Dawn, 53, was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer in late 2012
As a type 2 diabetic I was monitored regularly by my local GP practice. I started to experience problems over a period of 18 months before I was diagnosed. I was convinced the combination of drugs used to treat my diabetes were reacting with my body and causing symptoms similar to that of acid reflux/gallstones. My GP could not find anything specific at the time and told me under the current guidelines my medication could not be altered.
The following year I started to experience more indigestion type problems and severe fatigue in the evenings but given what the GP had told me I did not feel I could go back to him. It was only when the angel I share my office with told me that she had noticed I winced when I moved, and that I looked very ill, that I went back to the GP. (At that time, I did not know that she had lost her grandfather to pancreatic cancer months before).
After a quick examination by the GP detected tenderness under my right rib, I was referred for an ultrasound. This was when my tumour was first detected and within a matter of days I was taken into hospital for further investigation.
Diagnosis and surgery
By this time I was turning yellow and my liver was swollen due to the tumour blocking my bile duct. An initial operation to insert a stent failed. It was at this point I was told it was pancreatic cancer. I was transferred to Kings College where the stent was fitted successfully.
Between diagnosis and the Whipple was around 3 months. I had a Whipple operation in January 2013. The surgical team were outstanding and I was told they thought that had removed the entirety of the ampullary tumour. Three months later I started chemotherapy and volunteered for the ESPAC 4 trial to help research.
An incredible journey
The nursing staff and my oncologist are amazing. The chemo made me sick and very tired, the most difficult part is half way through the chemo cycle, after that it seems to get better. Eating was no longer a pleasure after the Whipple, my tastes changed completely and there are still things I cannot eat because the smell or taste is repugnant to me.
Now, every 3 months I have tests as part of the trial – it is very stressful but necessary. The most difficult part is managing the expectations and worries of those around me. My husband and daughters found it a very isolating experience in which they were helpless bystanders. I have good days and bad, the bad days are the ones when I wish I could get away from myself and not be me just for a day. There are more good days now as time has gone on and I allow myself to dare to think of the future.
I truly appreciate my family and friends who have supported me on this whirlwind of an incredible journey. I try to make time for them and make as many happy memories as I can. I never stopped working throughout my cancer journey, my boss has been outstandingly supportive and I count my blessings every single day. Being positive is the only way you can truly cope with this, I avoid negative people and negative thoughts as much as I can. My father always told me ‘if you can’t do someone a good turn, you don’t do them a bad one,’ this has become an essential part of my philosophical armoury to keep this silent killer at bay.
Update August 2017
Five years since my Whipple procedure
In January 2018 it will be five years since my Whipple procedure.
I still have 3 monthly check ups (MRI, CA 19) as part of the ESPAC Clinical Trial and the nearer I get to the 5 years the statistics always mention in mortality figures, the more pensive I am about my test results. My oncologist is amazing, she knows me better than my GP now and her support has helped me to stay positive. I now have Whipple attacks which can be severe, my diabetes has progressed and I am currently under review to start a new regime to limit further damage. As in most things, there must be a balance and managing diabetes with my medical history has proved to be tricky. I rarely feel hungry (post Whipple) and I have very erratic eating habits which now have to be factored in with the management of my diabetes. Getting the diabetes balance right is key to feeling well and I am hoping my new regime will restore me to my usual feisty self.
This year I became a single woman again. I am determined to live the rest of my life on my own terms surrounded only by those I love and can trust. It has been a very tough year with many emotional and medical challenges which have made me even more determined to make every day count.
I cannot complain, I know I am lucky to be here at all and that very thought prevails upon my words and actions every day.