Carol was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when she was 49. She shares her experience of having surgery and chemotherapy

30 January 2020

I was rushed into hospital in Dec 2018 with a blocked bile duct, and upon having a stent fitted a shadow was noticed on an ultrasound scan. It was confirmed by having a CT scan. Within a month the shadow had become a mass. I then had an endoscopy to take a biopsy to determine whether it was cancer of the pancreas or the gall bladder.

I suffered jaundice badly and hadn’t been able to keep anything I ate down for over a month. The news that it was pancreatic cancer left me numb as I thought that meant certain death. And then I was given the added blow that I had adeno-squamous cell carcinoma of the pancreas, a rarer form of the cancer.

My world shattered. Not for me, but for my loved ones whose pain and fear could not help me. I was determined to do whatever I could do, and anything and everything to beat it. I had the attitude of, ‘it is what it is and I’ll deal with it’.

Having surgery

The mass was attached to the portal vein. I was under the care of an amazing surgeon who wanted me to have surgery (the Whipple’s procedure) straight away and not to wait. On Feb 2nd 2019 I underwent major surgery (over 10 hours) to remove part of my pancreas, my gall bladder, bile duct, part of my intestines and 22 lymph nodes. I also had a graft to repair the portal vein.

I recovered well from the surgery with no real issues, and stayed in hospital for the next month.

Starting chemotherapy

I started intensive chemo at the end of April. I had gemcitabine and capecitabine (GemCap) through a PICC line, as I couldn’t handle the thought of injections every time. The chemo left me exhausted and feeling a little light headed for a few days (like being a bit drunk), and I noticed my hearing had gone like I was under water. They changed the chemo I was receiving and that helped. I still had the drunk feeling which was bearable, but the lack of energy really affected me as I’d always been fit and very active.

It was a struggle to stay positive and show no fear, but that was more for family as it was breaking my heart watching them thinking that I was going to die. I’m their little sister and they could do nothing for me.

I ended up in hospital 3 times with infections and needed blood and platelets transfusions. Luckily, these were only short stays in hospital. I finished 15 sessions of chemo in July and had a scan in August.

I was given the all clear 4 days before my 50th birthday, and I have to say it was the best present I could’ve been given.

My recovery

I am forever grateful for the care I received and know that I am blessed to be here. It’s given me a 2nd chance at life and I’m grabbing it with both hands. It’s a little daunting trying to rebuild your life with some limits after cancer. When you’re in treatment you have that to focus on, afterwards I felt a little deflated and thought, well what do I do now?

I am getting fitter everyday, even though I now have trouble maintaining any weight, but I am determined to live life to the full. I’m hoping to get back to my voluntary work within the next couple of months.

I’m one of the lucky ones, but it shouldn’t be down to luck.

January 2020