I’m very proud that the tissue bank will have my tissue for research, and I’m certainly happy to see the back of it! There’s been so much progress in curing other cancers through research, if my tissue can help researchers to develop treatments for those not as fortunate as me that would be absolutely fantastic.
My GP thought I had IBS, but I just knew it couldn’t be that. I was in and out of hospital 15 times over several years. I had periods of intense pain when I couldn’t even walk, my liver tests results were off the scale, I had pancreatitis, developed jaundice and I was throwing up blood. I’d had CT and MRI scans before but nothing had shown up.
On Boxing Day evening 2014, I was in so much pain I went to A&E. They re-did the scans and tests. The doctor at the time thought I had a cyst in the bile duct and suggested an endoscopy, which I had a few weeks later. This showed a “soft cell mass” on my pancreas and a biopsy was taken. I was told it was likely to be a cyst and probably nothing to worry about – but I was recalled. My mum had died of breast cancer aged 51 in 1989 and I knew straight away it was bad news as I could tell that the nurses approaching me in the hospital were cancer care nurses. I was told it was pancreatic cancer and referred to the Royal London Hospital.
My consultant surgeon, Mr Bhattacharya, explained that I’d need an operation to remove the tumour called a Whipples procedure. I told Mr B that I wanted things telling straight, no sugar coating. He was brilliant; he showed me the scan and I could see the tumour – it was a stage 2 tumour, about 3cm long, and had affected 4 lymph nodes. The operation couldn’t come fast enough, I just wanted it out of me. Waiting for the operation date felt like I was holding my breath, unable to breathe out.
I had the Whipples on 5 May 2015 at the Royal London. The surgeon took out most of my pancreas and anything else that had been nearby for too long – around a third of my bowel and stomach, my gall bladder and bile duct. He also took out all 13 lymph nodes, to be on the safe side. About the only thing he didn’t touch was my liver, which he said was fine. The operation took nearly 8 hours and I spent a long time in intensive care afterwards, but I was determined to get home for my son’s 21st birthday in the July.
I’m still recovering really: it’s affected my digestion and without my pancreas producing insulin, I’ve developed full-blown diabetes, which is a daunting prospect to manage. But it’s a small price to pay for a second chance at life and I try to stay cheerful because I’m a positive person. The only time I shed a tear is when the consultant told me that if it had been left any longer, he wouldn’t have been able to operate.
I had a follow-up scan in late November and it was clear. I’d been more scared about this than the operation! Right now, I feel I’ve got my whole life back and am planning all the holidays I missed out on when I was ill!