Wendy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. 2018 marked 12 years since her diagnosis.
I wanted to share my story with you because it’s a success story.
It was May 2006 when I was diagnosed. I can remember it all as clear as if it was yesterday. I went to my GP about three weeks before my diagnosis. I didn’t feel ill and I hadn’t lost any weight, but I was itching all over my body – it was uncontrollable. I went to see my doctor and I felt like such a fraud as I said “I’m itching all over.” She asked me various things and organised some blood tests. About three days after the blood test I had a phone call to say that I had to go to hospital that day, which was quite a shock. She said all my enzymes in my liver, or something, were out of order. The NHS was absolutely brilliant but it was my GP that really was on the ball. She didn’t hesitate at all.
I went into the hospital and I was there for about three weeks to a month having various tests. At first they thought it was gall stones, but after a day in hospital my jaundice got worse. I still didn’t feel ill, I just had this uncontrollable itching. It was horrible.
My consultant came to me after all these tests and said it was one of a few things. By this time, I began to put two and two together and thought there’s something seriously wrong here. I asked him “Could this be cancer?”, and he said “Yes”.
It was cancer, and it was malignant. I was diagnosed on my 63rd birthday.
I just thought “Let’s get on with it”. I wanted to know straight out what was happening because I would rather know there and then. Some people don’t want to know, but it helped me be quite determined.
They wanted me to come home from hospital to have a month to build myself up before the operation. In actual fact, other than the itching I felt fit and healthy. My heart and lungs were all good so they were favourable for me having the Whipple’s surgery.
After a month at home I went to go to specialist centre to have my operation. They didn’t do the Whipple’s surgery at my local hospital, but my consultant came over to the specialist centre to do it which was very reassuring.
Recovering from my operation
I was in intensive care for about two days after the operation. I then came back to my local hospital to recuperate. I think it was a bigger operation than what I envisaged, but the good news was the cancer was gone and the consultant said luckily it wasn’t in any of my lymph nodes.
I came home to recover further. Recovery really was painful but my doctor said they had had to cut through lots of muscles. I lost my duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) and had my gall bladder removed. They took part of my pancreas and a bit of my stomach all in one go. It was a huge operation and it took me a year to fully recover. My consultant said actually the operation is on a par with transplant surgery
It was a sunny summer during my recovery, but I couldn’t do a thing. I will never forget one particular day. My sister-in-law took me to a beautiful reservoir near us, and my husband Derek pushed me in a wheelchair even though there were lots of pebbles and cobbles. After we had gone a little way I said “I am going to get out of this chair and walk.” I did it – but they had to push me back. It was just doing little things at a time.
I must admit, when I came home from hospital there wasn’t much support. I did have a Macmillan nurse come to see me two or three times. She was marvellous, but she said I was in a sort of ‘grey area’. After a few visits she said she wasn’t going to come any more because I wasn’t an end of life patient. So that was it really. I was on my own. I didn’t really know at that point whether I’d been cured or not.
I did ring somewhere to see if there was any support and I was told that there was nothing in my area. So I accepted that and got on with things myself. I gradually got better and better. I just got on with it, but it would have been nice to have a bit of support.
I wish I would have known about your Support Line sooner. If I had known, it would have been lovely to talk to someone.
My family were brilliant. They had already gone all the way through the operation with me, so they knew what to expect. I’ve got a son and a daughter, and I’ve got my husband Derek. He was a very good support because when I came home from hospital I couldn’t do anything, I was so weak and in a lot of pain.
Diet and enzyme supplements
Not long after I got home all my food started to go through me. And I’m not very tall, I’m only about five foot, but my weight dropped off. It was then that I was put on Creon. Creon has been my lifeline. Even to this day my bowels are a bit unpredictable. I’m used to it, but it is a bit of a nuisance at times. My pancreatic nurse thinks I’m well organised and good at controlling it, but it’s just something I have to live with, and I have been living with it for 12 years.
Being given the all clear
I didn’t know I was completely cured until about 10 years after my diagnosis. After I visited my consultant a few times I was put in the care of a pancreatic cancer nurse specialist. I used to go every six months to see her and she was lovely, I got to know her quite well.
One time I went to see my specialist nurse and she had two students in. She said she was glad I’d come in today when the students were there because she wanted to prove to them that it’s not all doom and gloom, and people do survive. After 10 years I asked her if I could class myself as cured now, and she said yes. So we went out and had a meal to celebrate.
I saw my specialist nurse all the way up to the summer of 2017. Then I was discharged, but she said if I had any symptoms at all I should go to the GP. We left it at that and I was discharged, after 12 years. She said to me that it was very unlikely to come back which was wonderful. I was so relieved.
Funnily enough, every little symptom I get makes me think “Is it coming back again?” but I think about that less now. Having pancreatic cancer did leave me with diabetes, but it’s not bad. That’s controlled every day.
It’s now 12 years since my diagnosis
I think I’m very, very, lucky. It’s been 12 years now since my diagnosis. Even when I got better nobody would believe I’d had pancreatic cancer. I somehow still can’t believe it to this day that I’ve had it. I know I’m in a minority, but I’m so thankful.