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

Diagnosed with operable adenocarcinoma in the head of the pancreas in 2009

1 July 2012

Pancreatic cancer surgery: my recovery story

One person’s pancreatic cancer will differ in size, exact location, type of cells, whether and how it has spread. Similarly, their recovery stories are unlikely to be the same. Bear that in mind when you read my story. My post-Whipple’s surgery falls at the most optimistic end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, it is a true story.

After my initial six days in hospital followed by a 4-day return for a wound infection, the first weeks of my recovery were much the same as any other patient after pancreatic cancer surgery. Once home, I had little pain but felt exhausted and had little appetite. What I did eat was very reluctant to leave the other end of my body and for a month, I was uncomfortable, but happy to be home and to know that things were following the predicted path.

A change in my appetite

When my appetite did return, it had changed. I now have a ‘sweet tooth’ and some of the more bland foods previously enjoyed no longer hold any appeal. My GP encouraged me to eat whatever I fancied to recover the 30lbs I had lost during my illness and my surgeon suggested I build myself up again to prepare myself for chemotherapy, which, incidentally, I never needed or had. My body-weight returned to near normal within 9/12 months, and I now successfully keep my weight constant around what I consider my appropriate weight.

Becoming active and running again

As a regular runner before my illness, I was anxious to become as active as possible as quickly as possible. A few days after surgery I went a walk round the hospital corridors, drip stand and all, and once home, took short, gentle walks every day, increasing to a slow mile within three weeks. Now the secret is out and I can boast that when my wife wasn’t looking, I was soon breaking into a very cautious trot for a few yards. When I felt no ill effects, that too, was extended daily.

With the encouragement of my surgeon, himself a runner, I was able to resume jogging ten weeks after surgery. He spoke of running with me in the Nottingham half-marathon the following year. Perhaps that was over-ambitious but if it was said to inspire a positive approach, it worked. Six months after resuming I was back to my previous routine and completed a 4.5 mile charity run, raising £2,000 for Pancreatic Cancer UK in the process. I finished 47th out of 88 runners; not too bad for the oldest runner at 67-years.

My other sporting interest is golf. I was cautious about how my healing stomach muscles would cope with the stretching involved in my golf swing but playing only three months after surgery was not a problem. I play as well/badly as ever but have lost some 25 yards off my drive. How unimportant is that?

Work, play and travel

I work part-time, teaching American undergraduates at the British campus of their home university. My operation was at the end of July 2009 so I took a break during the Fall Semester of that year but returned to that physically undemanding work in January 2010.

Now (June 2012) three years since my illness, I eat, work, play and travel just as I did before. Maybe being a fit and active 67-year-old at the time of my illness has helped, as have the support of a good family and the skills and expertise of an excellent surgeon and medical team. Perhaps, too, ambitious but realistic targets have helped but I also recognise and am grateful for the large slice of luck that I have enjoyed. I take one Omeprazole every morning to lessen my stomach acid and use Creon tablets before every meal or snack. That is no inconvenience and no problem providing I remember always to carry a supply with me.

I am very happy with life, but am constantly aware that my luck might not last for ever. Negative though it sounds, I want to be well as well prepared as I can be if that luck ever runs out. My check-ups are now annual but I am no less apprehensive before I hear the results than I was three years ago. I will never feel that I have beaten pancreatic cancer until I live long enough to die of something else: a curious ambition? For now, I am delighted to be able to show that there can be good life after Whipples.

July 2012

Read more of Cliff’s story and his experience of pancreatic cancer

Read more about the Whipple’s operation