Wednesday 10th August 2022

Head & Neck Cancer: My BIG Day: 6 July 2017. Post Surgery: Denyse Speaks. 44/2022.

Head & Neck Cancer: My BIG Day: 6 July 2017. Post Surgery: Denyse Speaks. 44/2022.

It’s timely that the month of July holds big significance to me, and anyone else affected by having a head and neck cancer diagnosis.

27 July is World Head and Neck Cancer Day.

As someone who was completely ignorant of  “this cancer” until 17 May 2017 (story is here) I have used my experience as a patient, and an educator to help spread the words and images about this cancer, and being AWARE of what is it. So many health professionals also are not always aware as we would hope. Education & training is key!

However, this post is to:

  • commemorate (my diagnosis and first surgery 5 year anniversary)
  • share (my experience)
  • congratulate (my team of many professionals)
  • and be grateful that …in my case, this cancer has not returned.

My biggest fear, I guess, post this big surgery, was that I would have a tracheotomy (I was warned this could be the case) if the airways were swollen as a result of the reconstruction…because “I like to talk” as those who know me would agree.

And when I WAS able to speak, even in a limited way, when I woke during the post op ICU period: late evening 6.7.2017, I was so relieved.

My use of my phone camera was for two reasons: distraction from the boredom and tedium in hospital. and to form a record for myself, which I am now sharing for World Head and Neck Cancer Day 27 July as well as here.

The videos are in chronological order: 4 from recovery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse: 10-15 July 2017 (I was in ICU from late 6 July until 9 July when I moved to my private room)….

and one just before I was able to get my upper prosthesis fitted in August 2018….

and one from now, some 4 years on, after my 5 years since diagnosis. Each one is very short.

Thanks for viewing…as I hope you have.

I keep these as a reminder of how far I have come thanks to:

  • great experienced and skilled head and neck cancer surgeon and team… four surgeries in total = four recovery times = 14 months before teeth!
  • in-hospital speech and language therapist, who on meeting me (see video one) could ascertain I had no issues with swallowing water, and could talk..and issue instructions as I heard myself do. Oops. And the dietitian who guided my eating (nutrition) once I was off the gastric feeding. The physiotherapist who encouraged me to MOVE after my leg, which had ‘sacrificed’ its fibula and some flesh for my mouth. And yes I did. Then there were the community health nurses, many, and my own HNC specialist nurses I could chat with.
  • people who never let me think I couldn’t make progress (its easy to become worn down) and they include the nurses at the hospital who I talked with every day…and of course my husband and as I recovered and went home, friends and those who helped me (GP, dentist, and more)  and family.
  • prosthodontist and his nurses and makers of prosthesis who got me back “my voice” with just a wee lisp…took longer than we all thought because the skin in my mouth wouldn’t behave as it was supposed to. It was meant to create a space for the upper prosthesis but it didn’t till a 4th surgery and 3 months in yet another stent.
  • my determination to communicate and connect. Becoming an Ambassador for then Beyond Five (now Head and Neck Cancer Australia) in late 2018 helped me with this! I met with head and neck cancer groups locally and further afield, and politicians too, keeping the information about Head and Neck cancer at the forefront for others.  This is my life force!!
  • blogging where I get to share.

A collage of July Selfies: 2017-2020.


Warmest of wishes to you wherever you are viewing this post,


Ambassador for Head and Neck Cancer Australia.

My story can be found here on H.A.N.C.A. site.

The series of videos made by Head and Neck Cancer Australia where I was one of the two patients to share our stories of eating to be well after head and neck cancer.

Resources for Head and Neck Cancer Patients, Families and Professionals can be found here.