Survivor Story: 5+ survivor

Patient Story: George Weir

George was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2015 and is grateful for the speedy reaction from his doctor after he began to experience symptoms including jaundice.

“Early diagnosis is paramount in fighting this disease and it is so important to attend your doctor and raise your concerns should you find any of the symptoms listed below.”

Experiencing a number of symptoms

I had never heard of pancreatic cancer until October 2015. After feeling slightly unwell and noticing an itchiness/yellowing of skin colour, dark tea coloured urine and pale unformed bowel motions, I arranged an appointment to see my doctor which later proved to be a life-saving decision.

My appointment was with the ‘locum doctor’ who was covering my usual doctor’s surgery.  I explained my symptoms to her and the doctor suggested that I have blood tests taken and asked if I had any pain or discomfort in my abdominal area which I hadn’t. She suspected that I had a gallstone blocking my ‘bile duct’ which was causing me to go Jaundice and suggested that I attend A&E for further treatment. After being seen by the A&E consultant at Daisy Hill, an appointment was made for me to attend the male surgical ward the following Monday.

The diagnosis

After undergoing an Ultrasound scan I was advised that a sinister mass had been found in the head area of my Pancreas. At first I did not understand the severity of my situation but this soon changed as the diagnosis was explained to me. Only approximately 15% of patients with a pancreatic mass are able to have it surgically removed.  The operation known as the ‘Whipple’ procedure is one of the largest operations that a person can have in their abdominal area. Viewed by surgeons as one of the most complicated operations one can conduct, the ‘Whipple’ operation is only carried out by the most highly skilled and experienced surgeons. In Northern Ireland only three surgeons conduct the surgery and all operations are carried out in the ‘Mater Hospital’ in Belfast.

Undergoing a Whipple procedure

Thankfully after having extensive investigations, my condition was deemed operable and in early December I underwent the 5 hour operation to have the cancer removed. The operation removes approximately 40% of the pancreas, gall bladder, a section of the stomach, the first section of the small bowel (duodenum) and part of the bile duct. Extensive reconstruction of the abdominal organs are then carried out to rejoin the remaining pancreas to the stomach and remaining small bowel. The operation was successful and after 9 days I was able to return home and commence a 6 month course of chemotherapy to help fight any remaining cancer cells.

I have so far been extremely lucky with this disease. Pancreatic Cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose due to its vague and unspecific  symptoms. Often the symptoms patients present to doctors are similar to many other less critical conditions.  By the time Pancreatic Cancer is diagnosed it is too late for surgery and the patient has to rely on chemotherapy only. I owe my life to the suspicions of my local doctor and the ‘Red Flag’ system that exists within the NHS which prioritises undiagnosed medical cases. Had it not been for the speed and urgency of the necessary scans to diagnose my condition things would have turned out very different for me. I cannot express enough my gratitude to Dr Draffin (Rathfriland Surgery), the Surgical Consultants (Daisy Hill Hospital), Mr Thomas Diamond ( Hepatobiliary Surgeon Mater Hospital), Mr Martin Eatock (Belfast City Hospital) and the many people who sent cards, gifts and messages of support during a very anxious time.

Life after treatment

Hopefully my journey with cancer will continue to be a positive one.  Early diagnosis is paramount in fighting this disease and it is so important to attend your doctor and raise your concerns should you find any of the symptoms listed below.  Previously if I felt ill, I always felt that going to see the doctor got in the way of life and that I would feel better in a few days. I sometimes felt embarrassed at the thought of explaining my symptoms and having examinations.  I’m so glad that on this occasion I didn’t take that mindset.

My advice is arrange the doctors appointment straight away and forget about being embarrassed. Your health is more important and the doctors seen and heard it all before. I hope this article helps raise awareness of the disease and allows me to pay back some of the good fortune I have had by since being diagnosed.