Sunday 5th July 2020

26/51#LifeThisWeek.Telling My Story. 2004-06.Chapter Sixteen.52/2020.

26/51#LifeThisWeek.Telling My Story.2004-2006.Chapter Sixteen.52/2020.

So, about a hundred three years ago ….I thought it was time, seeing I had a blog, to start writing my story. It was on advice from a blogging friend, now published author (her story is here) that I did. Then, for a long time I did not. Because cancer was diagnosed. Nevertheless, I eventually returned to the story and now I am at…drum roll… Chapter Sixteen.

With yet another photo of me because I keep changing my appearance…thanks to head and neck cancer, then cataract surgeries.

The most recent chapter, finalised how my first and significant career in New South Wales Department of Education ended. Sadly but there was a need for my health to improve and that it did.

L: NSW Teachers’ Federation Badge. R: N.S.W. Primary Principals Ass. Membership Badge.

Why was 2004 memorable?

I went back to school! As a teacher. But first, there is MORE!

I spent quite a bit of summer 2004 recovering from the broken right leg and receiving physiotherapy to get me walking again. We were a two-person household as our adult son had moved in with a friend. I had S P A C E to call mine, and claimed his old room for an art-craft one for me. It also doubled as a grandchild-sleepover space where we installed double bunks and these were in regular use.

My husband, whilst not in the best of health, started to enjoy his music and had a space in the house for that and part  all of the garage eventually morphed into a workshop. We had two vehicles but we were soon to add some home improvements but wait, I am getting ahead of myself.

Around the middle of what would be Term One in schools, I started to feel a restlessness within and to be honest a NEED to do something related to teaching. Having over a year away from schools to try my hand at volunteering and to get better health-wise, the thoughts grew that I probably needed to get my casual teaching availability sorted and out there to my principal friends.

“Would You Like Two Days a Week From Next Term?”

We lived in Glenwood, a suburb on former dairy land in Sydney’s northwest. My friend, D, and I had been colleagues for many years and I heard that the brand new school at a brand new suburb just 10 minutes drive away was where she was the foundation principal. I rang and she said ” come over and have a look at it, love to see you”. I did, with a version of a casual teacher resume in my bag.

After a tour in a modern, private/public built school we sat in her office and I began speaking about wanting to come back to teaching. She knew of what had happened to me at R.P.S. and in fact was one who stayed in touch initially. Before I could say much more, I received an offer, to start Term 2, doing 2 days a week Release From Face To Face Teaching for all of the SEVEN classes (K-6) the school then comprised. By the time I left the school in 2010 the student population had exploded from our original 156 to around 700…and since went close to 1000…if you know the now-densely populated North West area of Sydney, this will not surprise you.

Yes, thank you…that would be great. I asked what I should teach in that time. Her reply was ‘up to me’ and in a complete switch for me, I chose Creative Arts: art, drama and music.

Back to School. As a teacher.

On the first day of Term Two 2004,  the day after our second granddaughter turned 5 (huge party with jumping castle and I did face painting) I presented myself to the school…and the first group I would be teaching. Year 6. Now, this was still a very small school and the teachers were incredibly welcoming and friendly. I remain friends with many today. However, Year 6, first up took some courage but I did it. The thing about a brand new school is that the kids in the upper grades have come from different schools with different expectations. I did have some kids who tried me (behavioural and attitude) but we managed. After that baptism, I had the rest of the day…and I think I returned on the Tuesday as my 2nd day. I do recall being on Cross Country duty too as the kids ran around the then spacious grounds.

When a new school opens in a new neighbourhood there are children presenting to enrol every week and over time, this position grew to 3 days a week. By the end of that year however, I got a different role and loved this one even more.

Before I move on. The school had its official opening and that was a privilege to be part of. Some of the work I had done as the R.F.F. teacher in Art and Craft also involved Aboriginal Education (I had some expertise from my previous schools) and the Year 6 group performed at the opening using clapping sticks made by my husband.

The principal now had someone on her staff who she could confide in and even offload on but she did not do this much at all. However from time to time she would ask me “how come you are always so happy?” My answer was, she had seen my need to be back teaching and I was loving it as well as being a mentor of sorts to some …but I no longer had the full responsibility which weighed heavily when I was a principal.

The English as A Second Language Teacher. Me! 2005 & 2006.

I was always a teacher of literacy at heart, and loved working with children at the entry level of school. It made sense then for me to turn what I loved to do into a role I could deepen for myself and the school when there was growing student population of students whose second language was English.

I was able to set up the program, a space for the students and to develop the school’s programs. This was an important part of my role and being a former principal something I knew a lot about. What I did need to learn more about was the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of teaching English to a range of learners. Some were literally just stepping ‘off the plane’ as we used to say, and others had been in Australia speaking and learning English at previous schools.

The ‘language’ of teaching in this field has changed in the past 5+ years so I will use what I remember. The students were assessed, if needed, by me upon enrolment in whichever year they were entering. For example a student coming into Kindergarten and one coming into Year 5 might still be classed as ‘new arrivals’ if they had no understanding of English and would need, at separate times to being in class, some one-on-one or very small group learning.

To that end, I enrolled in a Post-Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Charles Sturt University. Part-time and on-line with lots of practical work I could do with the students. This was a great way for me to add to my qualifications and hopefully, as time passed, get appointed to the school in 2007 as the substantive E.S.L. teacher. In the next chapter, I will share what happened.

Flexibility and a program that helped teachers integrate the students into their classes was important and I did all I could on the 3 days allocated to the program – always by student numbers – that year. The school’s population grew and grew, in 2006 there was a need to employ another person like me on a temporary basis. I was not permanently appointed, even though, over time, I hoped that might occur. More on that in the next chapter. 2007 was a big year for me. In many ways.

Family Times, House with ‘New’Mortgage & My First Trip O.S.

Despite the fact that we were now mortgage-free, see chapter fifteen, we became tempted to use the house as collateral for home improvements. Yes, people, we not only were tempted, we went ahead. The house benefitted with the enclosure of the outdoor room and adding air conditioning to it so it was a useable space, a carport, added driveways and landscaping out the front and back. This all helped at the time for our enjoyment. Much later in terms of selling, we had added value but the outstanding mortgage was paid out at the time of sale in 2015, bought new cars (much needed, old ones were literally ‘dying’)  but we did not have enough after that to buy a house on the Central Coast. This has, as it turns out, not been too bad as we have found a couple of options where we may wish, one day, to buy a house. For now, we are, like many, more comfortable as renters in the lovely, modern house we are in now.

Family times in those years became busier in some ways as the first group of grandchildren were changing in terms of ‘growing up’ and starting school. We attended Open Days, School Assemblies, Musicals and other events when possible. We took our two eldest granddaughters on a family holiday to Ballina which was fun and they got to meet some of their extended family and see where Papa grew up and went to school.

We welcomed partners into the family and life continued getting to know extended family members, and share in occasions, as well as support new ventures such as a return to study for one of our kids, with eventually University degree completed and more to come. One adult child continued in teaching part-time and we offered weekend/evening/afternoon respite for the kids in her busy times of responsibilities at school and beyond.

For some time I guess I did consider travelling overseas but never really got the chance. Then my plan was hatched and by crikey, I love a plan. To organise, the research and to find out more..blah blah. It was always going to be a solo trip. The plane ride for my husband of just on 3 hours in 2003 was the deal breaker for him as I wrote last chapter. He couldn’t accompany me. However, I was actually OK to give solo travel a go in a bigger way. I had already done some shorter trips and small breaks away within Australia so I looked at what I thought I could manage flight time wise, and where I was interested in visiting. It was to the U.S.of A.’s west coast but mainly the state of Hawaii I wanted to see. Dad and Mum had been there many times following Dad’s first visit when he was part of Harvard Business Summer School for 6 weeks in 1966.

With meticulous care and with the help of Flight Centre I booked 15 days away from 1 January 2006 to 15 January. Flights on Hawaiian Air, were marvellous and I joined their Premier Club to get preferential seating, extra luggage allowance and use of Lounges at LAX and Oahu. Brilliant. But, I almost went home from Mascot (our airport) before I left.

New Year’s Day in Sydney 2006 the temperature was 45deg. There was no air con working at the airport. My flight was not leaving till 10 pm. I was dropped off at the airport by my daughter…allowing plenty of time and it was actually ‘too much’ time. I was SO hot and over it..but stayed until check in could start…and when as a priority boarder I got to my window seat (then the aeroplane was 2,3,2 in economy)and sat, the aloha music and air con working….I sighed with relief. I probably need to expand this story separately but it went like this: Syd:Oahu, 3 nights. Oahu to Kona 2 nights. Kona to Oahu & onto LAX 2 nights, LAX to Las Vegas 2 nights, LV to SanFran 2 nights. SF to LAX back to Oahu 3 nights…and H O M E.

My Parents. 

In the latter part of 2006 my parents celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary (60 years wed) with a couple of small at-home celebrations with friends, and a family lunch in a local restaurant with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on the following weekend.

I went to their house on the actual day with 60 yellow roses from the local Dural Rose Growers, and Dad already had the cards I had organised from Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor-General, the Premier of N.S.W. and…for Mum especially, my brother organised a ‘congratulations to long time listeners, N & A,’ message on 2GB from Alan Jones. Mum loved it. And he was kind.

Mum had not been well for a couple of years and with an aversion to doctors and investigations, Dad did the best he could to keep her health under check. Mum had some symptoms that appeared to be Parkinson’s related and also a lot of pain in some areas that was put down to be ‘post shingles’ neuralgia.

Mum had a great smile. And she made a lot of effort to do the best she could to look well and co-ordinated, with hairdresser appointments weekly and a pretty regular wardrobe updates. She started to not want to go out much in a lot of 2006 and it became harder to convince her to do so.

Previously Mum had been quite social, independent with her own car and social groups and interests including tennis and cards. But no more. Even their much enjoyed June-July winter stays on the Gold Coast stopped in 2005. But, there were reasons which would not be evident until next chapter: a big one. 2007.

Mum and Dad, taken by me, at the family celebrations for their 60th Wedding Anniversary. November 2006.

 

That is all…that I remember and CAN write about…with confidence of telling my story without giving away too much. It does get tricky with privacy but I have permissions and try to stay within boundaries set by myself and what is reasonable.

For all of the stories to date, please visit this part of the blog. Telling My Story.

I print each post out and have it stored in a folder for family if they wish to read it.

Thanks for reading.

Denyse.

List of Optional Prompts: July & August 2020. On home page too.

27/51 Taking Stock #3 6.7.2020

28/51 Self-Care Stories. #4. 13.7.2020

29/51 Your Choice. Mine is: World Head & Neck Cancer Day. 20.7.2020

30/51 Share Your Snaps #6 27.7.2020

31/51 Food. 3.8.2020

32/51 Why Did I? 10.8.2020

33/51 I Want. 17.8.2020

34/51 Self-Care Stories. #5. 24.8.2020

35/51 Share Your Snaps #7 31.8.2020

Link Up #195.

Life This Week. Link Up #195.

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.27/51 Taking Stock #3 6.7.2020

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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

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

This is the final post in the series of five.

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

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

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

The 2nd anniversary of being told I had cancer.

Wednesday 17th May 2017 at 9.35 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phew. Dodged that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

 

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

Denyse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I drove to Sydney to see my father.

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

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

 

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

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

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

From my post here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denyse.

Joining  With Leanne on Thursday for Lovin Life link up here

AND with Alicia on Fridays for Open Slather here.

Thank you all for your link ups.

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