Norman Whitwood

We are extremely sad to hear that Norman Whitwood, Pancreatic Cancer Action supporter and friend, passed away on 24th October 2018 after a 6 year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Norman WhitwoodNorman tells the story, in his own words, of his experience with pancreatic cancer.

I had been running for three years when in May 2012 I suddenly felt unwell in that way when you know it is something different! I was in Falmouth for a few days following the Jubilee weekend, looking forward to running somewhere different. But I just didn’t feel up to it, which was unusual. I later realised that I was beginning some of the typical symptoms of pancreatic cancer – vague weariness, loss of appetite, constipation and yellow stools.

When I got back I went straight to my doctor and she ordered a comprehensive range of blood tests. They were all clear except the bilirubin count, which was already very high. That is a sure sign of a bile duct blockage and a possible gall stone, or a tumour. As I had none of the usual gall stone pain we realised that it was something else and she referred me to a specialist immediately. By then I was also losing weight fast and turning yellow!

To cut a long story short, I had scans and found the tumour in the bile duct. A stent was  inserted to clear the bile duct temporarily so that I could digest and put on weight and got an early operation on 17 August 2012 at the Royal Free in Hampstead, North London, a centre for Gastroenterology. The surgeon Mr Rahman did a fantastic, very neat job on my Whipples procedure and I started chemotherapy in October for six months. The Creon enzyme supplements work well, although I have to avoid over-eating. That has been difficult because my appetite has always been very good!

Being slim and fit made an enormous difference. Largely as a result, the operation was ‘very simple and straightforward, with no transfusion required’. I made a steady recovery and started walking then running after a couple of months. When I could run about three miles without stopping I went back to my running club and got dragged around until I was somewhere close to where I had been in terms of endurance. I also signed up for weekly sessions with a personal trainer to build up strength and muscle, having lost about 12 kilos of body mass. I ran the Herts 10k in October 2013 in the pouring rain and booked the Silverstone Half marathon and the Milton Keynes marathon as targets for 2014.

This has all worked out well and my efforts have all been very worthwhile. I ran the Silverstone half marathon on 2 March. That was emotional because that was my last event two years ago before I was ill. The MK marathon is on 5 May and I will be gathering all the sponsorship I can for Pancreatic Cancer Action.

I was lucky. Because I was fit I knew immediately that something unusual was wrong – very important! So I got myself checked and diagnosed relatively quickly. Also my tumour was not too developed and operable. Plus, because I was fit I stood the chemo well and my recovery has been progressive and bearable – apart from pounding out the miles!

The surgeon saved my life, but being fit and quickly aware that something was very wrong, and standing up to the procedure well also made a massive difference.

The cancer interrupted my plans to run my first marathon in 2012, so Milton Keynes on 5 May is to make up for lost time and achieve what is now a lifetime ambition. It will be a major triumph for me and on behalf of all sufferers – I can’t wait.