It took over six months to di­ag­nose my pan­cre­atic can­cer

Around one in three pan­cre­atic can­cer pa­tients vis­its the GP three or more times be­fore be­ing re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist. Chris edmonds was one of them

Woman & Home - - Editor's Letter -

one woman shares her ex­pe­ri­ence

Chris, 64, from War­wick­shire, is mar­ried with two chil­dren and two grand­chil­dren, and works as an ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­tant.

the first symp­tom, in sum­mer

2014, was a “flut­ter­ing” be­low my right rib. i didn’t dwell on it as i was busy with prepa­ra­tions for my daugh­ter naomi’s wed­ding, hus­band Gra­ham’s mile­stone birth­day and an Of­sted in­spec­tion. iron­i­cally, my brother-in-law, dave, had been di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer a year ear­lier and had only months to live. But i’d al­ways been healthy.

the symp­toms per­sisted and by Oc­to­ber i’d be­gun to ex­pe­ri­ence dis­com­fort across my back. i saw the GP, who didn’t think it much to worry about, but did a blood test and pre­scribed a re­flux medicine, say­ing if this didn’t help within a fort­night to come back. i went back, this time see­ing a locum who or­dered an ul­tra­sound scan. while wait­ing for the scan, my symp­toms be­came worse with sen­sa­tions that i can only de­scribe as like trapped wind in my up­per back, es­pe­cially at night. i had the scan but there was too much gas in my ab­domen for the pan­creas to be seen prop­erly.

Back at the surgery a third time, i was re­ferred to a gas­troen­terol­o­gist. i’d be­gun to sus­pect pan­cre­atic can­cer, but it seemed too much of a co­in­ci­dence with dave. the con­sul­tant didn’t seem un­duly con­cerned and said to re­turn after Christmas if there was no im­prove­ment, when a Ct scan could be ar­ranged.

Over Christmas, the whole fam­ily had a vi­cious stom­ach bug so i at­trib­uted the di­ar­rhoea i’d now de­vel­oped to that.

Fi­nally, in Fe­bru­ary, i had the Ct scan. two days later, i got a call ask­ing me to see the gas­troen­terol­o­gist that evening. My worst fears were re­alised: it was pan­cre­atic can­cer.

i grabbed Gra­ham’s hand. we both knew the statis­tics only too well. eight out of ten pa­tients are not di­ag­nosed un­til the can­cer is at an ad­vanced stage, mean­ing surgery is not an op­tion. And only 20% of those di­ag­nosed sur­vive one year or more, while less than 7% sur­vive five years, fig­ures that have barely shifted in 40 years. i couldn’t bear that my lovely hus­band, hav­ing just lost his brother, was now fac­ing los­ing his wife. Our daugh­ter, naomi, had just told us she was ex­pect­ing our first grand­child. it should have been a joy­ous time, but in­stead i was hav­ing to break it to our chil­dren that i might not sur­vive the year.

i was re­ferred to Queen el­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal Birm­ing­ham, where i learnt that my tu­mour was en­tan­gled around two major blood ves­sels – mean­ing i was un­suit­able for surgery. But the news >>

The con­sul­tant didn’t seem con­cerned

wasn’t all bad. Just two years ear­lier, noth­ing could have been done. But now there was Folfiri­nox, a com­bi­na­tion of four chemo­ther­apy med­i­ca­tions, which might shrink the tu­mour to the point where surgery might be an op­tion. But, i was warned, it can cause se­vere side ef­fects – so is only an op­tion for peo­ple who are oth­er­wise fit and well. Luck­ily, i fit­ted the bill.

i started chemo in march 2015 and didn’t feel sick, lose all my hair or my ap­petite. By June, the tu­mour had shrunk and the doc­tors thought they could op­er­ate. By this time my son, ni­cholas, 33, was en­gaged to his fi­ancée, Katharine, 30, and had hastily ar­ranged a July wed­ding, hop­ing i would still be alive. after more chemo­ther­apy to pre­vent the tu­mour grow­ing back, i was able to be there. it was a won­der­ful oc­ca­sion and i danced un­til mid­night.

two weeks later, i was ad­mit­ted for the long and com­plex whip­ple pro­ce­dure – the most com­mon op­er­a­tion for pan­cre­atic can­cer. it in­volves re­mov­ing the head (wide part) of the pan­creas, the gall blad­der, the duo­de­num (first part of the small in­tes­tine), a small por­tion of stom­ach called the py­lorus, and lymph nodes near the head of the pan­creas. the sur­geon then re­con­nects the re­main­ing pan­creas and di­ges­tive or­gans.

i was ex­pect­ing to lose my pan­creas, pos­si­bly my gall blad­der and def­i­nitely my spleen. i knew, too, that re­mov­ing the pan­creas, which con­trols in­sulin and blood glu­cose, can trig­ger di­a­betes. But they dis­cov­ered the tu­mour had shrunk – so in­cred­i­bly only part of my pan­creas was re­moved and no other or­gans. to­day, al­though lth ugh i have a re­plumbed di­ges­tive sys­tem and have to take pan­cre­atic en­zymes to en­able diges­tion, i don’t have di­a­betes, and feel well. i swim, walk my beloved dog and am get­ting back into yoga. i had a check-up two months ago and the signs are so en­cour­ag­ing that i now only need check-ups once a year.

with hind­sight, i re­alise i had not been “me” for some time and should have per­sisted in con­vey­ing that from the out­set. my mes­sage to other women? Lis­ten to your body – if you have un­usual symp­toms, seek med­i­cal ad­vice.

Chris Edmonds still leads a nor­mal life

Happy fam­i­lies, Chris at son Ni­cholas’s wed­ding; with grand­daugh­ter Jes­sica

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.