Diagnosed with operable adenocarcinoma in 2009
My experience of recovering from pancreatic cancer surgery
My surgery took place in October 2009 and my recovery took rather longer than expected and was more traumatic than anyone anticipated. The impact of the surgery on my body and the damage done to my system by leaking bile prior to diagnosis combined to keep me in intensive care for weeks. One thing I have learnt about pancreatic cancer is that although there are common threads to all the stories of survivors that I have met (and we could hold our reunion in a phone box!) there are also a myriad of recovery stories.
The initial thoughts of my surgeon were that I could be in hospital for up to three weeks but that I would need three months to recover. In reality I was in hospital for six months and it took me nearly two years before I felt like "me" again. Of course recovery depends so much upon the type and location of the cancer, in my case after surgery things just got worse and worse. However, the good news was that I didn't have to have chemotherapy nor radiotherapy.
Learning to eat again was quite an experience and my one complaint about the hospital where I was treated was the appalling quality of the food. The body trauma and the liquid diet combined to help me loose 33 kilos in weight! When I was eventually discharged, and I was desperate to get home, I still required 24/7 care and I was very frightened that something could go wrong, as I had been sent home and re-admitted twice. My partner and I lived on a knife-edge of fear and anticipation of problems for many months before we realized I might be getting well. Slowly with the help of my partner I began to claim some independence - just going to the bathroom alone and taking a shower took all my energy but meant so much. I was also living with an open wound as infections in my body took so long to clear and it was to be a further eighteen months before I healed completely and I found that very tough indeed. During the healing process I felt unclean a lot of the time although I wasn't! This is another aspect of life with serious illness that requires enormous understanding from family and friends as well as partners.
My concentration took a long time to recover - I am an avid reader but didn't touch a book for nearly nine months, a newspaper was the most I could cope with and then not every day. I am an extrovert who loves the company of others but found that although I wanted to see people I couldn't cope with conversation for more than a few minutes at a time. Music has always been a vital part of my life as it feeds my soul but I couldn't cope with the emotion. I also found helpful a three-month course of physiotherapy arranged by my GP, which did wonders for my physical confidence. Driving my car for the first time after nine months was a red-letter day!
When people talked about their glass being half full or half empty I would always say my glass was 90% full and I have to say that the positive attitude I have in regard to my life has proved to be of vital importance in my recovery. The mental battle with pancreatic cancer has been enormous and although I am no saint I have never said about my illness "why me?" I regarded that question as irrelevant, it was bad luck, but it had to be faced and of course each of us deals with it in our own way. However, I am firmly of the view that as well as physical treatment and rehabilitation, consideration needs to be given to the psychological well being of patients for whom recovery, though traumatic, is possible, e.g. it took me quite some time to get over feeling guilty about at one time thinking death would be an acceptable alternative to the trauma of treatment and the pain of my illness.
At the time of my diagnosis I was the director of a management consultancy company and travelling to Australia to work as well as being busy in the UK. I had worked fulltime for 34 years and loved what I did for a living and it was a very big part of who I am. Working life is no more as in the time it took me to recover the world moved on without me and it has taken me until almost my third anniversary since diagnosis to accept my old working life has gone but that I have a life with someone I love and who loves me and there are different ways to define a fulfilling existence and I am now bringing to my new life the focus and energy I used in my past. I am so thankful for the support of wonderful friends and my family.