Elma was 69 when she was diagnosed with borderline operable pancreatic cancer, after feeling pain in her stomach. She had surgery and chemotherapy, and five years later, she has been given the all-clear.
My name is Elma. I had had endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer when I was 60. My pancreatic cancer story began nine years later in August 2017, when I was awakened in the night with an excruciating pain in my stomach. I got up and was sick. A trip to A&E concluded that my gall bladder was “full of stones and sludge”.
Getting the diagnosis
I managed to get a date for an operation to remove the gall bladder on Halloween, but the day before I was due to go in, I was called and told that the op would not be going ahead as there was something wrong (we can’t remember if it was with a kidney or with my pancreas). More scans, blood tests etc came to the conclusion that I had pancreatic cancer, that was borderline operable.
An 8 hour operation
This news had my husband and I looking horrified at each other as we knew the deadly reputation of this cancer. On my husband’s birthday in December 2017, I was wheeled into an operating theatre for 8 hours of surgery that removed an 11cm tumour from the tail of my pancreas, half my pancreas, a kidney, spleen, gall bladder, adrenal gland, 40 lymph nodes and bits of my digestive system, leaving impressive scars and a stoma and colostomy bag. We have only recently found out that if the team had known how big the tumour was, they wouldn’t have operated at all. I had to stay in hospital for three weeks, during which I got a letter about needing a new driving licence, and “would I like to be an organ donor”? We burst into laughter, saying that there was nothing left.
I had 5 rounds of chemotherapy
After the surgery, I was recommended to have chemo, so I had five rounds of GemCap; I couldn’t have the planned sixth round as my blood tests ruled against another. I didn’t lose all my hair, but did lose my eyebrows and fingerprints. My husband and family encouraged and supported me throughout chemo and the years following, but I want to thank surgeons, doctors and nurses for their skill, care and kindness.
Getting support from Pancreatic Cancer UK
The chemo suite had quite a few Pancreatic Cancer UK pamphlets, which we took and read, believing that the more we knew, the better, and I have contacted one of the nurses about improving the output of my stoma to cut down on diarrhoea that I suffer from. Recently, I have had some epileptic seizures, and we are trying to manage this with drugs.
Some wonderful news
Five years after the chemo, my oncologist has just told us that he is discharging me, which is wonderful and amazing. But I don’t think that I will ever lose the fear that it will come back.
I know that I have been incredibly lucky, and pancreatic cancer continues to be a dreadful disease. I can only hope that efforts to find early stage diagnosis and improved treatments are successful.
01 June 2023