Simon's Story - Surving Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

Simon Vickerman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014 and was worried that he wouldn’t survive.

Cancer had never affected me or anyone in my family, and I was generally a healthy and happy man until all of a sudden, after my 40th birthday, I began to feel poorly. I was operating at half my usual energy levels.

I soon began to experience agonising back ache, stomach ache and lost a significant amount of weight. I moaned a lot about it to my wife but carried on regardless, until my wife called to tell me she had booked me an appointment with the doctor.

I visited my doctor and told him that I had been feeling unwell and had a feeling that something was wrong. As a rare attender to the doctor surgery with a history of good health, my GP instinctively thought it was worth investigating further suspecting it was IBS or Crohn’s disease. I was booked in for an MRI scan in August 2015.

Surgery has enabled me to see my son turn 16.

Following the scan, I received a letter inviting me to an appointment with a surgeon who specialised in the pancreas. I had never heard of the pancreas before this appointment. The appointment went well and I was told ‘not to worry about but we’ve found something on your pancreas and could be just a cyst.

’ In the following days, there were a number of investigations carried out to find out more about the cyst. First I had a colonoscopy but they had to stop as I was in far too much pain, so then I had an endoscopy, which involves having a tube that has a camera, to examine my digestive tract and it was then that they discovered a tumour located on the tail of my pancreas.

I was told by the consultant that it was likely to be cancer. On hearing the word ‘cancer’, I went into shock and didn’t know what to expect. I asked lots of questions including ‘will I survive’ but he wouldn’t tell me anything apart from that they needed to operate to remove the tumour.

"I was totally shocked by everything I'd heard and was ready to agree.

"When I saw the specialist, I was checked for fitness and was recommended for a distal pancreatectomy (where bottom half of the pancreas is removed by a surgical procedure). I was worried about the operation but I just saw it as a necessity to remove what was likely to be a cancerous tumour.

"The operation took seven hours. The worst thing about it was the recovery afterwards. The epidural I was given to manage the pain came out and no-one at the hospital was aware. I was sent to the high dependency unit where I was given tramadol that sent me a bit loopy and I even called my wife in the middle of the night to tell her the dog had run away. Eventually I was given suppositories that helped ease the pain and finally started to recover.

“Five days after my operation, I began to eat better and felt ready to go home so I discharged myself. My wife took care of me with the assistance from the district nurse at our local GP surgery.

“While recovering at home, I received the results from the analysis of the tumour. It was Stage 2 neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer, which had grown considerably in size since it was first found. I was pleased when I was told that they had ‘got it early and out in time’. I didn’t even need to have any further treatment.

“I was scheduled to have a scan every three months from then. In November 2015, I was given the all clear.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been completely smooth sailing as I developed a hernia across my scar line, which is caused when the scar tissue weakness and a bulge forms in the abdomen. It happens in about 10 per cent of patients following abdominal surgery but is common for those who have had distal pancreatectomy procedure. I was admitted to hospital on 12th September to have an operation to deal with this, and so far, so good.

“Although I have had issues since my operation, I feel lucky that I didn't lose my spleen, which is next to the pancreas and is often removed, or need any chemotherapy following the surgery. I do have to take Creon to aid digestion and pain killers as and when required, and omeprazole (for gastroesophageal reflux) but aside from that I haven't had any major problems at all.

"My advice to anyone who might suspect they have symptoms not normal for them, DO NOT IGNORE THEM and go to the doctor. And if you’re not happy with one doctor’s diagnosis, go to another one.

  "In the end, I feel like being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in time for surgery was like dodging a bullet! Having surgery has given me a second chance at life. It's enabled me to see my son turn 16 and look forward to the future.”

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