1+ Year Survivor

Patient Story: Gwen

Gwen was experiencing a number of symptoms but only sought a medical opinion after seeing a PCA symptom awareness poster in a service station. She was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure to remove the tumour. This is her story.

“Your poster campaign saved my life, thank you so much”

Gwen (67 at the time) hadn’t been feeling well for a while, she thought it was because she was ‘getting on a bit’. Looking back in hindsight, had she put her symptoms together she might have realised that it was something more serious.

She was experiencing:

  • Upper back pain
  • Indigestion – v painful in the chest
  • Turning yellow
  • Getting pale stools
  • Dark urine
  • Couldn’t eat much
  • Weight loss

Despite all of this, Gwen didn’t go to the doctors.

She was driving back from her daughters and stopped at a service station, funnily enough this was a different one to the one her and her husband usually stopped at.

She went to the loos and saw a poster on the back of the door. The poster, she now knows, was one of Pancreatic cancer Action’s symptom awareness posters. Gwen couldn’t believe what she was seeing. There in front of her were pretty much all of the symptoms that she had been experiencing. She said that although the poster said ‘if you experience any of these, it may be pancreatic cancer, go and see your GP’ she was relieved to know that there was a reason for the way she had been feeling.

She ran out and told her husband: I know what I’ve got”

The next day she researched pancreatic cancer on the internet and got an immediate appointment with her GP. It was the 16th January 2018.

She took a picture of the poster with her and said ‘I think I have pancreatic cancer’. The doctor replied that he wouldn’t be doing his duty if he didn’t agree, although they were hoping it was gallstones. (pancreatic cancer is often misdiagnosed as gallstones, as well as IBS).

Gwen was fast track to have blood tests and a CT scan at her local hospital. After this she started to gradually feel more unwell, she had more tests and was sent home.

Gwen’s symptoms were yet again worsening and she wasn’t well enough to wait for any results. She therefore went back to the hospital. As Gwen was driving to the hospital, they were also calling her to come in immediately as they had found something. They were waiting for her when she and her husband arrived.

Gwen diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Gwen was told she had pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, they caught it early enough and it had not spread. As Gwen was fit and healthy, she was therefore able to have surgery.

She went through all her treatment options, Gwen asked ‘what will happen if I don’t have the surgery?’ – the reply was ‘you will die’.

Gwen went from seeing her GP on 16th January to being on the operating table to have the Whipples procedure on 7th February.

Gwen wasn’t able to have the follow up surgery after the surgery as she was too weak and lost too much weight – she was now under 6 stone.

A few weeks after the operation she  sent home but was still not eating and was getting a lot weaker. After 4 weeks at home not eating and just drinking water she was readmitted into hospital and was told she had the norovirus. She was in hospital a further 6 weeks.

Following her surgery and admissions into hospital Gwen’s mood took a dive and felt very depressed.

Life after Whipple surgery

19 months down the line, Gwen says ‘touch wood’ she is gradually getting much better. She has just come back from holiday with her daughter and grandchildren – something she never thought she would be able to do. Though it hasn’t been an easy journey.

It was a big struggle to manage diet and new medication and she didn’t think she would ever get better.

Gradually she started to build up an appetite and her general health and spirits improved – with the help of some community nurses that came to visit her the second time she went home from hospital. (The first time she was sent home with virtually no support and although the dietician ‘was lovely’ they did not seem to have much know on pancreatic cancer patients and how to help her)

Gwen says that it is so encouraging to see Ali, a 12 year survivor of pancreatic cancer and it gives her hope for the future.

“To hear someone who has been living for 12 years it was absolutely wonderful.”

“The longer it goes on it doesn’t upset you anymore you have to learn to live in new ways, learn to live a new normal and get into a routine”