Cliff, experience of the effect of pancreatic cancer on diet

Cliff was diagnosed with operable adenocarcinoma in the head of the pancreas. He shares his personal experience of the effect of pancreatic cancer on diet

1 July 2011

Before diagnosis

My experience of pancreatic cancer started some six months before diagnosis with little more than occasional bouts of digestive discomfort. The bouts became more frequent and during the final weeks while medical tests were carried out, digesting food became difficult. I was managing only two small meals a day, carefully chosen to avoid too much fat, and I was losing weight rapidly. When a bile duct stent was fitted during an endoscopy examination, my digestion improved considerably prior to my Whipple’s procedure.

After surgery

I was allowed no solid foods for several days after my operation but was then offered normal hospital meals at my discretion. Hardly any food or drinks appealed to me for many weeks. The thought and taste of most made me feel sick. Tea, coffee and fruit drinks tasted odd and I even had to force myself to take water for several days. It was not easy to make myself swallow the various medications and pain-killers I was given.

After discharge from hospital

I was prescribed iron tablets on discharge from hospital to improve my blood count but the consequence of those, severe constipation, was worse than the blood deficiency and they were soon stopped. The anaemia problem was resolved as I returned to a fuller diet.

At home my appetite returned very gradually. I was encouraged to eat whatever I fancied, biscuits, cakes, chocolate etc to regain the 30lbs weight I had lost. That became easy and pleasant to do and my weight returned to normal after about a year. My problem since has been to wean myself off the ‘naughty foods’ and to make sure my weight, which is back to where it was before my illness, doesn’t go any higher than I want it to be. Being able to resume jogging and golf about ten weeks after surgery has helped.

Some four/six weeks after surgery my bowels returned to something like normal but exhibited all the common symptoms of a victim of pancreatic cancer, namely, yellow and oily stools. I was prescribed Creon enzyme-replacement tablets, taken in dosages at my discretion, prior to any meal or snack, and Omeprazole once a day, to combat excess acid which would detract from the benefits of Creon.


I accept defeat in trying to get the dosage of Creon exactly right every time. My stools are generally lighter and more oily than pre-pancreatic cancer but not worryingly so and I have never had any trouble with not being able to flush stools away.

My diet now, two years after my Whipple’s, is almost normal. It causes me no great discomfort or inconvenience. I eat a light breakfast and lunch, and generally a large, heavy evening meal with no serious problems. I feel bloated occasionally, not, curiously, in proportion to the food I’ve eaten it seems, and regularly hear loud rumbles, actually mistaken by others to be a sign of distant thunder, from my upper stomach area during the mid- to late- morning which I can combat by an essential mid-morning snack. It is loud enough to be heard by others at quite a distance, but no longer causes any embarrassment to me or them. Flatulence is also an increased problem since my Whipples but that is something I (and others) can, or have to, live with.

My food preferences have changed a little since my illness. I seem to have developed and indulged a sweet tooth. Biscuits, chocolate and cakes go down well. I eat and enjoy salty foods like peanuts and crisps more than before. Lightly spiced foods are as popular and digestible as ever but there are some tastes that no longer appeal. Potatoes, bread and rice are enjoyable but only with very sweet or savoury flavouring but pasta remains as popular and easily digestible as it ever was. I have not eaten meat for around thirty years so that has not been a factor in my post-Whipple’s lifestyle.

Insulin has not been a factor in my recovery. I am tested from time to time but the half-pancreas that I have left is working OK and I am not diabetic. The emotional impact of pancreatic cancer has been to help me to achieve the state of mind that might affect all with a near-death experience. I think I was always a happy-go-lucky man but now I savour every day and experience to the full or even beyond. I wonder if some people think I’m mad!

All in all, my diet is almost back to normal with very few unpleasant side effects. I could happily live on pasta, peanuts and biscotti. Hearing of many others’ experiences, I am grateful that I seem to be one of the very lucky ones, so far at least.

July 2011

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