Having read about John Blackman’s secret battle with cancer on Starts at 60 recently, I felt compelled to share my story in the hope it might help others. In May 2017, I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. My cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma, was found after an oral biopsy and this meant I had to battle and endure months of surgeries as well as in-mouth procedures.
I admit it was daunting to receive the news and then seven weeks later I had an 11-hour surgery, which took all of my upper mouth and part of one lip away. At that first surgery, bone, tissue and skin was harvested from my right leg to make my new upper mouth. I was very fortunate to recover well and returned home from Sydney to the New South Wales Central Coast within 10 days. Months of being a patient patient did not come easily to me, but I was determined to do recovery right after such a major life event.
It was some months before I regained my independence to drive and get out of the house for a much-longed-for coffee. I knew that my reason to do so was going to aid my return to the world as well as boost my esteem after the big blow that cancer (especially to the mouth) was. I began, hesitantly, dressing with purpose. I had my husband take a photo of me and then I would add it to social media via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. As the months passed, and I shopped for new clothes as I had lost much weight in the previous years, I began to feel the great effects for me and I was buoyed by the comments from others.
I have continued to do this every day and am now in my eleventh month. Of course, there are times when it would be easier not to do it, but those are the moments where I believe I must! I go out for a coffee and a browse at the shops or I may just have a coffee and use my art journal. The benefits to me have been many and I highly recommend it in retirement — not because of my illness — because it can be so easy not to make an effort. I truly believe it has done my emotional health and recovery good. I only got teeth a little while ago, but I never let my mouth’s appearance stop my outings as I want more people to know that instances of head and neck cancers are growing.