Carole’s experience of recovering from a Whipple’s procedure

Diagnosed with operable adenocarcinoma in 2009

1 July 2012

Recovering from Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

In Hospital

I expected to bounce back from surgery and I guess I did compared to some although spent longer in hospital than I expected which was frustrating and got me down on a couple of occasions.

The morning after my surgery I asked to get up and was then immediately shocked at how weak I felt and how much support I needed. However, on the second morning I got out of bed by myself and did some deep breathing and marching on the spot. Within a couple of days I was walking around the ward, gradually going further each day although it was somewhat complicated by the paraphernalia of drips, tubes, drains, PCA, stands etc.

Unfortunately I had severe oedema from the waist down at the end of the first week to the extent that I found it extremely uncomfortable to move around and later on developed an infection which was believed to be from my central line so I had my liquid feed via a drip for 20 hours a day. This was by far the most distressing experience and something I dreaded every day but at least was able to persuade the nursing staff to give me my 4 hours ‘off’ in the evening so I was able to start attacking the stairs, going an extra flight each day.

The drains were my bete-noire as the only pain I experienced was when one of the drains slipped slightly and my delay in leaving hospital was due to the drains which continued to produce volumes – at the time I did not realise that this is normal and got a little worried that something was going wrong.

After Hospital

Diet: I did not start eating until 5 weeks after surgery and was shocked and irked at how little I initially ate (a spoonful of cereal as opposed to the large bowl prior to surgery). Some foods tasted different and some things that I previously enjoyed just made me feel sick. Gradually my appetite returned although I still find it better to eat little and often. I wish I had had access to a dietician earlier but soon noticed the improvement that taking creon made. My diet has returned to normal although large meals give me pain and very fatty foods are hard to digest.

Exercise: The feeling of lethargy and weakness was difficult to come to terms with but having set myself daily exercise challenges in hospital, I continued this at home. A few months later I returned to the gym and found that it was not at all painful and as I exercised I got the emotional high that I had had previously as well as feeling my general fitness improving. I can now run 10k without problem although will not be setting any world records.

Work: I started dealing with a few emails before I left hospital and gradually did more work and hours as each week went by, working from home initially. I returned to full time working after about 12 weeks as to me it was important to know that I was recovering and getting back to normal. Concentration was difficult though and in hindsight I did too much too quickly as the quality of some of what I did at that time was quite poor and I lost confidence in my ability.

Psychological: I have never been too conscious of how I look and so have never found the scars upsetting. I have often felt guilty for surviving when others are less fortunate but am trying to channel this into raising awareness and supporting others. I have not made a massive lifestyle change as a result of what has happened but just been happy for things to return to the way they were although I do ‘live for the day’ more than previously.

July 2012
Read more of Carole’s story and her experience of pancreatic cancer