Vivien was diagnosed with pancreatic adenocarcinoma in 2010, when she was 55.
It began in the Spring when I would get a sharp pain in the middle of my chest at night – I thought it was my heart – one night when it was particularly bad I woke my husband who told me to take 2 ‘nurofen’ and go back to sleep – we do laugh about it now!
I went to the doctor at work as it was easier than going to our local surgery. I believe this saved me! He thought it was severe indigestion and gave me some pills. It did go away but came back again, so I went back to the same doctor who was going to give me more tablets – but decided to send me for an endoscopy as it might be an ulcer. This was in the middle of August. They did find a duodenal ulcer but could not go further down so told me to continue taking the pills, and go back for another endoscopy in 8 weeks.
Someone asked me if I was aware that I was yellow!
A couple of days later at work someone asked me if I was aware that I was yellow! I had not picked it up but after looking in a mirror realised that I was quite yellow and that this was now serious. The symptoms with jaundice are very unpleasant – which explained why I was feeling so poorly. I went to see my local GP who was very good, and did at this point say that the worst it could be was cancer. He made an appointment for me to see a specialist at our local hospital.
At the first appointment with the consultant he admitted me straight away for tests and after about a week it was confirmed that I had a tumour, although at this point it was not mentioned that it was pancreatic cancer. I only found out by writing down what I was having a blood test for – and looking it up on the internet! To say that the ‘reading’ was alarming is an understatement! I spent two weeks in hospital during which time they fitted a stent in order to clear the jaundice and make me fit enough to have an operation.
I would have the Whipple’s Procedure
I was the referred to a specialist hospital for various tests and scans, and was subsequently advised that I would have the Whipple’s Procedure – but in my case they would take out the whole of my pancreas as part of it had already been removed together with my spleen some 32 years ago when I had cancer (Hodgkins) the first time. We did not even know they had taken out part of my pancreas! I asked when they could do the operation, he said wait a minute I will just get my diary and came back and booked it in for 2 weeks time, 2nd November 2010!
It was a seven hour operation
It was a seven hour operation where they removed my pancreas, gall bladder and duodenum and then ‘re plumbed’ everything. It was quite difficult realising that I would wake up a diabetic and at first thought they had not taken it all out but that was short lived once the blood testing and injections started. I went home after 10 days and went back to the hospital at the beginning of December for the results of the operation which sadly confirmed that the tumour was cancerous but the good news was that they had managed to remove it all, and I would now be referred to the Oncology team to decide on my treatment.
This was to be six months of chemotherapy which started in January. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not suffer more; I got away with extreme tiredness and thinning of hair but very little sickness.
The intensive care at the hospital was outstanding – but things did change when I was no longer a ‘critical case’ following surgery. The Oncology Team have been fantastic not only to me, to all those who I have seen receiving treatment.
Something good always comes from something bad
I went back to work at the end of February on reduced hours, which have now increased, but I have now taken early retirement to enjoy life! I have just gone on to annual checks with the Oncology team which is quite scary but I consider myself very lucky. Life is very different now from what it was, for both me and my husband. As I have no pancreas at all, I am clinically Type 1 Diabetic, with the added complication of being unable to digest food without taking enzymes in the form of Creon tablets.
Something good always comes from something bad. We have had unbelievable support from numerous friends and colleagues – several of whom for various reasons we had let our closeness drift. My sister and husband’s brother and their families have been brilliant. Both of the companies for whom we work were incredibly supportive and compassionate. We led mad busy lives before my illness – we were busy being busy. That has totally changed now.
Another good thing to come from my illness is that everyone said that I looked really well throughout – but it does beg the question as to what image people have of those with cancer?!
My husband, Robin, has been amazing and inspirational; I could not have got through it without him. He was inspired to do the 192 mile Coast to Coast walk in order to raise money specifically for Pancreatic Cancer UK and in his words “I had a choice of journey – Vivien had no choice.” We both want to raise the awareness of this cancer and support research, Robin has raised over 30k.
Have I changed? Yes I have and I believe for the better, something good has come from something bad.