CAN CANCER HAVE A SILVER LINING?

Social Saturday - Denyse shares the ten silver linings she discovered through her cancer journey

INTRO

Denyse is a fellow Aussie blogger who is a retired teacher. She has been through a really tough 12 months after being diagnosed with cancer. Her grace and positive attitude through the ordeal has been inspirational to all who read her blog. She has also been participating in the Outfit A Day Challenge to lift her spirits as she goes through this journey. I asked Denyse if she would share some of the positive lessons and silver linings she has learned along the way. 

ABOUT HAVING CANCER ?! WELL THIS IS HOW IT WAS FOR ME:

Thanks Leanne for inviting me to write this guest post. I will say initially I thought ‘silver linings and cancer’ I am not sure, but that was also pre-4th surgery! Now my headspace is clearer I CAN see why you asked me to write this and it was my privilege to write and share with your readers.

Do you know what, I think I have found ten positives about having a cancer diagnosis.

Seriously it was a huge and surreal moment when I was told, over the phone, that my biopsy of the upper gums found squamous cell carcinoma.

I was alone at home.

I cried a bit. I walked around the back deck. I found the workplace number for my husband (he was a volunteer back then) and rang, calmly, to ask if he could call me when he had a break. He did. I told him, through tears and he was home within the hour.

Phew.

But I have always recalled thinking “this has been a shock but it is not a surprise”. To know more, it would be helpful to read the blog post when I announced “I have cancer” on May 23, 2017. For convenience I have linked the page where all my cancer blog posts appear here.


Social Saturday - Denyse shares the ten silver linings she discovered through her cancer journey

Positive #1.

I was referred the very next day to see the top head and neck cancer team in Sydney AND whilst they explained in “gory” detail what my surgery to remove the cancer would entail, after the 2.5 hours we came away confident I was going to be in the best hands and in the best place: Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Comprehensive Cancer Hospital. Read more about it here where recently a patient profile story of mine was added.

Positive #2.

I finally had an answer to the painful, awful and not pleasant gums at the top of my mouth that had caused me grief for quite some time. And there was something going to happen to help me.

Positive #3.

Once we told our immediate family we then let friends know via phonecalls and messages. My social community was told via a blog post and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These people who also followed my blog may never have met me ‘in real life’ but we were/are close in many ways. I was overwhelmed in a good way by messages, cards, flowers and gift boxes. Wow! So kind.

Positive #4.

Our family grew closer after some years of distance. Some reconciliation occurred which I cannot outline but let me tell you, my heart is full!!

Positive #5.

I conquered a fear which held me ‘locked’ inside a trap of ‘lies I believed’. I admit I am a sensitive soul and one who feels a range of emotions to the extent that at times, I would get/have gut issues relating to irritable bowel syndrome. In the 6 months leading up to my diagnosis I ‘let’ my fear of travelling far from home – I mean more than a few kilometres – rule me. So I couldn’t bring myself to travel down the Motorway to Sydney in case I got caught ‘short’. When I got the cancer diagnosis, I literally did have to do what I feared most (at that point, even more than cancer) and that was to travel to Sydney, in my husband’s car as a passenger and be OK.

Positive #6.

This ties in with #5. It was through my GP’s frank discussion with me. “Denyse, take the Valium and the Immodium, do what you have to and you will be OK.”. My calm and understanding husband nodded in agreement and on the day itself, only ONE day after I was told I had cancer, I got to Sydney with those words of advice and my own strength slowly rising to the surface.

Positive #7.

My previous years of trying to help myself through the transitions of life – retirement, moving from family and selling our home, were beginning to pay dividends with my insights into my behaviour which often stemmed from negative thinking. I learned (and still do this!) to say “STOP” and to remain focussed on the tasks at the time and get through. I tried a hypnosis-type CD often and even listened to it on the way to Sydney. As a passenger!

Positive #8.

I learned that I can only control me. Oh yes. Now this does continue to be a ‘work-in-progress’ of course but I am more cognisant of going with whatever is happening and also putting myself in the shoes of others to learn and experience greater empathy. In fact, I wrote about it here on the blog.

Positive #9.

My cancer was slow-growing and even though the entire inside of my upper mouth and some of my upper lip were removed in the 11 hour surgery some 7 weeks after diagnosis, the pathology returned indicated no cancer anywhere else. I still do the 5 years check. And as I have only had one year with cancer there is a way to go!

Social Saturday - Denyse shares the ten silver linings she discovered through her cancer journey

Positive #10.

I care about and for myself so much more these days. I am now post 4 surgeries! One BIG one, and then 3 X 2 hour ones to keep the mouth reconstruction on track. About 7 months ago, I realised it was time for some new clothes. I have lost over 30 kg in the past 4 years -not recommended but anxiety, IBS and then cancer in the mouth that has left me with no ability to chew or bite helps! So, encouraged by other older ladies who did an Instagram shot of what they were wearing I started, very hesitantly to do so. It has been so good for me and gives me purpose every.single.day.

Social Saturday - Denyse shares the ten silver linings she discovered through her cancer journey

Denyse and where you can find her:

I am a 68 year old retired teacher/principal. My husband and I are finally having time for us after 47 years of marriage, child-rearing, full-time working, supporting each other through various challenges of life and the wonderful years of grandparenting. We now live on the picturesque Central Coast of NSW, Australia.


Blog: http://www.denysewhelan.com.au
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/denysewhelanblogs/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DenyseWhelan1
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/denysewhelan/ (private: request follow)


Social Saturday - Denyse shares the ten silver linings she discovered through her cancer journey

Disclaimer:  I am not a medical professional nor am I providing medical guidance. This post should not be taken as specific health advice. It’s a post that relates only to my own health.  If you have similar issues, I'd advise you to speak to your own Doctor or health professional.


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35 comments

  1. Good morning Leanne, and thank you this opportunity. It has been good for me to revisit those words! Some days sure are not wonderful but generally, cancer has been a teacher for this student!
    Denyse x

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    1. Denyse it is an absolute pleasure to have you guest posting on my blog today - your sunny disposition and positive approach to all that you've been through is inspirational x

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  2. Hi Leanne & Denyse, so lovely to read your journey which I have followed over the last year. I can remember the day my Mum was told by the Doctor she had breast cancer at 53 years old. Dad had gone to the Dr with her and I was collecting them as I was the only driver in the family. It is a surreal feeling and back then I was 18 years old and suddenly had to face the possibility of losing Mum. Like you Denyse, my Mum never complained and battled the disease for 10 years. She always found the positives and had a great faith which I believe helped her In fact, her strength carried her through when Dad retired and was diagnosed with bowel cancer - he lived for 6 months. We always though Mum would leave us first but after Dad died she battled through for another 5 years until all her family was settled and then it just seemed she felt her work was done and she went to join Dad. Thank you for your constant inspiration, Denyse, I respect you so much and have learned much from you. A very worthwhile participant in you Social Saturdays, Leanne. Have a lovely weekend both of you. xx

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    1. Oh Sue, I am humbled by your kind and loving words. That is so sad about your parents and goodness me, what an awful disease to take them both so relatively young. Your vibrancy and health is testament to you strength of will and character, using your physical energy in a way to promote healty activity in the mid-life years. I am so pleased I got to 'meet' you on-line and thank you always for your generous support and kindness. Denyse x

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    2. Sue that was a beautiful insight into your family - I knew the basics, but the fact that your mum held on until you were all settled and she felt she could leave is just an amazing example of love. I can certainly see where your caring nature comes from!

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  3. Hi Denyse, I've read a couple of your posts in the past and many of your comments on Leanne's blog, but I just read your "I have cancer" post as well as today's guest post.
    What a journey you've been on, I can only imagine the ups and downs as you've dealt with the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of, as you say, "becoming part of a group no-one really wants to belong to". Through all of it, your positivity, humility and gratitude are obvious and inspirational. Praying for a smooth onward healing journey for you. Bless you xx

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    1. Thank you so much Sue. I am always pleased when someone does read the blog posts because as an educator (cannot take the teacher of out of me even when retired) I hope that some of my experiences may help others. In fact, I was totally ignorant of the numbers of head and neck cancers and now am doing what I can to inform and educate others. I know thought that I am fortunate with my slow growing cancer. Many head and neck cancer patients do not have symptoms that their doctors dismiss until the cancers have reached Stage 4. Many thanks for your kind and warm wishes, Denyse x

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    2. That's why I had to ask Denyse to share her positives Sue - she's the only guest I've actually suggested a topic to. I just thought that her spirit and her upbeat approach was such a joy to behold :)

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  4. Denyse, I am going to pop over and check out your blog next. These are great insights.

    My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 36. Silver lining: I started getting regular mammograms early! I visited her while she was in the middle of a series of radiation treatments (or, chemo?), and it was just as if life hadn't stopped and nothing was out of place. Her son would simply explain to his friends "oh yeah, she's wearing the scarf until her hair grows back." He was, maybe, 10yo. Just life.
    She's fine now, btw.

    I appreciate your conquering of your fear to go so far: Which fear will I conquer today? I'm always more hopeful when I read stories like yours.

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    1. What a great recount of your sister's experience. I was someone who was always thinking "oh I just do not know what I would do if I got cancer" and as it turned out..yes I did. Some of it was not great but most of it was and is really fine. I am so fortunate here in Australia to have almost all of my surgeries and treatments covered by Medicare (a general universal health scheme which I paid a tax levy for decades) and private health insurance. The people I am meeting and who treat me and perform amazing surgery on me are the best! The last blog post I wrote was saying thank you to many of them
      I loved reading your story too and all good wishes sent to you and yours. Denyse x

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    2. All of us hope to avoid cancer - but I find it really interesting how people like Denyse and your sister just step up and get on with it Red. Life is turned upside down, but there seems to be a new "normal" and if you tackle it with the right attitude then others embrace that and I'm sure it makes for a better outcome.

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  5. Denyse, you are a true inspiration! Finding the points of light in the surrounding dark is a rare and beautiful gift. Thank you for sharing that gift with us!

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    1. She is fantastic isn't she Diane? I love the fact that she focuses on those 'points of light' and doesn't allow the awfulness to win.

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    2. Thank you Diane, that is very kind. Leanne is a great cheerleader... Thanks L. Denyse x

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  6. Dennis, I too found some silver linings in my experience with cancer. The biggest was realizing the strong network of support I really did have, both IRL and virtually. Having felt like I was adrift with no support on retirement (most of my connections were work related), I worked to establish new connections. But it wasn't until my cancer diagnosis that I acknowledged they really existed. I also have learned to be much more present and appreciative of each day. Although I still wear cargo shorts, T-shirts and flip flops every day in summer...nothing at all to post in a fashion blog!

    Thanks Leanne for asking Denyse to talk about this.

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    1. Hi Pat - I so admire you and Denyse for surviving and flourishing through the trauma and drama of a cancer diagnosis - and the reminder that it's a bump in the road of life - not the end of the road. Grace and positivity are such great take aways from going through the journey.

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    2. Oh Pat, I am sorry that you too have had a cancer diagnosis. It certainly garnered my inner strength big time!! I do the outfit a day still because I like it, and it is the first time in decades I have been this size so I am enjoying the fun and the sharing. I agree with you about how people, known in real life or not reach out. I had literally no idea of the love of and care for me there was. It was so lovely and continues to this day. The blogging has helped me focus on more than cancer that is for sure. My treating professionals know all about the blog and are happy to have a photo with me for the blog too. I am a believer in connecting and communicating and this medium does just that. So glad to have 'met' you too via Leanne's blog. Denyse x

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  7. Denyse, I've been admiring you since first starting to read your posts through Midlife Share the Love. This summary of silver linings simply takes my admiration to stratospheric levels. To be battling IBS at the same time and resolve that fear along with your cancer surgeries and your family reconciliation and everything else - you are an amazing woman.
    I love your outfits, Denyse. You just keep on rocking your happy cancer-free life and the rest of us will be here cheering you on.
    Leanne, great guest for your Social Saturday series, although in Denyse's case you may have to temporarily rename the series as Superwoman Saturday!

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    1. She is a Superwoman isn't she Karen? I love how nothing seems to get Denyse down - even having to go back for a second round of stents and all the messiness and discomfort didn't get to her for too long. Dealing with all the city travel and appointments is huge too (living in the country means I always dread having to go to specialists who all seem to insist on having their rooms in the worst places for accessibility and parking!)

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    2. Oh you are so kind and just lovely in your generous words. Thanks so much Karen. I will admit I would LOVE to beat IBS but it hangs around at times giving me the warning that maybe I "may" be overdoing things. Grrr. Still, I now know that many more people also live with this condition since I decided to be more public about it. Thank you so much for enjoying the outfit pics. I do have a good time with this, something I never thought I would do in my pre-weight loss days. I am going to be careful won't I when I get teeth and can eat MORE variety of foods !! Denyse x

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  8. Denyse, thank you for sharing your story - particularly outlining the positives. Your ability to find the silver-lining is inspirational. I wish you well in your continued recovery -- and from what I can see you still have a great smile!

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    1. Her smile keeps shining through doesn't it Janet - it might change shape for a while, but it comes back - and I love how Denyse keeps going out and sharing outfits and not shutting herself away and moping - all great steps in getting back to normal again.

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    2. Thanks so much Janet, Leanne's page and her posts attract lots of lovely bloggers and readers and I am lucky to get to know more of you this way too. Denyse x

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  9. Very inspiring! I love how you've discovered positive aspects in this journey!

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    1. I did too Trisha - she just radiates a quiet acceptance and a strong will to get through all of this without it getting her down. She's a great role model for the rest of us!

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    2. Thanks Trisha, my reaction initially was as I said in the post but I do know that my demeanour is stronger and I "get on with what I have to". I admit on some days I have a "whinge" (Aussie for complain) about the lack of food variety with very few teeth ...and then I tell myself "You are a whinge free zone" so I stop. I have the best professionals getting my mouth back together but the failure of a process with the Feb surgery meant another one in May which is why things have slowed as my mouth continues to heal. Denyse x

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  10. I have followed your journey for awhile now Denyse. I was an oncology nurse for years and can remember working in the head and neck clinic with patients like you. You are handling your cancer very well and I think sharing does help so much. Good luck on your continued journey.

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    1. Thanks so much Victoria. It is said that even when the cancer has gone patients with head and neck cancers are left with changes that can be disfiguring and hard to live with. I realise my 4 surgeries have left me with the legacy of scars and a mouth which still cannot function normally but I remain positive and grateful that eventually my ability to eat will be back to almost normal. Alas this is not the case for many. Your words have been very helpful given your life experience and work. Thank you. Denyse x

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    2. Having multiple operations on your face would be so hard to deal with - every time you look in the mirror you're reminded about what you've been going through and what is still to come. I love how Denyse looks at the future with the belief that it will all work out - and I'm sure it will!

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  11. Hi Leanne & Denyse, an amazing post. Very inspirational. There have been many cancer cases in my family, and I can relate to many things are mentioned. I also believe that once we have the right approach, every problem can be steered in such a way that there are many positives coming out them.
    Thank you very much for this wonderful post.
    - Pradeep | bpradeepnair.blogspot.com

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    1. I think that you either get on top of it all or the cancer gets on top of you - I love that Denyse has chosen to give it all her best shot and to work her way through it - recognizing the strengths it has brought to her along the way - something we can all learn when life gets tough.

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  12. Thank you so much. I know it takes time to process what cancer is and what it means for each of us. I still have moments of 'sadness' and 'when will I be done with the treatment' but generally I am much better equipped, thanks to cancer to get on with my life and for that I am truly grateful.Denyse x

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  13. Denyse and Leanne, this was such an encouraging and uplifting post! I'm looking forward to visiting Denyse's blog tomorrow (THIS day is done!). Love that idea of dressing for a daily photo. That would be a useful trick for dealing with lots of things.

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    1. Jean, Denyse has approached her whole cancer journey with such an upbeat spirit - just getting up each morning and putting on a lovely outfit is an achievement in itself - then choosing to go out to a cafe or for a walk on the beach, rather than staying safely inside is also inspirational.

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  14. Thanks Leanne, I have loved reading Denyse's courageous story. Denyse your silver lining attitude has encouraged a lot of readers and the Blogger's Pit Stop wants to feature this post.
    Kathleen
    Blogger's Pit Stop

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