Sue was diagnosed with a benign IPMT (Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Tumour of the pancreas) in 2010.
First of all, I need to explain that all this happened when I was working in Belgium, so I went through the Belgian medical system, which was very good.
During 2009 I suffered from lumps on my lower left leg. At first my GP thought they were mosquito bites so treated them with a cream. Then, because I had had phlebitis in that leg during 1997, he decided it was linked to that and I had about 100 heparin injections. After that he tried a whole range of medicines but nothing worked.
Finally, in August 2009, when my GP was on holiday, I went to the doctor who did our medicals at work. She peered at the lumps (by now much bigger) and diagnosed pannicultitis. She told me to go to the dermatologist and have a biopsy of one of the lumps. This was done, and the lumps were diagnosed as erythema nodosum (inflammation of the fat cells under the skin), with evidence that the pancreas was involved.
Towards the end of 2009 I saw a consultant in Brussels. He got very excited and took photos of my leg, holding a ruler next to it, to show the dimensions of the lumps. He said my condition was very rare and he would be using the photos in his lectures for many years to come!
A diagnosis of IPMT
In November 2009, I was admitted to the same hospital for an endoscopy. This, together with blood tests and MRIs, showed that I had a tumour on the head of my pancreas.
In February 2010 I was admitted to the same hospital for a Whipple’s operation. The tumour had doubled in size within 3 months and my consultant feared it would be malignant.
During the operation, the surgeons removed the head of my pancreas, my gall bladder, 35% of my stomach, my pylorus and several metres of intestines. But I woke, in intensive care, to the good news that the tumour, an IPMT, was not in fact cancerous.
Recovering from Whipple’s
I stayed in hospital for 3 weeks. For 2 weeks I could not eat or drink anything at all. After that time I started to have small meals and to take Creon. I had lots of physiotherapy while in hospital and by the time I left I was quite strong.
I recuperated at home for 3 more weeks, gradually gaining in strength, and then went away on holiday.
After the operation I lost about 12kg in weight and I have regained about 7kg, but, as I now weigh 80kg and am only 5′ 6″, I am rather overweight, so that is a good result!
It is now 2 years later and I feel I have made a good recovery. While in Belgium, I had MRIs, blood tests, sometimes PET scans, and meetings with my surgeon every 6 months. Now that I am back in the UK, the British consultant says that is completely over the top for a benign IPMT and that he only needs to see me once a year!
Update February 2014
I have now moved to another city to follow a Master’s degree in Translation Studies – life really does go on after a Whipple’s! A really good by-product of moving is that I have found a much friendlier consultant and a really brilliant GP. My previous GP and consultant had refused to test my levels of Vitamin D, despite my pleas that this is considered essential in Belgium. My new GP was only too happy to do this, the tests showed that my Vitamin D levels are very low, and the consultant set up an urgent appointment with him to discuss what to do. I am now on huge doses of Vitamin D and will be tested again in a couple of weeks.
What a great contrast with the ‘care’ I received in my previous UK location – and what a good lesson that we MUST PUSH HARD to get the treatment we need!
Update July 2015
Life is still treating me very well and I want to pass this good news on to others who have had a Whipple’s operation. I have very nearly finished my MA in Applied Translation Studies, just one more assignment, then I will start work as a freelance translator – at the age of 68.
In April 2014 I had an operation to repair an epigastric hernia, a small after-effect of the Whipple. The surgeon repaired the hernia laparoscopically so I just had a couple of tiny scars, and was in hospital for only two nights.
My surgeon will do an MRI every year until I am too old/fragile to undergo another operation on my pancreas. This is because my tumour was in the main duct.
I have blood tests every six months and my Vitamin D levels are closely monitored. I no longer need massive supplements but take a small supplement twice a day – and get as much sunshine as I can.
So, as you can see, there is indeed life after a Whipple’s!