Karen shares her experience of pancreatic cancer, and how she is coping during the coronavirus pandemic

4 May 2020

Karen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010, and had a Whipple’s procedure to remove her cancer. She shares her experience of social distancing and the precautions she is taking during the coronavirus pandemic.

In September 2010, after several visits to my GP, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was fortunate to be in a position to have a Whipple’s procedure, which took over 8 hours. Then I took part in a chemotherapy clinical trial, which unfortunately had to stop. I still get yearly checks at the hospital and take daily medications to help with my ‘new insides’.

At the time I was told I would do well to get 1 or 2 years, but for the last 9 years I have been living life fairly normally and I am extremely grateful for that. I welcomed 2 grandsons, welcomed our daughter back from America after 10 years. I’ve loved going on adventure holidays and have got involved in all kinds of things ‘Pancreatic Cancer’ – including being involved with Pancreatic Cancer UK and running PANPALS Yorkshire, a support group in Leeds.

We returned home from holiday in mid-March to Covid-19, and everything changed in an instant.

My first concern was our 3 children and their little ones. We wouldn’t see them in person or be able to help as normal which was so upsetting, but we had to distance to keep them safe. I have elderly parents to see to too, who just want to do their own thing which is challenging.

Then we thought about ourselves. My husband Michael is of a certain age so needs to be careful and my body isn’t the same after surgery, my digestive system works in a totally different way now and can cause issues at the best of times. I may be nearing 10 years on, but the effects of the invasive surgery will always be there.

My main concern was my lungs, as one collapsed during surgery and I have quite a bit of lung scar tissue. This isn’t usually an issue, but sometimes affects me on exertion. But I was concerned as the virus clearly affects the lungs, and if I were to contract it I wouldn’t be in the best place to start with

I knew I needed to be extra careful but sought advice from the specialist nurses at Pancreatic Cancer UK.

I sought advice on the Government website, but they can’t cover every illness and treatment on there. The questions they asked didn’t necessarily apply to me and I hadn’t received a letter regarding self-isolation.

I knew I needed to be extra careful, but sought advice from the specialist nurses at Pancreatic Cancer UK, who verified what we thought. I only go out once a week with Michael to get ours and my parents shopping armed with my mask, disinfectant wipes and plastic gloves!

I’m usually so busy, out and about, volunteering at our local hospice and meeting friends and family and now that’s stopped, and it is hard. I’m keeping in touch with PANPALS support group members and also having Zoom meetings with the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance, with whom I help with regards to pancreatic cancer. I’m continuing to run a private Facebook page with my friend for patients, which called ‘Pancreatic Cancer Patient Group UK (Living with and Beyond)’. It’s hugely successful and a great support to so many, especially at this difficult time. I’m also baking more which doesn’t help our waistlines.

It’s been harder as the weeks have gone on emotionally. We are just waiting for the day when we can have cuddles with our adorable boys Leo and Luca and our family and get back to normal…whatever that may mean in the future. I’ll appreciate every single day and be eternally grateful to the medical team who helped me.

May 2020