A birthday I never want to repeat 2019

June 2019 – September 2019

As I write, it is the 15th day of December 2019. It has been over a year since my surgery and 10 months post chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It occured to me that I have some rather larger “holes” to fill in my cancer journey.

I had a PET scan on 29th May – 3 months post treatment. Medications included Methadone, Amitriptyline, Gabapentin, slow release anti inflammatories, paracetomol. Safe to say all eating had stopped as at the beginning of May 2019. My mouth and tongue were really tight, raw nerve endings, and mucous that wasn’t coming up or down. Eating or drinking anything was excrutiating, at ground zero I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva I was in that much pain. I also note that I undertook a job interview in the middle of the month! What was I thinking , clearly the drugs were doing their job. I arrived at the beginning of June to find that the PET and CT scans were clear. There was inflammation, but that was to be expected.

Trismus had set in, jaws clenched together, and the battle starts. Most adults can get three fingers in their mouth and I measured out the number of tongue depressors I’d need to get me back to full opening. 25 sticks as it happens, easier when you are on a cocktail of pain killers.

I was undertaking cold laser therapy on my dewlap ( the swelling under my chin) and it was healing the scaring on the inside. Lymphoedemia is common and the cold laser treatment replaced in many ways light massage. I kept at it and tried to keep hydrated.

June 23 – #week 16 post treatment and I was feeling very, very sick. I was faint, dizzy and had acute stabbing and shooting pain in my jaw . The pain was also moving down my throat and I could no longer eat pumpkin soup.

It is about now that I started to lose faith in myself and where I was headed. I had never experienced pain like it and I said to my oncologist, I simply can’t go on like this, what can we do ? We can DO Methadone !!! and so it was, week # 17 I started methadone – gradually increasing the dose, I should have known I’d take to that baby like a duck to water. The remainder of the month was fairly uneventful except my PEG fell out which involved a very quick ambulance trip into hospital and an over night stay to get a new one put back in the track.

Which brings us to August and exactly a week after my 54th birthday. I had had another PET scan on the 13th August and a nurse called me with results on the 15th August. We had discovered a “pocket” in my left jaw that led to exposed bone – the scaring and subsequent healing had been so dramatic it had pulled the flesh away from the bone and was the cause of my excrutiating pain. However I digress, back to the nurse.

I received a phone call and was I at home and was I alone?

I was told that the the treatment had not worked as they had liked. In fact it was worst than before and was particularly bad on the left side where the tumour had been. The other side was worst too apparently and that there was more residual cancer there but it had to be discussed in the MDT meeting. It’s not curable at this point, and she didn’t know life expectancy. We could potentially try immunotherapy – a new treatment. I was numb.

I sat with this information for a week. I called a couple of my best friends and they came straight over. We sat and discussed my options . Selling my property, cashing the super in, travelling the world. I have no idea how I got through that week. I was scheduled to see my surgeon a week later.

The next week I took my brother and a close friend to see my surgeon, it was a tense meeting. I had an endoscopy and Andrew said, Yvonne, I don’t think it is cancer. It is not behaving like cancer, but so we are 100% sure let’s do a biopsy. I was scheduled a week later at the RAH. I certainly had radiotherapy complications, necrosis being the main one. Turns out I was about to have a whole lot more. To be continued…

Lemon Delicious Pudding

Courtesy of Gourmet Traveller and Bethany Finn’s mum.

60 gm unsalted butter, softened

330gm (1 1/2 cups ) caster sugar

Finely grated rind of one lemon , plus 150 ml juice (from about 3-4 lemons)

3 eggs, separated

60 gm self raising flour

375 ml milk (1 1/2 cups) milk

Pure icing sugar an pouring cream to serve ( i also add Golden North Ice Cream)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 170oC. Beat butter ,sugar, and lemon rind in an electric mixer until pale(2-3 minutes). Add yolks one at a time.beating well to combine between each addition, add flour, then gradually add milk, mixing until a smooth batter forms. Scrape down sides of bowl and stir in lemon juice. Transfer batter to a bowl and clean dry mixer bowl thoroughly.

Whisk eggwhites in an electric mixer until firm peaks for, then gradually add to batter, gently folding in until well combined. Pour into a 1.5-litre ceramic or glass dish, place in a deep baking tray, transfer to oven, then fill tray with enough boiling water to come halfway up sides of dish.

Bake until risen and golden brown on top(40-50 mins) Cool briefly (5minutes) then dust with icing sugar and serve with cream or ice cream.

Nil by mouth, and by that I wasn’t expecting 6 months …

This, most definitely, was not on the bucket list for 2019 – for someone who loves food and all that it represents, life can be unbelievably unfair at times. Given my absolute lack of knowledge on this disease and the side affects – I will update where I can. Here’s my story …

I had managed to travel throughout Vietnam for 3 months aided with nasal spray, aspirin, high dose pain killers from home, anti inflammatories, anti hystemanes, antibiotics and nasal steroids. Somewhere in the back of mind I kept thinking “something is not right here” and despite numerous doctors visits both at home and overseas, I kept being told it’s chronic tonsillitis.

I went to hospital in Saigon and had an Endoscopy with an ENT specialist and was told it’s nothing sinister. At the time I recall saying to my family & friends that I was so relieved it wasn’t cancer. I had my ears cleaned, ate a lot of Strepsils and soldiered on.

I had spent so much time preparing and getting organised to live in Asia and to experience something different that being sick was certainly not part of the plan. I pushed on until the first VISA run. It was about this time I realised how tough a person can be, how much pain you can live with without having an answer, how much pain you will endure until you can’t.

Golden Bridge Danang

I had planned a month in Indonesia to set up my business and get some fresh air time away from Ho Chi Minh City. Thinking I would then return to Vietnam to start working on some food and hospitality activity I had put in to place with new contacts. I was tired and really running on empty and thought …perhaps I just need rest. Fast forward to mid October 2018 and I am lying pool side having a beer in Bali, weighing up work decisions when I discover that one of my nearest and dearest has had a heart attack back in Australia.

For whatever reason it jolted me into action, I immediately booked a flight home within the next 24 hours. I wasn’t thinking about me so much as thinking perhaps I could help at home. I was on that flight, excess luggage and no plan …other than to get home and see what I could do and what I could do about my very sore throat. I was thinking a tonsillectomy at worst. Better to do that in Australia if it came to that.

I arrived in Australia on Sunday morning and was in with my local GP by Tuesday morning. That week saw me in with an ENT specialist, PET Scan, MRI the list of “tests” goes on – but oh how efficient, how I thanked my stars I had private health insurance (surgeon/wait time) and that it all happened as fast as it possibly could. My friends rallied and made decisions for me, there is a lot of information and when the surgeon said “viral tonsil cancer” – squamous cells, biopsy will determine I had all but tuned out. This was meant to be a simple tonsillectomy in my mind. I was in denial.

I really liked my surgeon Andrew Foreman, what a job to have to tell people this outcome. I always had someone else with me, mostly my best mate of forty odd years, to take notes and pick up on all the detail I just wasn’t taking in. I recall saying “I just want the pain gone” – what do we do and in what order to make that happen? “

Surgery, then 6 weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Andrew removed the tumour through my mouth via a newly acquired robot at Calvary Hospital. A two part operation that involved not only removing the tumour but also removing 25-30 lymph nodes in my neck. For reasons beyond me, I thought this was going to be a walk in the park, I thought I’d be up kick boxing again in weeks and absolutely no thought given to not eating food again for a very long time.

A drain in my neck, a stiff shoulder and an asymmetrical everything I was later to find out. I spent twenty days in Calvary and a week of that in ICU. I have never been in hospital before and certainly never had an operation. It was so new to me, I didn’t understand anything and no idea what to expect. This is a girl who fainted when she had her ears pierced. I had never broken anything, never been sick, no surgery no operation … no freedom. I was scared.

Saline Humidifiers became my new best friend.

Andrew removed a tumour roughly 19x15x17mm although he suspected it was bigger, and it was when he got in there. My left tonsil removed, my right tonsil removed and 1/3rd of my tongue. When I woke up in recovery I couldn’t speak, couldn’t swallow and awoke in the dark. It was very frightening, nursing staff kept asking me if I was alright? Can I get you something? I didn’t know it at the time but I was in shock. I just sat there not knowing what to do, couldn’t move, couldn’t communicate. I had a nasal feeder, a catheter, a lymph node drain, surgical stockings, spit bags ..it was all so foreign to me and I was a long way from even getting to the ward.

So many bodily functions were taken away from me. You know you are incapacitated when nursing staff start doing everything for you and I mean everything. You just have to swallow pride and let them. For those that know me and know I am pretty independent this came as a major shock to me. Universally this is known as Head and Neck cancer, not throat cancer and the major difference between this and the better known Breast and Prostate cancer is that you can’t eat. Everything you consume is through a nasal feeder and or a peg in the stomach. This news did not sit well with me and I was frightened. What if ? – Surely you can’t live your life with a stomach peg? Turns out you can and turns out I refuse to.

Getting through Christmas Day with a stomach peg turns out to be a challenge in itself … one I hope not to repeat in 2019.


Robotic Trans oral surgery
Oropharyngectomy and right tonsillectomy , L) neck dissection and selective arterial ligation.

Transoral robotic surgery is a procedure to remove mouth and throat cancers in which a surgeon uses a sophisticated, computer-enhanced system to guide the surgical tools.
Transoral robotic surgery gives the surgeon an enhanced view of the cancer and surrounding tissue. Using a robotic system to guide the surgical tools allows for more-precise movements in tiny spaces and the capability to work around corners.


When compared with more-traditional procedures, transoral robotic surgery tends to result in a quicker recovery and fewer complications for people with mouth and throat cancers.By Mayo Clinic Staff

This scar and Dewlap I hope to manage with hot yoga looking down the track …

It is the end of summer – March 1 2019, I have been in treatment for an entire season. I missed summer in Australia and as at March 1, 2019 I am now officially finished my treatment. Radio therapy and Chemo therapy. I had six cycles of Cisplatin and no interruptions – my magnesium levels held out too, I am really grateful for that because that bit really hurt. Felt like someone whacking my forearm with a base ball bat. The radiation was relentless. My blood platelets held out and getting bloods to the oncologist proved tricky for me – Code Blue Princess (CBP) I named myself. I opted not to have a port put in but a cannular every week for blood, ready for the Monday chemo session.

Lack of veins, dehydration, being a massive scaredy cat all contributed to CBP – in the end I opted (begged with tears) for Day Care centre to do my bloods rather than the ‘normal way’…

Every day (except for weekends) they radiate/burn you with pin point accuracy. Before they start the radiation they make you a mask to ensure they are only treating the areas that require treatment. I brought my mask home after the final session. I am going to grow succulents in it.

So the end of treatment I convalesce, they say the two weeks immediately following treatment is the worst, they weren’t wrong. In between manic bouts of acid reflux, heat burn, nausea, peeling skin that blisters, no food, no appetite and mucous thick enough to build a mud brick house … you try and get better. I have lost nearly 7 kgs since leaving Vietnam, but maintaining at the moment. No alcohol, caffeine for over 3 months and that also means no food either, I was managing soup for a while but that all goes backwards during radiotherapy and chemo. I have no appetite and the smell of cooking food is hit and miss with me. Today is day 4 post treatment.

I have had better days but the worst day was day 3 for me. I continue to look to the horizon and continue to work on plan B. It will show its hand in good time. To my wonderful friends both old and new and my family – thank you from the bottom of my heart for your cards, flowers, notes of encouragement, taxi services, entertainment, and general love you have cast my way. I still need plenty of time to get better and to be able to share pork crackling, a lamb burger with beetroot relish, pepperoni pizza (kidding I’ll never be able to eat that again) crusty bread with butter, toast and a cup of tea. Milestones to work towards

Namaste x

Why? and other oddities

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I am nearing my first VISA run – you need to leave the country every three months. I know many expats find this tiresome, I actually love the opportunity to plan my “where to next” – and for me this November I have narrowed it down to Cambodia (obvious choice) but I did not get to spend a lot of time when last there in 2017. The other has been on my bucket list for years, Kota Kinabalu. So I am researching in earnest. Map below will provide some geographical context. There is a mountain walk there I’d like to do – I’ll investigate the relative safety of that before I decide.

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Next week I travel to Danang –  I opted for the overnight train to save some dollars. Surprised to find that flying both ways was in fact only $10AUD more than taking the train. I will fly up and train back during the day and use a four berth sleeper. It’s a great way to see the country side and let’s face who doesn’t like a clickity clack.

I also opted for the top level thinking the view of the country would be better. As with everything here, this could be the worst mistake of my life, you share a 4 berth with strangers and hope like hell your snoring or theirs doesn’t keep everyone awake! Still having done a similar trip to Sapa I now know to take my own esky with beer and snacks. see Meeting the Queen & Vespa Riding Dogs  The plan is to also go to Ba Na Hills and do the cable car and most importantly Golden Bridge (opened in June)

The past few weeks I have discovered Farmers Union yoghurt, which did more for my homesickness than my throat. Moved to another flat, helped a friend relocate to another country and have continued to search for some work. As time goes by I think the need to start an online business / income is fast approaching. I like this digital nomad life and although I missing a cup of tea ( Australian style) I dropped by the InterContinental Hotel yesterday for breakfast. I needed an Earl Grey.

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Why?  as you walk the streets here, the locals start to accept you are not a “tourist” but someone who is living here (albeit short or long time) and the conversation subtly shifts to but “Why?” – Madam you want massage ? no, thank you …But Why? the responses can be long or short or non existent. Like the cyclo driver who pulled up next to me outside the statue of Ho Chi Minh – his English was good, good enough to have a five-minute conversation. The usual – “where you from?”” what do you do?” followed by “why you not want me to take you to your flat?”… anyway you get the picture. Some days I just get home and collapse it’s exhausting. Wit, humour and knowledge does not necessarily equate in another language. This changes your mindset too I have noticed, you start to think differentlly as a result, refuge to be found with other expats, even a brief encounter with an Aussie at the ATM. I am already helping new comers.

The gentle art of not giving a Phuc (sic)

img_1492If Vietnam has taught me one lesson it is this, whatever happened yesterday has no bearing on what will happen today. I have learnt a few life lessons – well, when I say learnt, more of an “A ha” moment – I now know to always trust my gut instinct and actually ACT on it. Easier said than done sometimes, but I know this, if you dig deep enough you already know the answer, the challenge is self acceptance and to follow your own values and core boundaries.

Language barriers aside, you can still get a feel for a place and know whether you should stay or make a bee line for the door. They say the first six months are the hardest, at what point you wake up and realise your living the ‘dream’ I don’t know. I am pretty sure I am on the right path and I just need to keep moving slowly along, like learning to walk in “heels” on a wet Saigon pavement at night holding an umbrella.

I am pleased with my progress to date.  I am crossing the roads like a pro now, always mindful of that bike launching in from the right, and the cyclo driver who wants to take you everywhere “I live here” – normally does the trick. I have been ripped off, grabbed in markets and asked  why I am here and why I don’t I want a massage many times.

I have learnt that you must carry an umbrella, you must have small denominations, carry toilet tissue and despite the kind demeanour of the people, my legendary don’t mess with me look does have to be put in to effect at times. I have learnt not to use my mobile whilst deciphering Google maps whilst standing on a street near the road (motorbike snatches) and that if you smile and laugh, you can and do get through most things.

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I have been looked after on the way to hospital by a caring taxi driver when at deaths door, helped to order food when I was clearly out of my depth, had english translators brought in to assist.  I have found caring ex-pats who have been here for a short time and a long time. Ready to listen and to help where necessary.

As I write the rain pours down and life goes on. Next week marks two months and yet another accommodation move. The time has gone quickly, yet so much has happened already.

 

 

Finding My Nemo …week one.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, or in my case her wallet.

In fact I didn’t lose it, it just went missing for a heart stopping 15 – 20 minutes. I managed the flights via Singapore (25 minutes between planes and Terminal 1 to Terminal 3), customs, immigration and then I hit the humidity … standing alone under column 11 waiting for my assured lift to Bon Bon Residences.  Experience has taught me, when in doubt do nothing in Asia, just wait … and for someone with my patience level that is a lesson in itself.  But wait I did, and before long Vo and friend turned up with helping hands and a cold bottle of water.

Although I had been in Saigon previously, there is something about the night light and traffic that confuses the senses. We drove for what seemed a relatively short amount of time ( mid year school break here for 8 weeks – this town in quiet) and I was tucked up in my small room in no time, Lemon Tea Room – mezzanine level with a full kitchen just outside my bedroom door. Walking everywhere is the only way to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. So walk I did, heat, dust, rain, wind and everything in between. It can be challenging especially on your own. No one to share the stories, experience and hold your bag whilst you go the loo. You become very self sufficient and very aware of your surroundings. Yes I got lost, hopelessly lost at one point, I was dehydrated and my feet were sore. I found a cafe, sat down and watched the weather and the sun and through a process of elimination found my way back to the residences. I might add here that I have a photographic memory when it comes to direction and I know exactly where I am mostly and which route I took to get there. So for this to happen to me is a rarity. Still, as always in Asia, don’t panic and just wait. All will be revealed.

Mostly Vietnam I find is a safe city – not withstanding bike grabs, pick pockets in crowds the usual stuff – never have I felt uncomfortable until this week when I encountered a man who just would not let me out of his sight and not in a good way. I eventually lost him by standing up, looking him in the eye and daring him to proceed any further. He lost interest and I got lost quick smart. Thankful for a busy food market.

Back to the lost wallet – seven days in and I was pleased with my progress, rolled oats found, powdered Australian Milk found, bananas, tofu and noodles found and purchased at open market – tick tick tick. So on day 7 with rolled oats and banana in hand I headed to the rooftop to have my breakfast whilst watching the elephants.  I was moving to a friend’s apartment today in District 1 for the weekend. The apartment I am eventually to take over when she relocates to Ireland.

That 30 minutes I was away from my room it had been cleaned, linen changed, re stocked and tidied. I arrived back at the door to meet lovely staff members leaving my room. I had all my belongings on the bed to be packed for the weekend including my green leather travel wallet and cash and credit card. Other money and cards in safe – never keep it all together.  My wallet was missing. I searched high and low, every pocket, every bag but I knew it had gone. I didn’t jump to conclusions,It had to be in the building, still I thought, oh FFS … not week one!

I raced to reception and told them and within minutes there were 3 people at the door of my room including “G -Jason” who had cleaned my room looking more than a little worried. “Miss Miss check toiletry bag”. The wallet had been put carefully in my toiletry bag then packed into the over night suitcase and tucked under the desk. Yes it was there. I nearly slapped him, but relief and some slap stick activity on my behalf and the situation was diffused. Note to self: Don’t leave anything on the bed you don’t want packed away.

So the first week in I have walked the city centre and out to my area at Ward 19 – it’s a bit quieter out here by the river and the Zoo, mostly Japanese expats and hence the food also has a wide variety of Ramen noodle and some very good Japanese cafes. The early morning Thai Chi and early evening aerobic classes on the river bank and long boats arriving dropping off coconuts, makes it an idealic location to start out. Bon Bon Residences have made me feel very at home.

My Shoes no longer fit me…

Waiting for food at a restaurant in Danang (Vietnam) one of the last meals I can remember whilst being away.

People are very well meaning and can sympathise but rarely empathise, it’s almost impossible, which for me makes it so hard…hard to explain and hard for others to comprehend.”


Since I started this journey over a year ago (when I noticed symptoms) the last few weeks have shown me not only the strength within myself but also the strength within others as they watch me battle through the never ending changes in my body after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I have never been sick, other than colds, tonsillitis and the occasional stomach upset, headache. I certainly have never spent time in hospital, or at the doctors (GP) other than the normal things women have to do like smear tests. We all know how much we look forward to those, and like me, I try to get them done and out of the way.

This disease allows for non of that quickness, no let’s just get on with this and put it behind us type of mentality, not in the short term anyway, and for a person whose patience is not one of their stronger character traits, it makes me very anxious. I thought by end of May 2019, I would have lost the peg in my stomach and be eating. I am so far away from that and I recall lying in bed at Calvary Hospital six months ago thinking how good it will be to have a glass of wine and plate of food. How good to spend Christmas 2019 with cold ham and salad.

So here I am Tuesday, spending time working on Plan B, with pain that as now necessitated the use of three different pain killers for different pain.

The type of pain where you get out of bed at 11pm and 3 am to have more drugs because the pain has woken you up. Last visit to the Oncologist told me I now have Lymphoedema inside as well as outside my throat, an ulcer and the surgery has scarring and fibroids developing, and a whole bunch of raw nerve endings that are dancing around my head and neck at regular intervals.

To eat anything soft or drink anything other than water I must gargle with Tetracain- an expensive numbing solution made to bespoke specifications. This numbing also means I can’t feel the food and whether or not I have swallowed it. Still, it allowed me to eat five spoons of baby food last Friday night. So there you have it, you don’t realise how “social” eating and drinking are until you can’t do either anymore. It was a very big part of my life.

Outdoor fitness has meant I still can join in some social activity. Without that I’d be very lost and living as a hermit. This disease has changed my whole life in so many ways.

My old life and social habits have gone and along with it some “friends” – I am trying to understand why others can’t understand what I am going through, understand that every single day and activity requires planning and in some cases medication, fluids and food. How I was before has gone and to put it simply, physically not possible any more. It makes you very aware of everything. It makes you aware of the smallest detail and how you choose to tackle things. That person has gone I have grieved for her, as I embrace and celebrate the new person to replace the space.

It makes you very aware of every day you are alive.

Baby it’s cold outside…

Step into Life / Kensington Gardens – for more information: Here

Mid winter and we start to notice that our waistlines have thickened the days are shorter and the morning’s are dark. We have spent the majority of winter in heated offices, cars, supermarkets and eaten heavier foods and possibly consumed more red wine than we would in the warmer months. Who in their right mind goes out to exercise in this weather?

Well as it happens quite a few people, and if you are like me and you start to wonder how can I fit it all in, then you need to set the alarm at 5.15am to make that 6am class on the oval or have your workout gear with you and make the 6pm class after work. For the past few years I have worked from home. Working from home appeals to me on a number of levels but the number one reason I have for being a fan of the “work from home” office is that it allows you to fit in your hour exercise for the day relatively easily.

I’ve always been an early riser and I love exercising in the morning. After work is too hard for me. By about 4.30pm I am done, my brain doesn’t fire and I do my best work very early in the morning. I am also hungry and ready for dinner at 6pm so that rules out after work workouts for me.

Here are some tips to help you make that early start.

1. Always have your exercise gear ready to go. I have a special drawer which contains only my workout clothes summer and winter. Beanies, gloves, cycling gear, rainproof jackets. Keep it washed and clean. Straight back to that drawer – no messing around trying to find an outfit at 5am.

2. Have the right clothing to suit the season and the activity. I have lots of layers, lightweight and quick drying. The secret to cold mornings is layers and what is this aversion Australians have for wearing hats ! Wearing a warm beanie in the morning solves most of the “cold” problems. Invest in one and some warm gloves whilst you are at it.

3. Correct shoes for exercising. Running shoes for running and all rounder shoes for everything else.

4. I also have a “gym bag” that has my shower proof jacket, a set of outdoor gloves and a beanie. My water bottle is always full ready to go in the fridge.

Exercising outdoors has its health benefits, exercise and sunlight together can get your blood flowing, providing organs with much needed nutrients to give us energy, stave off the blues and trim the waistline. Working out outside can also increase your metabolism. Watching the sunrise is pretty awesome too.

Research has shown that regular exercise strengthens your immune system so it can fight off bacterial and viral infections. This is important particularly in winter when you are exposed to cold and flu bugs. It’s also important to maintain an exercise programme to ensure constant care and boosting to your immune system. Sharing breakfast or a coffee post workout is always a nice thing to do too.

Some days my group outdoor exercise group is the only time I leave the house in winter. I have been training with Step into Life (SIL) at Kensington Gardens now for 8 years. SIL provide all the encouragement I need to get out there and actually do some focused training. I was very unfit when I started and I remember that every muscle in my body hurt and it was good to have trainers there to not only monitor me but also encourage you to try different activities. After 8 years I have made some amazing friends and the group fitness focus means you have and get encouragment from the group as well as the trainers. So if you live in my area, contact Annki here to come and have a try.

Chicken Thighs and Kitchen Knives – organising your kitchen pantry

When you want to eat and prepare healthy and nutritionally balanced foods you have to be set up to do it. Much like if you want to build a boat in your shed or a go-kart you need the right equipment to do the job. You need a plan and I am here to help you devise your plan.

The title for this blog came from a hilarious conversation I was having with my mum, and I have dragged this title around with me knowing it would find its home eventually.

Like any workspace it needs to be neat and tidy with your tools of trade placed in an easy to access location. When you are cooking you need to be organised. Even before mis en place your knives on a magnetic strip (I dislike knife blocks because they tend to take up valuable bench space) but most importantly and the reason for this blog is your pantry. A super organised pantry is the Holy Grail of successful cooking.

Step 1 Take everything out of your pantry or if you are blessed to have a walk in pantry do it in sections. We need to categorise food sections within the pantry.

Step 2 Throw out any thing past its used by date – seems obvious but I have found Keens Mustard going back to the mid 1990’s and it does lose its taste after a while. So throw it out. Get a big garbage bag and throw everything in that is past its useable date, also with this are any biscuits (sweet) and chocolate and sugary drinks (Yes that includes Milo) and soft drink, cordials, cakes and cake mixes.

Step 3 Once you have done all the throwing out, donate it to a charity or empty the contents and recycle. Whatever you do, you don’t eat that stuff anymore so get it out of your kitchen.

Step 4 Wipe all the surfaces down in your pantry with bicarb-soda and vinegar and then sort through everything you have left. Here is where you will need some (preferably glass) containers with air tight lids. I like to use consistent storage containers particularly if you have a small pantry it helps with space and creates a tidy view of your food products. I tend to use glass containers they don’t hold smell and are easy to clean.

Step 5 You can purchase containers, labels some very useful blackboard stickers and chalk to write your labels in The Food Manifesto shop I suggest you purchase these things before you start. If you have a lot of herbs and spices put them in containers that are airtight. The selection I have in my shop, I personally use and can highly recommend, I even have the labels and white chalk to write your own labels up.

Great storage ideas and the stainless steel magnetic herb containers tick every box...
These herb and spice containers are great – we sell labels for them too.

I always start with large oil cans at the bottom of the pantry, I buy the 4 litre tins of olive oil and fill a smaller glass bottle for use every day. The oils, cat/dog biscuits (also in big plastic tubs for easy handling and to keep mice out) I purchase in bulk where I can if its a good brand. Larger purchased items take up the floor or lower shelves of the pantry.

Next level is the flours, beans, nuts, pasta and every day items I use.

Dry Goods stay together including rice ( I have a variety including brown, long grain and aborio) Although I tend to eat brown rice more than the others. Next level up is tea, coffee herbs & spices stored in airtight tins. The remainder I keep on the side of my fridge in metal magnetic containers . Again these can be purchased from the shop online.

If you are like most people you end up with open bags of the same food product, so try to minimalise open packets that encourage moths or weevils. Rolled oats is a great one for attracting weevil, so airtight is the way to go.

My baking products all go together, baking powder, icing sugar, caster sugar, vanilla essence and custard powders. I also group my Asian food products in a very large click lock and air tight container. This normally includes: Dried fish, Kelp, chilli (dried) Miso items with a strong pungent smell, so it does not end up tainting other products.

So that is a very quick guide to starting to get your pantry sorted. Once you have your basics sorted and easily at hand, it makes cooking and recipe protocol that much simpler. You will have a productive day and a proud moment when it’s done. You can thank me later.

You can shop here: The Food Manifesto look in the collections section for other items grouped together that you might like.

Do I have to eat ? When the dreaded stomach peg becomes the easier option, and you realise you are never eating pizza again.

Before I left Australia I had been suffering a constant sore throat, I put it down to stress and the fact that I was upheaving my life to go and do something else. I had assured myself that it would disappear and after five days on Phu Quoc island I realised I wasn’t getting better.

A heavy chest cold had settled in too and my ears hurt, I was swallowing razor blades and well, I felt like hell. My other blogs posts explain fully as to exactly where I was health wise https://thefoodmanifestoblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/05/nil-by-mouth-and-by-that-i-wasnt-expecting-6-months/

So fast forward 9 months and I am back home in Australia and trying to make myself eat and not rely on the stomach peg that was inserted back in December 2018. The life giving food peg and administer of all things water, medicine and food. Using the peg is relatively easy but you have to learn how to fill syringes, get them on to the end of the peg, keep them kinked, don’t push too fast or it all comes out every other orifice. Wash the syringes, have towels and wipes for mess and know that it will get all over your clothes if you are not careful.

The peg dangles (literally) from your stomach and gets in the way of everything. I tuck mine into my undies and apparently when they inserted mine they made it very short compared to others. My biggest issue was breaking the ‘seal’ that plugged the feed tube. I have had to go to Gastroenterology Department two times to get them to replace it. Apparently they had never seen this happen before, and suggested I was being too rough with it. Given I can’t turn the peg every day as I should, much like an ear ring … I doubt I am too rough on it. I threatened to go to Bunnings and get my own if they didn’t fix it. They fixed the problem by cutting the seal of a new peg and giving it to me. I am now month five with my peg. The last week or so it has become the only way I can take it anything either water, food or meds. I am also about to go into week 12 post treatment, 3 months since the chemotherapy, radiotherapy finished and 6 months since my surgery.

The past couple of weeks I have noted rapid changes in my skin texture, jaw numbness and the width to which I can (or cannot) open my mouth, also known as Trismus. The pain if I consume anything is excruciating. I have spent days in tears and I can honestly say I have never known pain like it. This is the after affects of radiotherapy. It’s not swallowing that hurts but the sensitivity my gums experience when anything other than ice cold milk is in contact with them. I am not eating anything now, I do try, but it ends with me doubled over in pain and in tears. It’s so debilitating and the small amount of social contact I had with the outside world is now nil. I can’t manage coffee or smoothies out side of my own home.

You should be able to get three fingers in between your teeth … I am a long way from home!

So I sit here on a rather dreary Sunday wondering whether this is ever going to get better, the solitude I am some times grateful for, but mostly I spend my time trying to heal, all my energy and focus is on me and getting better. It would appear that there is no end to this awful disease.

Hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos! Since we started the treatment I have lost 10 kilos.

With this being my third month post treatment I also get to have another PET scan ($$) and it’s my first to see whether they “got it” … there are no guarantees with the scanning, you could still have cancer and it’s not picked up. So I decided that they have got it all and that I am cancer free. What else can you do ? Next week too I am going to give cold laser a go to assist with the dewlap forming under my chin as a result of having 30 lymph nodes cut out. Accupuncture seems to alleviate some serious saliva issues through stimulating my saliva glands, and thrice daily face and neck stretches. Early days they keep telling me, early days.

May I have some more serviettes please? Week # 4 post treatment.

Today marks my mum’s 89th birthday and I am eternally grateful that she has been here for this most horrendous journey of mine with Head and Neck Cancer. This week marks week four post treatment. Although I have received conflicting information regarding what to expect, mostly it’s been accurate but to be fair, recuperation is different for everybody. The first two weeks after the radio and chemo therapy finished were appalling. They did not sugar coat it, and you just have to get through it best you can. Hold your breath and run straight towards it, keep going until you have to surface for air again.

I stayed with mum for those two weeks. Ideal because we both sat in very comfortable leather armchairs watching Edie McGuire followed by Channel Nine News. Leg rugs and soft food (or in my case no food) and lights out by 8pm. I suddenly realised how much closer to a nursing home I was getting. Still, it allowed me to spend time with mum and I was happy to sleep during the day and most of the night except for regular spitting into an old honey bucket every five minutes, I slept well with the help of some opioid.

For those to go through this it’s hard to explain how you are going to feel, I had this clawing tightness in my throat, gagging sensations that resulted in vomiting (a little not bucket loads) and the tricky part is to look after your teeth. Mouth sores and ulcers (I was lucky and did not suffer too badly) I kept up regular swilling of bicarb soda. I kept flossing and did what the specialist dentist told me to do religiously. My dentist Sharon gave me a scraper – best utensil ever.

Soft tooth brush, scraper and Christmas Tree flossing

Food wise I have dabbled with soup, smoothies ( which I couldn’t stand before this disease let alone now!) pulverised vegetables and pasta. Sounds appetising huh? then you eventually have no taste, or rather for me nothing tasted as it should. I had an iced coffee with ice-cream in it – I could tell it was cold but it could have been plaster for all I knew and could taste. I appeared to have lost the ability to taste ‘sweet’ and I don’t trust myself to cook because what I can taste and what it actually tastes like are two very different things. I have read that venturing out to public eating places can be challenging. No one these days makes good soup – well they do, but they are few and far between. I think I want something to eat, I can feel my appetite then ‘poof’ nothing. So mostly I dine at the home based buffet which is below.

Home based buffet where you can go back as many times as you like!

Week # 5 and now my saliva glands and taste buds are taking a hit. My surgery scar is healing nicely and my spit bucket has decreased in size. I also decided to go back to my exercise group for company and fresh air as much as any kind of disciplinary exercise. I have lost 8/9 kgs since I came back to Australia. In that sense I feel good but it’s a hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos. I hope to take up running and kick boxing again in the not too distant future, in the meantime I am taking it day by day. One day is good, the next it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

Step into Life Kensington Gardens – My fellow SIL comrades helped me through treatment and for that I am eternally grateful.

So we now head for week #6 with my eye on week #8 to see how much progress we have made. Something is new and different every day and I ventured out to have a fresh juice with a friend a week back and well, let’s just say that was not that successful. Although I discovered that I could swallow more than previously I had to have 3 big glasses to ensure I could add enough ice to my fruit juice to get it down ( the colder the better), watermelon plays havoc with your tongue and tastebuds, and I pretty much depleted their stash of serviettes for wiping, mopping up and generally making me look as though I had a two year old with me. Suffice to say that the G&T I tried at my local tasted like kerosene and is something I wont be trying again in a hurry. Ce La Vie.