Glen, 52 - diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in 2008, rendered operable by chemotherapy and classified as neuroendocrine tumour post surgery
I happened to be in Houston, Texas on a business trip. Whilst there I seemed to be a little thinner and (dare I say it?) going to the toilet a lot! A chemist suggested it was probably jet lag and fatigue - oh I wish!
Things were getting worse and I decided to return to Guernsey - something was not right - my clothes were hanging off me! Upon returning home I had an incredible itching all over my body which felt like sunburn. My GP advised that my bloods were "all over the place" and she booked an ultra-sound scan on my liver the next day.
The next day the nurse did the scan. "I can't see anything on your liver. I'll just have a quick look at the pancreas". An indeterminable silence followed. "I'll just go and get a doctor". Yikes, what is this about said I to myself? A doctor arrived (never saw his face) and remained for what seemed a very long time. "Are you losing weight?!" was one of his gruff questions. He seemed gruff but I am sure he was not. His visit ended and he said to the nurse,- "CT Scan".
I went home and that evening my GP's secretary called to say she needed to see me that evening. In short she advised the ultra-sound had revealed some sort of tumour/growth on the head of my pancreas. In a brutal yet kind manner (and I do thank her for not raising false hopes) she said it was not looking good….. moving forward she had booked me for an emergency CT Scan the next morning.
Leaving the surgery I sat in the car in a surreal way- people were walking past and laughing, but I was oblivious to all around me. My GP came out to "just check on me" I suppose. I went home. How do I tell my wife this? Well I just did - I think I cried (although not much because hey I'm a tough guy!!) - Men don't cry do they? Yeah right!!
Then I googled "pancreas" and the enormity hit me - that's it I said - "6 months to go". I recall being very calm, checked the life insurance policies and all other matters financial. I had a sense of relief that the family would be fine (but certainly not rolling in it) without me.
Following the CT scan I had an immediate appointment with a surgeon. He would take my scan results to Southampton and discuss with the surgical team there. The diagnosis was that the tumour was malignant but I was inoperable due to it being too close to some important vein. I was to therefore undergo a course of chemotherapy for 6 months (3 drug regime) and it was hoped this would shrink it away from danger to operate.
So 6 months of chemotherapy ensued - boy that was fun!!!! My oncologist, and the lovely nurses and all the others were simply fantastic. We all know about chemotherapy so I need not go into this. Suffice to say it was not nice but you just get on with it, especially the sleeping, constipation, loss of taste and generally feeling like death and all the rest - hmm lovely…
The upshot is that after 6 months of chemo treatment the tumour had shrunk but unfortunately the wrong way (it had somehow shrunk around the veins in question) so I was still inoperable.
So from November 2008 until July 2009 I was in a state of limbo. Something changed around July, 2009 and after a CT scan I was sent to Southampton to meet a pancreatic surgeon - result was I was now operable..
August 29 2009 - two words - "Whipples" and "Procedure". I was in hospital for a month and finally I was able to fly home to Guernsey. Believe me - it takes at least 6 months to get over this operation. I was in theatre for 10.5 hours. Even now I suffer in a very minor way but I am basically back to normal- diabetes is on the way but hey I am alive.
That's my story - ring any bells anybody? As a side but related, I was diagnosed the same time as Patrick Swayze. I heard the news of his death whilst in hospital - very emotional. Why him and not me? - did not know him but would have liked to. Patrick was a superstar and I will never be one - wait let me change that. Deep down all of us who have got this and other cancers, survivors or not, together with our wives/partners/families and friends are superstars. Don't let anyone say any different. I am sure Patrick would agree.
First published February 2011
Update February 2014
It is hard to believe that it is now approaching some 6 years since my initial diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and 5 years post Whipple.
Clearly I am still around and happy to say I intend to be for a lot longer. So what has happened:
Late 2012 I was finally diagnosed as being diabetic and now take insulin regularly. For a while post Whipples I was not diabetic but things slowly changed to becoming Type 2 and then Type 1. Do I mind? Not really - I survived pancreatic cancer after all so being diabetic is not that bad.
Following my Whipples Procedure in 2009 I was told that my tumour was neuroendocrine (NET) and since then I have been regularly scanned. Following a scan about 3 years ago a tumour was detected on my liver but has not changed. However, there may be a possibility of further tumour (spread) so I am going to have surgery on 13 February, 2014 in Southampton to remove it and for everything to be checked out. Strangely enough I am not worried - I am feeling very well, active in sports, working full-time etc. and am really only doing this because the medics say it is wise to.
From what I have read and been told about NET's is that they are essentially a "good cancer" albeit a cancer. They are "good" in the sense that they are not aggressive is what I have been told. Whether that is correct or not I do not know - it sounds good to me though.
Regardless I am still around and feeling wonderful. My thinking is that Cancer will not beat me - I will beat it.
I'll write to you all again in a few years ok? In the meantime if anyone wants to chat please do call me - if my experience helps anyone distressed that is as pleasing as beating cancer in the first place. I really mean that.