Teresa was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018 when she was 68, she had a Whipple’s procedure and chemotherapy.
After moving house in a very hot July 2018, I began to feel really unwell but put it down to the heat. One day in August 2018, I felt I couldn’t digest my dinner and I had indigestion all that night.
The doctor informed me that my liver function tests (LFTs) were abnormal and he wanted to do a scan. But a few days later I ended up in A&E, as it was a Saturday and I was really unwell and unable to eat.
I began to turn yellow with jaundice, which itched terribly, and I produced pale stools and dark urine. Something was really wrong and I felt scared stiff. I looked like I had the plague!
I was diagnosed on August 12th and had two attempts at endoscopies before I had my surgery. I had to have two endoscopies as the first inserting of a stent failed to work. They confirmed a mass on my pancreas blocking the bile duct, but it was operable.
On October 16th 2018, I underwent an eight hour Whipple’s Procedure operation aided by laparoscopy. I was supposed to have it done a few days before that, on October 11th, but at the last moment, all ready for surgery, they had to cancel it as there were no HDU (high dependency unit) beds available. They couldn’t discharge someone, so back home I went, upset and very afraid.
I was in hospital for 12 days, and my wounds started to heal very quickly because of the laparoscopy and the surgeon’s skill. Later histology confirmed the slow growing tumour was an adenocarcinoma on the head of my pancreas. I had no idea, although I had been feeling sluggish, depressed and “heavy” for months and months, and didn’t know why. I’ve never smoked and hardly ever drink.
Chemotherapy after surgery
The surgeon recommended I have chemotherapy, and I began that in February 2019. Initially the oncologist told me I had a small spot on my liver and one on my lung, but I’m pleased to say that the later scans showed the one on my liver shrinking and nothing on the lung. By the time I finished six months chemo at the beginning of August, I was clear. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, as I thought I was under a death sentence for so long.
At first the chemo was very harsh. A PICC line was put in my left arm, and I was on Folfirinox by pump, but after two cycles of that and very bad stomach aches for hours, I was changed to Gemcitabine and Capecitabine tablets. After 2 cycles of this and finding I had mouth ulcers, splitting skin at my fingertips and more stomach aches, I was changed to just Gemcitabine. I never lost my hair, although it did thin for a while then went curly. My natural hair is wavy, and a mixture of dark with grey.
A year after surgery
I still see the oncologist every two months, after a CT scan, and I’m checked by the surgical team once every six months.
I lost two stone and I’m back to about 9 stone 10lbs, which I like! I have to take Creon with my food, a vitamin capsule and Omeprazole every day. I still get tired and can feel quite exhausted by tea time, but am slowly getting back to normal, whatever that is!
It’s been over a year now. At a check-up with my surgical team this month I was told there's a shadow on the blood vessels going to the liver, which the oncologist also mentioned when I last saw her. This is being kept an eye on. As I'm so well at present, the surgeon agreed with the oncologist that I don't need any further chemotherapy unless things change. It may be scarring from such a large operation.
The surgeon was pleased to see me looking so well, and I don't need to go back to see him! I can’t thank the surgical team enough and how it all happened quickly once I had the diagnosis. If it hadn’t been for the jaundice and the funny toilet changes, I wouldn’t have known anything about it until it was too late!
I hadn’t even heard of pancreatic cancer and I never thought it could happen to me. All I had ever heard about was breast, lung and some of the other more well known ones. This is a very silent and deadly one.