Linda Wyatt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2015 and in time for surgery. Linda tells her story in her own words.
“Before I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was a reasonably healthy and happy 61-year-old who worked full time as a training officer, visiting individual students in their workplaces. We decided to move to Cumbria after my two daughters moved away – one to Australia, the other to Hong Kong!. I have been working for a local college for the last 8 years.
On 29th September 2015, I suddenly began passing black “tarry” stools. Besides taking the day off work, I wasn’t overly concerned and chose to delay talking to my doctor until the following day. When I did, he immediately arranged for me to have an emergency endoscopy in Carlisle Hospital.
It revealed an abnormal-looking ulcer which prompted a referral for a scan at West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven. This scan led to the discovery of a tumour in my pancreas which had spread to my duodenum and had caused internal bleeding.
An endoscopic ultrasound scan was carried out on 2nd November 2016 at The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and the results were revealed two weeks later. It was then that I was told by the consultant that I had Stage 3 pancreatic cancer, and because it was touching the duodenum, another scan was required to assess if I was eligible for surgery to remove the tumour.
I received a letter dated 3rd December saying the scan showed the tumour had not attached itself to any major blood vessels and so was operable. Following a check of my fitness and a pre-op questionnaire, I was recommended for the Whipple’s procedure (surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas and other organs).
Leading up to the operation, I felt extremely well and couldn’t believe that I required the surgery, and often wondered if they had the wrong person!
As I have had deep vein thrombosis in the past, I was admitted to hospital on 22nd December to have a filter inserted to allay the risk of a clot during or after the operation. The main Whipple operation was carried out on 24th December and took 5 hours. Unfortunately, I experienced some leaks afterwards and the wound took a long time to stabilise, due to the medication I have to take for my blood clotting problem. I was in hospital for eight weeks and spent a couple of weeks nil by mouth, to enable the leaks to heal. So I lost two stones in weight. Initially after surgery, you don’t want to eat anything but I am now eating normally and have put on a stone.
I finally came home on 14th February 2016 feeling pretty well. This was not the end of my treatment though as, because I had Stage 3 cancer, there was a small concern about two of the 22 lymph nodes (small swellings in the lymphatic system where lymph is filtered and lymphocytes formed) that were removed so I was recommended for chemotherapy.
I completed a 6 month course of chemotherapy in October 2016 and the only immediate side effect was crushing fatigue. Although I was advised it was not necessary, I requested a final scan, which I had in Newcastle on 17th October. The results were still that there are a couple of enlarged lymph nodes in my abdomen, so I returned for another scan which showed no further concerns. In the meantime, I had also been seen in Carlisle for an examination and blood tests, both of which were not indicative of any further problems.
Fifteen months later, I still experience some digestive problems but have a wonderful GP who listens to even my smallest concerns. I now eat about half what I used to but that is no bad thing and my weight has been stable for many months now.
I cannot pay a strong enough tribute to the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, for the care and education they gave me during my stay. I learnt such a lot from their staff in all departments. I visit every 6 months for a scan, blood tests and consultation. Next appointment is in May this year, but I can’t live with “scanxiety”, so just looking forward to John Lewis and Waitrose (none in Cumbria!).
My advice to anyone dealing with this condition is to be aware of your body and take any persistent ‘niggles’ seriously. When I had a tidy up just before going into hospital, I discovered packets of indigestion tablets in my car, my desk at work, my handbag, my bedside table … everywhere! I simply hadn’t noticed how bad my digestive problems were and I now believe they were perhaps an early sign of pancreatic cancer.
Having a Whipple’s Procedure was not easy but it has saved my life. Without the quick thinking and efficiency of everyone from the GP receptionist through to the surgeon and oncologist, I would not be telling this story. Also, I have become part of a very supportive group of people who have all had the same disease and surgery.
My daughter posted a touching tribute to my strength on her Facebook site but really my strength comes from being stubborn. It is a challenge I could have done without but, I will fight whatever else is to come.”