Over 50 & Thriving Series

Can People Thrive After Cancer?

October 25, 2018
Can people thrive after Cancer?

Cancer is a word that strikes fear into most of us when we hear it.  My next guest, Denyse Whelan has spent the last 18 months taking on this battle and coming through the other side stronger and more determined.  I’ve known Denyse, for quite a while now.  Another Aussie blogger and former teacher who is a constant source of inspiration to me and many others.  I look forward to her Instagram daily fashion photos and she is produces beautiful mandela creations.  I never knew what a mandela was until I met Denyse!  Through it all Denyse always had a smile.

I’m delighted to have Denyse as part of my Over 50 & Thriving series as she writes about her experience and how she is now thriving after cancer.  You can also connect with this amazing woman through her website and social media links at the end of her post.

Can People Thrive After Cancer

Being on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis is a shock and it brings uncertainty, concern and a lot of questions that do not always have answers. I know this because that is how I reacted to the news, over the phone, on Wednesday 17 May 2017 at 9.35 a.m.

I can never say for certain that my cancer is gone. In fact, I have a few years left for regular checks with my Head and Neck cancer surgeon and my specialist prosthodontist. They were both part of the team who re-constructed my upper mouth after squamous cell carcinoma was found.

Can you thrive after Cancer?

However, what I do know now, 17 months down the track, is that having cancer is helping me thrive in a way I never knew was possible. Even as I was going through 4 surgical procedures and over 25 visits for treatment to my mouth, I felt a growing surge of confidence and strength within that told me “I am going well!”

Whilst I cannot write of anyone else’s experience of thriving after cancer I offer this.


The ten signs that I am thriving.

  1. I wake ready to face each day with no anxiety and I am ready to have breakfast, chat to my husband and settle down with the morning paper with ease. I love this formerly ‘lost’ routine’s return in my life.
  2. As part of my daily self-care, I then dress with purpose. Yes, there IS a hashtag: #dresswithpurpose. I started this late October 2017 – 5 months into recovery from the first major surgery – and I have not stopped.
  3. Once I have my outfit sorted, some make-up applied, hair looking good, and some jewellery added, my husband takes a few photos of me and I add one to my Instagram feed. I get positive feedback and each month has seen me thrive and welcome the chance to “show my outfit of the day”.
  4. This photo-taking keeps me grounded and ‘mindful’ as I have had many years of not wanting my photo taken due to being very overweight and I can see ‘old’ me at times. I now override the critical voice in my head.
  5. I go out somewhere for a coffee. I do not stay at home for a whole day as I did before cancer due to anxiety and IBS. I am so pleased that anxiety about IBS has reduced so much that I can confidently leave home and enjoy myself.
  6. My engagement with other people is returning. When I was unwell (before cancer) I was so tied to the house because of the anxiety/IBS, that I could only really connect on-line. My mind kept me there. It did have to change but it took courage! I am driving to meet people, even an hour away. It is great to have my independence return to fill my need to connect and socialise.
  7. Even before cancer diagnosis I knew there was something going on with my upper teeth attached to a bridge, so I took steps via exposure therapy to enable me to visit my local dentist and eventually have him remove the teeth to see what ‘was growing underneath.’ This helped me very much in terms of being able to manage the cancer diagnosis news and what came after. Exposure therapy is about ‘stepping out of the comfort zone’ and being prepared, step by step, to give what has kept a person ‘stuck’ to move forward. I use this every day now.
  8. Once I began to recover from the first major surgery I gained confidence in myself that had been pushed down by anxiety for years. I recovered in minimum time and my recoveries from the next surgeries over many months had the same positive outcome.
  9. At my side, cheering me on and being there to hold me when I need it, is my husband of over 47 years. He is my rock and via his love, care and knowledge of human behaviour via his counselling work, he has helped cement the many learnings I have had myself via reading, seeing my G.P. and psychologist whose services I no longer need.
  10. Blogging about my cancer story was initially for me to have a record. However, I now see that it can help others know more about the signs of Head and Neck cancer, so I continue to help spread the awareness via social media and having articles published on cancer websites and Starts at Sixty.

I know that as we age, health challenges of all sorts can confront us. So, this is just one story. It’s mine. I do not claim to have any special skills, but I do know that my attitude, combined with some very wise counsel and a brilliant professional team has helped me thrive.

Thank you, Sue, for this invitation to share in your series.

Meet Denyse

Can you thrive after Cancer?

Denyse Whelan is a now-retired K-6 Australian school educator who has been a K-6 teacher, deputy principal and school principal, university tutor, and ESL teacher of children and adults.

In 2010 Denyse began her blog now called Denyse Whelan Blogs, in an effort to have her words and stories read by fellow educators and parents of kids at school. By 2013 and into 2014  Denyse amended her blog’s purpose to be a personal one, Denyse Whelan Blogs.

Denyse made blogging part of her daily routine in 2015 after retirement and a move away from Sydney to the NSW Central Coast meant she was socially isolated. Over time, this isolation affected her well-being and she spent some time getting help for the difficulties she found in transitioning her life. And then this happened:

In May 2017 Denyse was diagnosed with cancer in her upper gums and under one lip. She is going well after 4 surgeries and many treatments to enable her to finally have her smile, and ability to eat well back after 14 months. Her page, here, Denyse and her Cancer has each post linked for visitors to read.

Connect with Denyse

Blog:  Denyse Whelan

Twitter as @denysewhelan1 here  

Instagram: DenyseWhelan  (request follow)

Facebook: Denyse Whelan Blogs. Here is the link.


Let’s Keep Sizzling!


If you are Over 50 and would like to contribute to the Over 50 & Thriving Series, I would love to hear from you. Send me an email at sue@sizzlingtowardssixty.com.au and I can provide more details. Click here to catch up on my previous guests in Over 50 & Thriving Series Or you can subscribe here so you never miss a post and receive a FREE Copy of my latest e-book ’10 ways to start Thriving today’! Don’t forget to post your Instagram photos using the hashtag #over50andthriving.

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  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au October 25, 2018 at 20:19

    Hi Denyse! I love how you’ve grown and learnt more about yourself through this experience. To have found the silver lining and to continually seek ways to share your story and encourage others is such a worthwhile outcome from what you’ve been through – you’ve certainly made a lot of lemonade (and lemon butter and lemon meringue pie) out of the lemons life has dealt you xx

    • Reply Denyse Whelan October 26, 2018 at 12:54

      Oh darn it you found out about my baking…and yes, those items have been made and enjoyed. I needed to re-read this today and remember that I do and can thrive. Some days are not as wonderful but 90% they are. Thanks Leanne.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 27, 2018 at 05:06

      Denyse has been such an inspiration, hasn’t she Leanne and now she is even teaching classes in Mandelas. Love your last sentence about using the lemons life has dealt. xx

  • Reply Janet Mary Cobb October 25, 2018 at 22:56

    Denyse – thank you for sharing your story. I am so happy for you that you are finding wellness through your disease. Your journey is inspiring!

    • Reply Denyse Whelan October 26, 2018 at 12:55

      Thank you so much. I guess at the beginning I sure may not have anticipated what cancer would bring but once I woke in recovery from surgery #1 (the biggie!) my inner strength rose and keeps on keeping, even on the darker days. Denyse

    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 27, 2018 at 05:07

      Hi Janet, I’ve been constantly inspired by Denyse and her positive attitude throughout her procedures and treatment. She is one special lady. xx

  • Reply Gilda Baxter October 25, 2018 at 23:29

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is a very brave thing to do and will for sure help others who are going through a-similar situation. Your journey to get where you are now is inspiring 🙂

    • Reply Denyse Whelan October 26, 2018 at 12:56

      Thank you Gilda. Sharing our stories is so helpful and I know I find much inspiration from others doing so too.


    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 27, 2018 at 05:08

      Hello Gilda! Denyse has been such an inspiration throughout her treatment and various procedures. Her strength has shown through and she never lost her beautiful smile. x

  • Reply Donna October 26, 2018 at 06:00

    Hi, Denyse – I love following your blog and your Guest Post. You are an incredible inspiration to all!

    • Reply Denyse Whelan October 26, 2018 at 12:57

      Thanks Donna, you have made my day (World Teachers Day in Australia too!) even better with your kind words.


    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 27, 2018 at 05:12

      Hi Donna! Denyse has certainly been a constant inspiration to me and many others, so I was delighted to be able to share her thoughts through my Over 50 & Thriving Series. xx

  • Reply Sue Loncaric October 27, 2018 at 05:18

    Thank you Denyse for being my guest and sharing your story. You have always been an inspiration to me and are one special lady!

  • Reply Debbie October 29, 2018 at 20:44

    I love reading Denyse’s posts and it’s so good to see her featured here on your blog Sue. She epitomises courage and coping with adversity. I really admire her and learn something every-time I read her story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric October 31, 2018 at 16:54

      Denyse is really an inspiration to me Deb and apart from her courage and determination I love that she continues to take photos of her OOTD for Instagram. I always smile when I see her. xx

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