Glen’s experience of recovery from a Whipple’s procedure

Glen's experience of recovery from a Whipple's procedure

1 July 2012

Diagnosed with inoperable adenocarcinoma of the head of the pancreas in 2008

The Whipple was described to me by my surgeon and the anaesthetist as “major surgery” and I can confirm they were not kidding. In my case surgery lasted 10.5 hours due to a complication with my bowel at the time (very complicated). Chemotherapy was actually a doddle in comparison – I had chemo as I was inoperable at the start and the intention was to shrink tumour which it did.

The Whipple’s procedure or any operation involving the pancreas is “major” and not a walk in the park during (although we know nothing then) and post surgery. I recall waking up and thinking “what the hell have I let them do to me” – I was really shocked, and no different from anyone else who’s had it of course, when I realised all the drips in me and that I could not move without intense pain and thinking my stitches were going to burst open etc. It’s very hard to put into words but certainly post surgery the shock and reality that hit me was to say the least extreme.

Likewise, the recovery (5 weeks in hospital) and then coming home – it was at least a year until I got back to physically feeling like I was going to survive it – perhaps being someone who prior to this happening the worst pain I had encountered might have been toothache did not help. The physical impossibility of not being able to do mundane tasks (I collapsed after 10 minutes sweeping up leaves on the driveway I recall) was frightening.

During the 5 weeks in hospital what I could not get a grip on was the fact that there were other patients (all much older than me) who had been through open heart/bypass surgery. After 2 days (with what can only be described as very large zippers running from their necks down) these guys were strolling around and most were out after 5 days! I remember thinking (and still do) that these guys had been through “major heart surgery” but were in better shape than me. Very frustrating.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that for anyone, even someone who was fit like me (not boasting) post-surgery is extremely frightening and debilitating, both immediately and in the months ahead and it would help if people were made aware of this in my view – it would have helped me in a small way.

The bonus of all this, and I can say this now, is that once you get back to reasonable normality, you are a calmer and more balanced person. One sees, as an example, people getting upset/annoyed in the traffic and one simply smiles and asks – “what are you getting upset about – chill it could be much worse – trust me”. I actually think I am now a better and nicer person, not that I was not before Mr. Whipple……………………

July 2012

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

Read more about the Whipple’s operation