Sunday 26th June 2022

My ‘Head & Neck Cancer’ Spring Story. 39/51 #LifeThisWeek. 99/2019.

My ‘Head & Neck Cancer’ Spring Story. 39/51 #LifeThisWeek. 99/2019.

Spring is here.

In Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere. I am glad to have cool-ish evenings and lovely days but, I know from experience, the lengthening of days will bring more heat and then I will be complaining a bit as I can when the heat is on!

True to my word of needing AND wanting to get out and about I ventured to the local beach nearest to us on Friday only to find it closed off due to sand erosion (climate change, anyone??) so I took another way, up the hill then  down to arrive at the sand and gentle waves. Cold water but worth it for the paddle.

Head and Neck Cancer Check.

When head and neck cancer arrives in your life, you are taken into new and different worlds. Fortunately my ventures have been to improve my life’s quality, living with a rare cancer, and meeting many professionals who have contributed to my well-being since my diagnosis on 17 May 2017.

On Tuesday 17 September, a very rainy day, I drove to Westmead Oral Sciences for my 38th treatment with my prosthodontist and he could not have been more pleased with how well I am maintaining the skin (grafted) around the abutments (added implants to my ‘jaw from my leg’) and we both cheered when I told him I am for the most part pain free in the area that had been bothering me for months. Yay.

On Tuesday 24 September, this time on a sunny day, I arrived at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse carrying cards of appreciation and little cupcake packs for my professional team. These people have cared for and about me for over 2 years now and my relationship is close and warm as they are when they note my progress. I enjoyed a catch-up with Nadia from Beyond Five with a coffee as well, and then to Clinic on 2nd level for my cancer check. First seen by Cate, and then Jonathan and the consensus was I am doing so well, no return till early March 2020. As I finished up, I asked Jonathan how I was going in recovery and his words made me smile:  “Denyse, you are our poster girl in recovery”. I left feeling very well indeed. And the cupcakes and cards were appreciated.

There’s More To Life Than Cancer.

I could not be more appreciative of how well my cancer recovery is going and as a result, I am expanding my world and re-connecting where I could not before as recovery, treatments, resting, driving to and from Sydney took their toll.

On Tuesday, after being to my head and neck check up, I drove out to North Kellyville P.S. to see the granddaughter’s school’s inaugural Art Exhibition. What a joy it was to be there and I couldn’t resist this photo. It actually summed up just how well I felt that day!

Gratitude – for my connections found through having head and neck cancer.

And then this happened.

Those of you who have been reading my head and neck cancer posts (see here for access) will know I have NEVER found another person with cancer “like mine”. My professor had told me I was “rare of rare” in terms of risk factors and so I kind of learned to understand that was it. Until I was contacted, firstly by a mother, then by her son. This man is another head and neck cancer patient. They had found my story on the Beyond Five site after his diagnosis in 2018. It turned out, once I was contacted, he was not only living in Sydney but we shared the same professional surgical team, the same comprehensive cancer hospital and he also attended Westmead Oral Sciences.

This person, who is quite happy to be found on instagram here, has a more complex and serious version of head and neck cancer than mine. He and I connected via social media and then personally when we got together for a coffee at a place a bit up the coast for him, and down the coast for me.

Our talking and sharing was so good. I know for me, re-telling some of my story was good but I think, for him listening to the ways in which recovery occurred for me may have helped. Nevertheless he has a way to go right now and I am full of admiration for his attitude and his patience. We are both very keen to continue to spread the head and neck cancer message.

Thank you Fergus!

Time for change. Transitions. 

I’ve written before about the transitions in my life (retirement, leaving Sydney, family etc) before and I am now, 2 years 4 months post head and neck cancer diagnosis recognising a shift in my emotions, signalling change. Even good change has its downside. I am a little more emotional as I consider how far I have come. I am also feeling the feels about ageing…and turning 70 in 2 months. Our twosome relationship in our marriage continues to be strong as we navigate life at ‘this end’ together. Family is less connected to us now as caring is no longer required and they are all just about grown up.

It’s of great interest to me to know how quickly the changes occur. Sometimes we may blink and miss them. On the weekend, our daughter and 3 of her children came for Saturday lunch. We even managed some fun games outside. I admit “we” the oldies got tired very quickly. We also did a a bit of a nostalgic look at one’s growing up years. She will be 23 later this year Yikes! Where is that time thing going? Nevertheless, my afternoon’s phone call from my 96-next-January-Dad reminded me we are all going OK.

How is Spring going for you?

Had you heard about head and neck cancer before my diagnosis?

Denyse.

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Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 2. 31/2019.

Two Years Ago: Before My Cancer Was Diagnosed. Pt 2. 31/2019.

For anyone affected by a life-changing diagnosis that comes after some time of illness or maybe there is no sign, time becomes a part of memories of ‘back then’.

In writing here on my blog, I know I am helping myself as I continue to process my thoughts, actions and concerns relating to my eventual and pretty shocking diagnosis is a rare cancer in my mouth. For those who would like to read about this in the series of posts here is the link to the page called Denyse – Head & Neck Cancer.

It was recently that trawling through on-line journals I realised how much I had gone through along the way so I wrote the first post in this series is here. 

This post takes a different theme which was relevant to why and how I was feeling and acting in those months from December 2016 into May 2017.

March 2017.

It must be just me. I don’t know how to settle well into my life now it’s over 2 years since we left Sydney and are making a retirement life for us. How come “I” cannot settle. What is WRONG with me? My husband is doing it with ease. In fact, he is already volunteering in two community organisations, is planning to continue his tertiary studies. Me? I face each morning with trepidation. I find it hard to get up. To what, I ask. I go through the motions of making it look like I am OK. But I cannot fool myself nor my husband. It’s me, I just do NOT know what is wrong with me…..I know my GP says I am somewhat anxious but it’s for a reason which related to stress about my IBS. She tries me on some anti-depressant meds briefly but they affect my gut. I see my psychologist who again tells me, “you need to continue exposure therapy.” I am losing weight because I am too scared to eat because of IBS.

This look on my face here is me gaunt and showing the fear within even with my then-smile. Underneath those teeth was …..no-one knew.

What Did I Do?

More of what seemed to help me. At least it passed the time. It did not ease the knot in my gut for long but I was focussing on self-help. I must have listened to 100s of hours from many. These are people whose words I continue to value and have all of their CDs still. I listen to few now, but back then I thought they were helpful for my mind to slow a little. I used to listen in a semi-meditative way or as I was making some mandalas or patterns. I found these people’s words matched a lot of what I was hearing from my husband and my psychologist too.

My blog was a great spot for me to gather my thoughts and be interested in others. I was so pleased that I HAD made my blogging a priority. Mind you, there were days when I was not interested in connecting on line…but I did and continue to do so in the overall goal of remaining connected.

I probably did not let on to many other than my poor husband just how bad I was feeling on some occasions. I felt bad about feeling bad! I wondered if there was any chance I could feel ‘like I hoped’. My former GP who I continued to see in tandem with my current one for the next 2 months, was kindly but even she seemed to run out of reasons why I continued to feel so anxious.

The age old question: Was I anxious because of the likelihood of IBS or was the likelihood of IBS making me anxious?

I tried SO hard to make my inner life a better experience! I did art of one kind or another most days, I ventured out on short drives when I felt well enough, I cooked a little bit but I was so anxious about people visiting I could not enjoy the company of family nor was there any way I would drive to Sydney to see anyone. Nope. Not on.

Here are some of the many sayings that I hoped to absorb and integrate into my life. These were posted on Instagram. That account was hacked in May so I no longer have the IG versions, just my photos.

And all this time, my mouth hurt.

  • The skin behind the upper gums where the bridge was continued to be inflamed.
  • No the extra cleaning done in early March (see first post) had not changed anything.
  • The skin was growing over the top of the front teeth.
  • This matter concerned me greatly. I know I told my husband often enough.
  • But, as no-one in the dental or medical field had deemed this to be of any great consequence, I continued on.

Sadly, in pain emotionally and physically.

I hope that this post is helpful in understanding that my internal dilemma was a huge influence as I thought “I made all of this happen“. It would appear, that I may have been thinking about cancer far longer than even I realised. It IS true.

Next time: I could not bear it any longer….. “take the teeth and bridge out, I HAVE to know what is underneath!”.

Denyse.

Joining in these link ups:

MidLife Share the Love: Here on Wednesdays

Lovin’ Life: Here on Thursdays

Open Slather: Here on Fridays.

Do visit these link ups and join in the reading and commenting. We ALL need each other here in the land of blogging and comments are our “GOLD”.

 

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Changing Me. 19/2019.

Changing Me. 19/2019

Changing me is I now realise ON-GOING!

It has been many years as I have mentioned in previous posts of living overweight and obese that has given me a skewed view of my image. My most recent post is here.

I am doing what I can now, to approach my thinking with:

  • kindness
  • self-care
  • words of encouragement

and seeing that thoughts are not always true.

I already use the Calm app for meditation each day, and often in taking a time-out will be mindful in whichever are my circumstances as I learn to be present and here….in the now.

Eating mindfully (and planning to eat) is helping me in these ways:

  • I do not follow those rules of ‘only concentrating on one food and mouthful at a time’ mindfully in eating.
  • I do now examine and observe my inner feelings (physical and emotionally) about the why and when of eating.
  • I am getting so much better at this!
  • I am also recording what I eat via a free app and it is Australian foods-based and gives me an idea of how well I am doing.
  • As a no-diet person, this feels good to have some control but also to eat within the generous range I have allowed myself.
  • I am using my fitbit to slowly up my steps each week by 500 steps  from a base of 6000.

On Tuesday 19 February 2019 I had my 3 month cancer check, and my Professor Jonathan Clark was delighted to see no reason for further surgery (yay for now) and when I mentioned my weight gain since ‘teeth’ he said “that’s good.” Oh, he means that is healthy and I am doing well! Of course now I get it…but as I chatted with his clinical nurse consultant who is just the best for me, she and I agreed that moving more is a good idea!!

 

On 23 February 2019 I posted this image and the words on Instagram.

One Year On.

As a person who was overweight to obese for decades, losing weight pre-cancer diagnosis & post cancer surgeries has been a mental issue.

I realise to others I look well, healthier and ok now.

I acknowledge I was 5kg+ lighter a year ago & pretty darned miserable at times because of eating restrictions due to 4 cancer surgeries & reconstruction inside my mouth.

I do think I did the best I could at the time to nourish myself but acknowledge how much I missed:

*chewing

*crunching

*biting

*savouring

FOOD from a variety of offerings! My shopping for over 14 months took me away from foods I missed biting, chewing, crunching & savouring.

From 21 Aug 2018 this changed. My upper prosthesis was fitted. It was novel to try the foods I’d missed: cheese on a cracker took minutes to eat. Then over time as my mouth & my brain handled the different foods better it was/is great.

Then, about a month or so ago the creeping up of my weight on the scales (once a month weigh in- years of measuring my worth via the scales is a horrid memory) was noted & I “have” to admit I knew what to do IF I still wanted to:

*like wearing my new clothes

*feel comfortable in my body

*enjoy all aspects & variations of foods I could now choose from

It was time to choose a better balance between foods that nourish & are enjoyable & to increase my movement each day.

This mindful eating plan I’ve made up is working for me.

I am now understanding the WHY of how I used food to deal with emotions & that it does not work like that MAKES so much sense!

Keeping myself active by changing my approach to movement. Upping the steps weekly by 500 a day,  starting at 6000 a day.

Most of all I want to add is how grateful I am to be well after nearly 2 years of oral cancer & that I can continue to learn best how to care for myself emotionally & physically!

Changing the voice in my head…. the inner critic…to low volume or mute whenever she begins to shout!

So have you ever taken steps to change you?

Denyse.

Joining with Min for Zen Tips Tuesday here.

Finding a place with Sue and Leanne here in MidLife Share The Love on Wednesday

and, of course, Lovin’ Life with Leanne here each Thursday.

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Eating With No Teeth*- Head & Neck Cancer. 17/2019.

Eating With No Teeth* – Head & Neck Cancer. 17/2019.

Update on Being a Head & Neck Cancer Patient. 

Oh I “did” have 8 teeth*…in my lower jaw and they remain. Yay for “some” teeth.

In the past year I know how far I have come as far as eating is concerned since my Head and Neck Cancer diagnosis in May 2017. I have been delighted to have an upper prosthesis of teeth now screwed into my abutments in my jaw. They were attached on 21 August 2018.

The Before and After of “Teeth Day” 21 Aug

OH HAPPY day….it really was but I had many eating lessons to come and I still do. More on that in a future post.

Day 1 post surgery to around Day 8.

Back to those months when I was post-first surgery. I recall being fearful of what it would be like not to eat but with a fluid drip and then a gradually introduced naso-gastric feeding tube my body was cared for. My mind did accept what it was until around Day 7 post-surgery when I recall feeling hangry. You know: angry because of hunger. So, when I was given the chance to see if my mouth (and brain!) remembered how to sip water and my throat allowed it to swallow…remember all of the inside of my mouth had been affected in some or many ways but my reconstructive surgery…it was heaven!

This:

Day 9 and Day 10. Discharge on Day 10.

This:

First meal in hospital. Then next 3 times I did not enjoy it much.

Early days at home. First Weeks.

I have IBS and with an empty gut receiving food for the first time in a long time, as well as the prescription of a far too strong for me anti-biotic on the morning I left hospital as a “your drain in your leg looks infected” ….my gut (and I) were just not happy in that first 10 days home even though I was starving. Poor husband did his best to please, and I also tried to be helpful but it really was a challenging time.

When my GP unravelled the cause of the massive diarrhoea episodes I had, he told me to forget any (hospital dietitian suggestions of ) liquid meal replacements, protein additives and eat what I could and felt like. The relief was amazing and coming off the giant dose of anti-biotics helped as the leg looked fine. The toast in these pics really wasn’t consumed but I liked ‘tasting what was on it. Avocado and soup were good friends, and also peanut butter eaten off the spoon. Jelly and icecream have never been a favourite but they provided so much mouth comfort with their smooth coolness.

The next weeks turned into months.

By the time the second week at home was over, despite my sore leg, I was able to do some meal prep. It frustrated me that I depended on my husband’s kindness and labour as I wanted to contribute. Eventually I worked out how I could have some say and also make some meals that would work for me. We mostly ate separate meals anyway because of his health. I also had many types of soup: homemade vegetable soup, pumpkin soup & tomato soup. For someone who was never a cereal girl at breakfast, weetbix and milk were/are my go-to foods!

Why this post about eating as a Head and Neck cancer patient?

I have written about my management of eating in two posts.

Part one is here, part two here.

Why I decided to do this more detailed one is for any  newly-diagnosed head and neck cancer patients who come here to read and view. Sometimes it is the head and neck cancer patient’s carer who needs some ideas. It can be very overwhelming and confronting when something as normal as eating & drinking (let alone speaking and swallowing) is changed dramatically via a cancer diagnosis.

I was fortunate in many ways. I had a limited time with only a naso-gastric tube before returning to eating and drinking as well as I could.

I know some people have long-term eating and drinking challenges following different Head and Neck cancers and procedures.

My health is good. I am looking to the 2 years marking the first cancer surgery in July 2017. What I know is that I may have to modify my eating again over time if more surgery is prescribed inside my mouth to enlarge the space between the lip and ‘teeth’ on upper prosthesis.

How To Seek More Information On-Line.

In my case, the words and written information from my Chris O’Brien Lifehouse dietitian helped me. I learned about the important of protein and fat in a post surgery diet. I also learned to value-add and I am grateful for that. For information on Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, go here.

Each head and neck cancer patient needs to be guided by their professional team.

The site and organisation called Beyond Five has a comprehensive page of information and this takes you to pages on nutrition with links here.

Beyond Five is the organisation I am working for as an Ambassador in 2019 to raise awareness of Head & Neck Cancer.

The stories of others with Head & Neck cancers are shared for here all to read:

 

This is a link to finding avenues of supportive care on the Beyond Five website.

There are support groups to help you as well. Here is the link, again from Beyond Five, to those in Australia and New Zealand. Correct at the time of posting.

Recently it was World Cancer Day and I submitted my story which was published here.

I AM a head & neck cancer patient

I WILL share for others to be aware

 

This post is going live on the morning I will be driving 2 hours to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, donating some craft supplies to their Arterie program, having the first meeting with Beyond Five for 2019 and then visiting my Head & Neck surgeon, Professor Jonathan Clark and Clinical Nurse Consultant & Surgical Assistant Sr Cate Froggatt. After my cancer check, I will be better informed about ‘what’s next’ and then drive myself back home!

  • UPDATE: the meeting went well and provided much for me to discover as I move into my role as Ambassador to Beyond Five, and then my cancer check went well too. My professional team told me the inside of my mouth looked better when they last saw me early January and no surgery is required (I always add, at this stage…as my journey has had some detours!) and I will be back for a 3 month cancer check in mid May. That will be 2 years since diagnosis!

Wishing you well, from me. a head and neck cancer patient, to patients, carers, family and friends.

Denyse.

Joining with Sue and Leanne here for Midlife Share the Love link up on Wednesday

On Thursday linking up with Leanne for Lovin’ Life here.

 

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