Yvonne: Diagnosed 2008

YvonneI would like to begin by saying I am not a sickly person. I am headteacher in a tiny village school and I never take time off work. I was 56 at the time and before my diagnosis the last time I had a day off sick was in about 1992.

In the autumn of 2005 I was diagnosed with proctitis which is a type of ulcerative colitis. Over the following two and a half years I had a colonoscopy and went for regular check ups at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, however at Easter 2008 I suffered from pains in my abdomen which recurred in August 2008 (it turned out the pains were nothing to do with my cancer). I went to see my consultant and explained about the pains and also the fact that I had not been feeling particularly well. I had been feeling low and weepy, no other symptoms. He was unable to tell me what was wrong and so reluctantly I feel, he sent me for a CT scan, which was to result in saving my life.

After a few weeks I had not received any results and I remember phoning the hospital to ask if there was any news. Then one Friday I received a phone call at school asking me to go for an MRI scan on the following Monday. There was a space which had come up.

I remember going on my own that Monday in November for the scan. I arrived and the consultant asked me if I knew why I was there. I said no and he told me there was possibly something wrong with my pancreas. I replied that I did not know anything about this, no one had told me. All this took place in the waiting room in front of other patients by which time I was crying and he took me into his office for a chat. He was very kind, he told me they would be going through the scans on Thursday and so I had the scan. When I arrived home I found a letter from the hospital mentioning there may be a problem with my pancreas so I did not go back to school I cried, I was in shock. The only thing I could find out on the internet was a possibility of pancreatitis which is brought on by excessive alcohol! That was not me.

I was eventually called to see Professor Kingsnorth at Derriford within the following two weeks. He told me there was a shadow on my pancreas and therefore I would need an operation to remove a possible tumour. He was very kind, drew me a diagram and explained what would happen.

On Wednesday January 28th 2009 I was admitted to Derriford for my operation. The operation was successful, hospital was terrible and so after begging to be allowed home I returned through the snow the following Tuesday.

I recovered very quickly and was out walking with the dog and driving after 6 weeks, I felt great but then I had to go back and see Prof Kingsnorth.

When I arrived at the hospital with my husband we waited and I saw the specialist nurse with her briefcase and so I knew it was not going to be good news.

As I suspected, there was a tumour which was stage one, about 12mm and cancerous. I would need six months chemotherapy but as I had recovered so well I could begin my treatment two weeks early.

I met my oncologist very soon afterwards. She was kind, helpful and explained what was to be done,this was to be the very worst experience of my life.

I endured six months (17 sessions) chemotherapy, injections, blood tests, needles, severe nausea, sickness, constipation, strained intercostals, hair thinning. Soaking hands in water to get the needles in, it was vile and I hated it but I went every time as I knew I had to get better for me and my family.

Illness does take its toll on those you love. My daughter was doing her masters degree at the LSE. Her professor was very kind and sympathetic as not only was I ill but her paternal grandfather became ill and died. My poor husband was making round trips to Plymouth, Barnstaple and home whilst still trying to work every day!

Still not feeling at my best I returned to school in July 2009 as a phased return. It was great to be back and an absolute tremendous joy to see the children again, they were like sunshine.

I completed my treatment in August 2009 and since then have had regular six monthly check ups. Most of the time I feel fine but always coming up to the appointments, I worry and there are black moments however I have a different view of life now and am so glad to be around and to be with my beloved daughter, husband and dog. What I really love though is when people are surprised when I say I have been treated for cancer and they tell me how well I look, it’s the best feeling.

I know I am very lucky but I have no idea why this has happened to me. No one can give me an explanation or a reason why I should have this dreadful illness. The rubbish stuff was worth it but I am terrified at the thought of having to go through this again or worse if it returns.

Pancreatic cancer should be given more publicity and brought to the notice of the public just like breast cancer and prostrate cancer.

Yvonne, January 2011

Update: On 15th May 2014, five years from her diagnosis Yvonne visited her oncologist and told the amazing news that she was cancer free and has been signed off from hospital. Congratulations Yvonne!

Update 15/02/2016: “It is now seven years since my surgery and treatment, I’m so lucky to be here and think about that every day.”

Read Yvonnes latest update from March 2017.