Posted by: Admin | September 15, 2012

The Saturday Interview 29 – Ann & Carol

We all have our challenges as we move into our fifties, but Ann’s was more daunting than most. Diagnosed with mouth cancer, she had just two weeks for the news to sink in before undergoing 9-hour life-saving surgery.

“I had a choice. Either I lived in fear or anger or I prepared to fight, not really knowing the outcome,” she says in her book, Trilogy.

Written with fellow mouth, head and neck cancer survivor, Carol, Trilogy draws together the two women’s experiences and describes how they survived and, ultimately thrived. In Holistic Therapist and Communicator Ann’s case, her operation involved the removal of the tumour in the floor of her mouth followed by reconstructive surgery using tissue from her arm, with vein and artery attached.

Ceramic artist Carol, who was diagnosed 10 years before Ann, was told by her consultant on diagnosis that she had two choices: either turn her face to the wall, or turn away from the wall and fight.

“I have never forgotten those words and how true they are,” Carol admits.

Her surgery was even more extensive than Ann’s owing to to position of her tumour, but fight she did.

I meet the two women at Carol’s pretty Northamptonshire cottage. I am interested in their friendship and the remarkable partnership that led them to form Facefax which raises awareness of Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer and to found the Dunstone Bennett Complementary Centre in Northampton.

“We wanted to pass on what we had learned,” explains Ann, “and we realised there was no support for sufferers of this type of cancer in the area.”

In Trilogy Ann advises: “Channel your fears into doing something positive. Don’t waste that energy by being fearful.” The Dunstone Bennett Centre exists to help those currently undergoing treatment to do just that, offering complementary therapies such as Reiki, Reflexology, Indian Head Massage, Neck, Shoulder & Back Massage and Counselling. A small army of volunteers, who are all qualified & insured Therapists, administer the treatments. Care is also available to carers and Art Therapy is overseen by Carol. In addition, skin care is offered in the form of cosmetic advice, camouflage makeup and scar aftercare, for men and women.

Ann explains why they collaborated to write the book in 2008: “I wanted to make sense of what had happened to me, turn the experience round and do something positive with it; in other words, not to waste the experience but to allow myself to move on.” “Trilogy” was chosen for the title because the women wanted to address the role of mind, body and spirit in recovery.

Now in their sixties, Ann and Carol are both lively, vivacious women. Carol has had to face another bout of (unrelated) cancer and is recovering from treatment when we meet. The affection between them is evident and is clearly a very positive outcome of their shared experience.

Their shared attitude that whatever life throws at us should be used in a positive way is incredibly encouraging. What they have created to help others is nothing short of inspirational.
Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer is rarely publicised, yet it is vital to spot the signs early for treatment to be effective. Ann and Carol emphasise the need to visit a dentist regularly as they are trained to spot the early signs, and offer the following checklist:

The most common signs and symptoms associated with head, neck and mouth cancer are:

● A mouth ulcer that does not heal after 3 weeks
● White or red patches on the tongue or in the mouth
● Frequent pain and bleeding in the mouth
● A lump or sore that does not heal
● Regular pain in the face, head or neck
Many of these symptoms are not specific to cancer and so can result in a less serious condition. If you are concerned about any of your symptoms then consult your dentist or GP/Doctor who can advise you. 

The Dunstone Bennett Complementary Centre is run entirely on voluntary donations. If you would like to support the work of these brave and generous women, please click through for further details.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Ann and Carol, and for agreeing to be a part of the project. The grace with which you have faced what, to most of us, is unimaginable has both humbled and inspired me.

more photographs of Ann and Carol were posted on the Celebrate Life! Photography blog on August 24th 2012. 

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