved  more so, with the addition of a son, and a Holden Car! Dad tells me he had a car in order for many months & whilst waiting had some basic lessons in driving, so when he took ownership of the car, in Sydney, his mate said “you drive home”.

Memories here are mine. Life as kids in Wollongong was family centred, we both went to the local primary school just down the street. We were taken to the beach, Dad helped us learn to body surf, we joined brownies and cubs, and enjoyed life with a few challenges. One was when Mum’s hearing, very damaged after childbirth, necessitated her having major surgery in Sydney and Dad managed work, seeing her and making sure us kids were OK with neighbours helping out.

The forever home and comfortable life in Wollongong did not remain. Dad’s skills were seen as being needed at the higher end of the company ladder, and was offered the role of Chief Accountant in the Sydney Offices of his company.

In recent years Dad & I have chatted about this big move which must have challenged their marriage as Mum had her family nearby and couldn’t even think about moving.  It did happen and despite the initial misgivings, turned out to be a richer and more varied life than either could have imagined.

Balgowlah Heights, Sydney  Years. 1959-2011.

Aspects of my parents’ life have also been covered within the Telling My Story series here.

Now, as I share on his actual birthday, and I cannot visit him because I am not well (not covid) I thought this might be a good way to share.

1960s into 1970s.

Dad’s life expanded socially and work wise with contacts in the new local community, joining scout association and kids’ cricket group both with my brother’s activities. Supporting our local primary school and getting to be part of the much larger community on the northern beaches. He and Mum joined sporting clubs to play social tennis and he became a golfer at Balgowlah Golf Club as a Saturday regular. It was a great sporting and social connection for him, eventually becoming the club  treasurer and later a life member.

Work was big and busy and often took him away for a day or more to visit work sites in relation to his financial role. As we kids grew up, Mum would often accompany him and that was best for them both.

The Big Trip in 1966.

His bosses were progressive with the big company take over of the original one, and Dad was selected to attend the Harvard Business School Management Summer Program at University of Hawaii in June 1966. A VERY big trip beforehand took him literally around the world, visiting places of business related to the big company. It changed his life in so many ways as he still tells us. Eight weeks away and endless friendships and connections made helped he and Mum when they then had their turns at international travel and over time, many trips back to Hawaii.

The class of 1966.

Kids Grow Up. Leave Home. More Happening! 

I left to teach at Barraba in 1970, and met my husband, marrying in 1971 and  my brother had an OS trip and work training, and then in 1976 married his wife. Dad saw that wherever we (the kids) ended up, he and Mum would come to visit where possible. He and Mum did get to see a lot of Australia thanks to us both.

Grandkids and Home Improvements.

In late 1971, our first child, Dad’s first grandchild, was born. As we spent each school holidays with my parents (we were country based teachers) our daughter felt that their place was her second home. In 1978 Dad made a big decision for his comfort and enjoyment…and added a large in ground swimming pool to the back yard and it was loved by many till the house sold. More grandkids arrived in 1979, 1980 and 1981.

Work Comes To An End. 1983.

Dad is a planner and very astute financially. He was tiring of the office work…especially as leadership changes did not appeal, and whilst he could have been promoted to the ‘top’ job said no. He preferred using his financial expertise and not having the ‘buck’ stopping with him. His retirement present from work was a farewell trip around the world…first class, I think, with Mum, to see all of the works’ related places where he had made friends.

Active Retirement Years. 1984-2005.

Golf more often, trips away, taking grandkids on holidays, having a  Gold Coast holiday for each winter, and much more. Helping his family out in many ways. Dealing with deaths of his mother, other family members and more. Pragmatic and an organiser meant things happened well. Garden maintenance, volunteering at a local youth club, making new friends, farewelling older ones and taking time to enjoy life. A walk along the beach at Manly and even a surf until it became physically challenging. Welcoming the first great grandchild, then over the years till now, another 10! Celebrating zero birthdays and anniversaries. Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1996.

Not Wonderful Times.

Mum was not well and in 2006 even though she was fine to celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversary with the family, it was clear her health was taking a toll on her and of course on Dad, as her main carer. In early 2007 Dad and Mum were told she was terminally ill with secondary brain tumours and the decision made by her, and supported all the way by Dad and us, was no treatment other than palliative care. Mum died on 5 March 2007. Dad was both relieved and bereft.

The next 3 years were ones of transitioning to being by himself and remaining as well as he could…and his goal remains that. A great walker and social person he continued his practice of getting out and about each day and meeting friends. But time, and a large cold house meant he was ready for more comfort and people around him.

New Beginnings. 

After selling the family home, Dad hosted a farewell to Curban Street with all of us there and it was bittersweet. Nevertheless he moved on and into the spacious, modern and well-fitted out apartment at Dee Why where he is today. He has made a whole group of new friends in the 10 years since he moved in. He hosted a 90th Birthday for friends old & new, and family at the RSL club next door 8 years ago. His health has remained good until the last couple of years where he was troubled with a balance issue and he spent 3 weeks in rehab getting that sorted. His GP says his heart is in great shape. Sadly, mobility is challenging but he has a walker. His eyes are affected by macular degeneration. But his mind remains incredibly active and rarely forgets anything. He can’t score at darts anymore because of his eyes. But he can listen to music, chat with others and use the phone. Interested always in learning more, his neighbours who are originally from the UK and he get together weekly for sharing knowledge and history. He cares for himself including minor cooking. He has a cleaner. He is well.

Today, even though I cannot visit him as I am not feeling well, friends are taking him out for lunch. Yesterday my brother, who lives close by, and family took Dad a cake, and we facetimed for his 98th Birthday.

He has no secret for living to this age. He has outlived all of his older times friends and his family.

Happy 98th Birthday Dad.

Denyse.

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Telling My Story. Christmas Memories Edition. #FestiveBonBon. 130/2021.

Telling My Story. Christmas Memories Edition. #FestiveBonBon. 130/2021.

When I read that my friends from blogging, Debbie from here, Sue from here, Jo from here and Donna from here too, had a plan for a one-off Christmas related link up, I could not resist.

I am definitely a Christmas ‘Kid’ with memories galore.

Team #FestiveBonBon even has a cute photo and questions. And link up icon IN CHOCOLATE colours. Nice one!

I will do my best to respond, and as I am not only a Christmas sentimentalist, but also have a LOT of photos as memories, then I think I have some ideas.

 

Christmas Tree – do you have one, when does it go up, who decorates it, is there a theme or is it miss-matched?

YES.

  • Traditionally (my traditions) ours went up the weekend before my birthday (30 November) because after that it was close to my Mum’s birthday and we didn’t want to take over her date. BUT more importantly….sorry Mum, is WHO decorates/d the tree?

 

  • EVERY grandchild does. At least those I can corral. Back in the first years/decades of being grandparents I admit I hyped the whole “Christmas at Grandma’s and Papa’s” decorating Sunday (mostly) and asked the parents to leave…or at least help Mr W with the myriad of lights, outside decorations and more to be adoring the house.

 

  • IT WAS FUN…frantic and the best.

Christmas music was played: Holly Jolly Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and occasionally more traditional music – see next question. I still have many CDs and playlists and they are now my car accompaniment during December.

I digress. Not a chronological post. Sorry. Not sorry.

  • Grandkids started happening for us in 1996 – the first born 2 days before Christmas that year. She got to add the star to the tree in 1997. My rule? Youngest puts star on tree. (Sadly, this year in our house, it was 71 year old me!)

 

  • I bought a new decoration for each grandchild each year…so 1996 one had many more than say 2013 born on. We have grandkids born in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2015. I labelled each one with date too. Some had photos in them. Before we moved house, and downsized the Christmas tree, giving our 1994 one to our daughter and her 4, I gave each grandchild their tree decorations from our house in a special box for the family Christmases ahead.

 

Christmas carols & songs.

I have enjoyed singing both the carols of Christmas (traditional and Australian themed ones) since I was in a church choir – I think I went to be social and I loved the singing, and got to learn some teaching skills helping little kids at Sunday School- aged 12 t0 14. Dad always had music playing in house at Christmas but can’t specifically recall Christmas songs.

  • I love to sing and in a group or teaching some kids and I may not have been a keen musician nor able to read music but I could hold a tune and loved teaching songs at Assembly and for Christmas concerts.
  • I particularly enjoy the Australian carols: The North Wind, The Silver Stars are In the Sky and more.
  • Remember for us, teaching in outback NSW was a very hot time as school ends and yet, we still put on traditional Christmas plays, songs and Santa always visited.

I have, as mentioned earlier, a huge number of CDs and even great songs from Hi Five and The Wiggles (all part of grandparenting back then) bring me joy. Santa Wear Your Shorts is one I recall kids singing at school carols too.

In a Rusty Holden Ute is one I remember a class doing back at RPS when I was principal.

I have very eclectic taste. Obvs.

 

Christmas books.

My favourites are always those I read to my kids, then their kids and to some classes. Way back I used to share a golden type book about the story of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. I had a collection of various Father Christmas story books, and Santa Claus ones too. They are now all in other people’s houses, and I hope still being enjoyed.

I loved reading them to little ones and seeing the sense of awe and wonder.

I don’t have any that are mine nor am I really interested. However, I recall a series of short stories, Maeve Binchy perhaps, about coming home and Christmas. Long gone like my memory.

 

Christmas movies.

As mum and then,  Grandma I would watch movie length cartoons on TV as we had broken up for the year, and it was a nice distraction to have on a hot day inside while I probably made Christmas gifts.

And here’s on oldie. Back in the early 1960s Mum and Dad entertained neighbours and friends on Christmas Eve, and Dad would drop me and bro up to local Cinema in Balgowlah to watch White Christmas or something similar. I liked it. I must ask my brother if he recalls. We must have been collected by someone, and with no RBT, and within 2 kms of home anyway maybe having a festive driver do that didn’t matter.

And then in mid 2000 teens, I found Its a Wonderful Life. I like it so much it IS my go-to each Christmas to remember ‘why we each are important to each other’

Christmas cake.

I love(d) eating small amounts of home made Christmas cake. Made my own for a few years back in the 1980s and certainly enjoyed those my mum made back in the day. I liked the tradition of making them when the kids helped stir the cake mix. For photo purposes only. Neither like(d) Fruit Cake!

I also recall Christmas puddings made by Mum and wrapped in pudding cloth. Back in the day  1950s I recall the threepence and sixpence you might find in a slice of pudding…and not break your teeth. My paternal grandmother kept pudding coins I recall. Mum’s recipe here…and no I have never made it but it’s in Mum’s handwriting so treasured as a memory.

Chocolate nuts or fruit.

Now I can physically barely eat any, but cherries (black more than red) are part of Christmas, lychees  and so are mangoes.  And watermelon. We always had fruit and a variety of fresh nuts on the table. With a nutcracker. Seriously. Only ever used at Christmas.

Christmas traditions

See above…

However, there were some when our kids were young.

  • Christmas Eve I was always tired out – school had just broken up, and husband was finishing off whatever jobs he was doing around the place, so I took the kids to Christmas Eve Mass. I know! I did it because…tradition (and I became a catholic to be same as husband and kids, none of us are no longer practising) and I loved the music and the nativity…and then we got Maccas for tea. Still a novelty in 1980s.

 

  • Home with takeaway & after eating,  and some last minute preparations by kids for carrots out for reindeer, one of my orange biscuits or piece of shortbread for Santa, and quite possibly a can of Coke. Honestly I can’t recall but B liked drinking Coke then.

 

  • Kids laid out their Santa Bag (pillowcases) and Santa Stockings under the tree…and then off to bed. We watched/listened to Carols from Melbourne whilst trying to equalise sizes and presents for kids. Not wrapped ever. But if son seemed to get more (volume wise) I would remove for his birthday in 3 weeks.

 

  • We then waited…and bit the carrots and poured out the water, ate the treats, drank the drink…and hopefully kids were asleep and we left sack at bottom of their beds. Tired out.
  • When they woke in the morning, I was there with the trusty camera and it was a very special start to the day. As the kids got older (7 years difference, so one was 14, other 7) I sometimes actually ‘woke’ them because we often had a busy day ahead.

 

  • I used to make gifts for family, friends and even our doctors…(still do, actually) and one recipe honed by me back in 1990s I call “orange biscuits”. These are still much loved by my daughter and as she was turning 50 in covid lockdown, I made a batch and sent them to her. I “will” make some for her Christmas too. I also used to make Almond Bread. Yum. But not anymore as my mouth couldn’t bear it.

 

What’s on the table?

So many memories here.

  • However, musts for us were Christmas Bonbons to pull open, wear the silly hat, and share the silly jokes. I made placemats some years. Even a Christmas Trivia Quiz.

 

  • There were always festive treats on the table before any food was served! Cherries, lollies (and liquorish allsorts were a must, along with chocolate almonds), something savoury maybe like home made cheesy biscuits and some prawns in mayo on jatz, and some smoked salmon on rye bread would have been served before lunch.

 

  • I used to drink Mimosas too,  Orange juice and champers…As a wee kid though, MY Papa would have cold little bottles of Cherry Cheer for his 2 grandkids

 

  • Then there was LUNCH.

 

  • A mix of hot meal and cold too. So much food.

 

  • Always (back then) hot chickens, leg of pork  and many roast veggies, gravy, and some cold ham, turkey,  and salads with bread rolls. And later, slices of pudding for those who liked it, with home made brandy butter (yum), cream & ice cream and for others, something from the freezer ice cream selections.

 

  • On a hot day we were always grateful for air conditioning if available! And a pool too….

This was at LUNCHtime…and then, by about 6 p.m. we might serve up some leftovers too before, hopefully, all went home (with leftovers) ….sigh. Food coma.

Before & after head & neck cancer & adapting to no family at Christmas time.

 

One of the BIG Christmas Days…where Mum – see waving hand would have cooked a lot at home and brought it with her and Dad. Happy & sad memories here as my Aunty, back, second from right, would not be with us the next year.

Christmas memories.

  • They started at Dapto in 1950s for me, with the old fashioned Christmas lunch and all the spoiling that grandkids (me and bro) get. Then to dad’s Mum in Wollongong  for Christmas dinner/afternoon tea. Not as enjoyable though.

 

  • By the time we moved to Sydney however, and in early 1960s, my parents agreed we no longer wanted to spend Christmas day in the car, so Christmas would be at our place, and relatives were welcome to our place.

 

  • We became adults, and after marrying B & I  had a child by 1971, so Christmas and having the lunch at Mum and Dad’s was great as we were staying on school holidays and then over time, we moved to sharing some of Christmas Day with B’s family.

 

  • We bought a house, had teaching roles  and stayed in Sydney from 1978, with a second child added, and we still trekked to my parents most times until one day, Mum tired of it all, 1985 when her sister died suddenly, and I was given the family gig. It was fine, even though the reason my mum stopped was borne of grief and the need to pass the baton.

 

  • I probably did this closer to 2010s ish in our family if they wanted to do Christmas. Sometimes it became very complicated with extended families so we might share present opening instead on Christmas morning.

 

  • Over the next decade, we would have hosted, or gone to my brother’s and sometimes to my husband’s family. It becomes complicated for sure as families grow, change and move away.

 

  • Early 1990s we had a brand new  (big!) house and wanted to share the new space, and did Christmas then.

 

  • Grandchildren’s arrival changed so much for Christmas traditions, see above, but none more memorable than 1996, when the parents of newborn J, had ‘day leave’ from the hospital to have Christmas Lunch.

 

  • Grandkids, families changing and more meant that there were MANY more variations to Christmas Days until 2014 when, as we had sold our house in Sydney (and all those Christmas memories 1997-2013) our daughter did family Christmas.

Now?

The stories are as above.

And with no further ado, I am going to use this post for a Special One-Off Edition of Telling My Story!

The Christmas Memories One for the LAST #LifeThisWeek “Wishing”

I hadn’t thought of that till now. Thank you ladies!!

 

 

All I want for Christmas is…

The writing of this post has given me a better and greater appreciation of my Christmas memories as a 72 year old, and for that I am

G

R

A

T

E

F

U

L

May your dreams and hopes for Christmas and the Holiday season come true.

May you all go well.

May you be happy.

May the new year hold good health for you and yours.

I am very grateful for the blogging community always.

And for my continued good health post head & neck cancer!

Denyse.

On Monday 13 December 2021, @HeadandNeckCancerAustralia’s Virtual Choir for Christmas will be launched.

A first for Australia! I am in it too.

 

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