FLORENCE UNDERWENT A WHIPPLE'S IN MARCH 2013
My name is Florence, I am French and have been living in the UK for many years.
In March 2013, at the age of 51, I was suddenly jaundiced and subsequently diagnosed with a cancer of the Ampulla of Vater (near the head of the pancreas). Within one week of diagnosis, on the 25th March, I was admitted to hospital in Southampton for a Whipple’s procedure, which involves the removal of part of the stomach and pancreas. The surgery lasted 5 hours. I woke up with over 20 various tubes going in and out of me and surrounded by many monitors. The recovery programme post-surgery was very aggressive. As early as Day 2, the nurses ensured that I sat down in the chair for some time and walked the corridors! I spent 4 days in intensive care and then the Easter week-end in the ward. Within 8 days of the surgery, I was back at home. It all happened so quickly (I was playing tennis the week before the surgery), that it is not until I got back home that I really acknowledged the extent and seriousness of what I had gone through.
The first four days following surgery were really very tough. I was feeling in quite a daze for the first 24 hours or so, the nurses kept hydrating my mouth with small sponges. I did not really feel much pain at that stage but felt so weak and so tired, yet not able to sleep! Actually, this is what was most surprising, I did not really feel much pain in the stomach area, the biggest pain was actually in my back.
Fortunately, the shots of morphine helped that, even though I felt a little reluctant to press that button too often. Every day, I would be taken for a walk, pulling around with me all the drips and tubes! Then we started on “solid” food, with consume and jelly! That did not exactly go down too well, particularly the jelly. I still have not quite warmed up to this English delicacy. Fortunately, I was allowed to switch to ice cream. The first couple of days back on food were rather bumpy and I could not always keep the food. The drains eventually came out and on day 4, I was at last moved back to the normal ward. After an initial set-back, recovery was then spectacular. You really realise this when the next morning you see the faces of your loved ones suddenly looking so much more relaxed!
I was so glad to go back home on day 8. The first 2 to 3 weeks remained very difficult, as I could not sleep through the night. No house work was initially possible so my husband took over all house work as well as cooking. This was quite a challenge for him at first, especially as I was very difficult with the food I felt like eating. I was very partial to home-made mash potatoes but could not see the sight of salmon or green beans. Friends rallied to visit, keep company and help as well. The presence of friends and the dynamic created by their visits was also a key contributor to a fast recovery.
The surgery was very successful and at the end of April, we decided that because of the size of the tumour, I would undergo a 6 months chemotherapy treatment in order to reduce risks of re-occurrence. The surgery had achieved clear margins and the tumour was classified as T3 N0 M0. The chemotherapy course was to be 6 cycles of four weeks Gemcitabine, 3 weeks with treatment and one week off. I started my first Chemo session on the 16th May. From the first session, I started experiencing enormous pain in the arm where the drug was going in. That pain increased week after week and after 2 cycles, became unbearable. I was actually crying whilst the product was going through and I am not one who is reduced to tears easily. Eventually, we discussed and decided to proceed with a PIC line. I wish this had been discussed much earlier, as it made such a difference! A minor procedure is required for the PIC line, but it is well worth it. As the weeks went by, I started reacting more and more strongly to the drug. The sessions would take place Wednesdays, I was then out of commission (strong nausea) until Sundays. All the weight I would put on Mondays and Tuesdays, would be lost and more the rest of the week. But as soon as the chemo stopped and I could eat back normally, I started putting on weight again. Nearly two years on from surgery and my weight is now back close to what it was before. Recovery from the surgery was actually amazing and much faster than I would have anticipated. I started tennis lessons again mid-July. Fitness and muscle mass were all gone, but we took it slowly and I was able to play my first ladies doubles match for our club team on December 7th. It takes more or less one year to be back at 100%. I am now leading a completely normal life. I have no restrictions on food and as long as I take the Creon, there are no process issues. I also have to take vitamin supplements, as without a Duodenum, I do not absorb vitamins as well as before.
I will always be so grateful to my surgeon Mr Hilal and his team for giving me a new lease of life. From the first day I met him, he gave me full confidence that I was in the right hands and his continuing care, follow-up and attention to details have continued to prove it.