Personal cancer story
I'm a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) worker who has worked in the construction industry for many years. I was 47 years old and between contracts in March 2010 when I woke one morning rubbing my stomach, feeling a lump just below my right ribs. I booked to see my GP, who sent me for an ultrasound. When the ultrasound showed there was something there, I next needed a biopsy.
It was a nervous wait for the results, and a couple of days later the oncologist rang. I had a neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer. The only words I remembered from that call were "pancreatic cancer". I returned home and immediately turned to Google, and it was the worst thing I could have done. After reading the search results, I gave myself three to six months to live. I was devastated as I waited for my wife and daughter to return home for me to inform them of the devastating news.
There were a few very emotional days that followed. Numerous phone calls were made informing family and friends of our challenges ahead. I say "our" challenges because we had to attack this problem as a team and as a family. We had to stay positive.
It helped to get more information and a brochure from Cancer Council on pancreatic cancer - it perhaps wasn't as bad as that first Google search suggested. We then met with doctors to discuss our options, but there weren't many - due to the size of the tumour and its location, it was inoperable. We were offered the Clements 2 Trial Treatment at Fremantle Hospital Nuclear Medicine Department, and I was given four treatments eight weeks apart.
I considered myself extremely lucky as the treatments only required an injection with some minimal chemo tablets as back up, which meant I could continue working. The side effects were minimal, with some nausea and skin rashes.
There was some celebration after viewing my scans and results from the first injection - my tumour had reduced significantly in size. This continued after each treatment, and the tumour appeared to reduce in size even six months after the final treatment. I had six-monthly scans to keep monitoring the tumour, but it appeared to have stabilised. There was some discussion on the possibility of a Whipple procedure to resect the tumour, but we decided to just monitor the progress.
I kept having the scans, and in June 2017 we were shattered to learn that the tumour had started to grow again. My wife and I always knew it would eventually be the case, but after such a long time it was a bitter pill to swallow.
It was time to perform a Whipple procedure. My wife and I met with the surgeon, and after he thoroughly explained the procedure, we were willing to go ahead with it. We were booked for surgery on August 8 at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Perth.
My wife drove me to the hospital on the morning of the surgery. Not a lot was said, as we were both aware of the complexities of the surgery and the risks involved, but we went in with a strong, positive attitude.
I woke in ICU not realising I'd been in surgery for over 12 hours, due to some unforeseen damage to my organs from previous treatment. I was moved from ICU to the ward the following day, and I was walking around and taking myself to the toilet within a couple of days. I had some pain but nothing the pain management team didn't have under control. By day six I was dressed and ready to go home.
At home I struggled with weight loss, and I know that without the constant loving care from my wife my recovery would not have been as advanced. I gradually grew stronger every day.
We met with the surgeon 24 days after the surgery. He was extremely happy with my recovery and signed a clearance for me to return to work. I went back to work 30 days after my procedure.
Now, four months after surgery, I'm feeling great. In fact, I met with my oncologist two weeks ago and he has said that I am now cancer free. What a great Christmas present!
I know there are a lot of people out there who have ongoing battles with cancer, as I did. I believe that I was one of the lucky ones, as my treatment to defeat that horrible beast was only minor compared to what others go through.
I believe that you must remain strong with positive thoughts as you work through your illness. At times, you fight with the voices in your head, and this is when you dig deep to push them aside and move on with life.
I am extremely lucky to have the extraordinary support of my beautiful wife of 26 years and my 25 year old daughter. Without them I would have truly struggled.
Life is short. Be strong and believe in the people around you.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer