Personal cancer story
My daughter, Jamaica, is a pancreatic cancer survivor.
At age 16, in December 2015, she was diagnosed with a pseudopapillary tumour of the pancreatic tail.
There were hardly any signs or symptoms. Jamaica was a completely normal, happy and presumably healthy teenager until she woke up one night with extreme stomach pain and vomiting. I was overseas at the time, and Jamaica and my son, Jordan, were under the care of my sister.
When the pain didn't go away, Jamaica and her aunty went to the GP, who did some tests and examinations. When the doctor pushed down on her stomach, Jamaica cried out in pain. At that point, she was rushed to hospital for tests.
I hurried home, and when I arrived back in Brisbane, Jamaica and I were told to visit a doctor for the results of all the tests. Before we got to the office, I had no idea what type of doctor it was, but when I saw ‘oncologist’ on the wall I knew it wouldn't be good news.
The time spent in the oncologist's office was like a nightmare. He told us that they had found a large mass on her pancreas, attached to her spleen. He explained that even though the growth was less than half the pancreas, he would have to take out more, just to ensure that there would be nothing left. As the pancreas tail was touching the spleen he said he’d have to take that out as well.
Jamaica and I just sat there for a while, taking it all in. My heart was breaking. Eventually I think it all dawned on her and she started to cry. At that point we cried together and I held her hands in mine. I looked at her and said, "We can do this, Jamaica."
Once she had composed herself, we started to ask questions. I needed to find strength because if I wasn't strong, I wouldn't be able to carry her burden as well. The oncologist was incredible and told us exactly what was happening and what we could expect. I was so grateful that he already had things planned and in place for us. He said that we were going to do this together, and he really did, from beginning to end. He gave us a lot of hope, which we needed.
On 11 January 2016, Jamaica had her surgery. The operation that was supposed to be five hours went for eight hours, but it went well.
The recovery was difficult for her. During her time at the hospital, she was on a strict no-solids diet – only water and juice – so she lost a lot of weight.
Jamaica came home a couple of days after her surgery, but it wasn't long before we had to return. She was feeling sick and having problems with the drainage bag. The doctors didn't know what was happening but they had to keep her in hospital because of the amount of fluid that was coming out into her bag. They said they would only keep her for two days, but it ended up being two and a half weeks.
After a week, they still couldn't find what the matter was and I was beginning to worry about Jamaica's mental state. She was emotionally drained and irritated. She would reject the medication and injections that she needed. We did a lot of activities to try and turn her around mentally. We talked about what she could look forward to and made a poster of positive thoughts every day.
In the second week they found that the pancreas was overworking and it was collecting a lot of fluid where the spleen was, and that there was a bacterial growth. They put her on the right antibiotics and also put her on a nasal feeding tube straight into the small intestine. This meant the pancreas did not need to work as hard. This was really tough for Jamaica because even though she was getting all the nutrients she needed, there was no food in her stomach and her brain was telling her that she was starving.
The doctors told us we were lucky that the tumour had been found when it was. If it had burst, it would have spread. Later, they tested the lymph nodes around the area and found that there were no cancer cells present. The surgeon was confident that they had taken everything they needed, and a blood test confirmed that Jamaica was cancer free and that she wouldn't need any chemo or further treatment. It was a huge relief for all of us.
We do not have a family history of cancer so it really was the last thing on my mind as a mother. We are so grateful to our GP who sent Jamaica for an ultrasound, otherwise she may have been treated for something else and the cancer would have continued to grow.
We really want to encourage people to be healthy and do what they can to reduce their cancer risk. Also [we encourage] people to listen to their bodies, and if they notice anything unusual to get it checked out, and to participate in screening programs to find cancer early.
Jamaica is now 18, and will be on antibiotics for the rest of her life, as well as aspirin to thin her blood. She wears a bracelet that says she does not have a spleen and needs to be very mindful of getting sick.
Jamaica's experience has made her more adamant to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse – and we have now learnt that she has been accepted to study nursing! I’m so proud of everything she has achieved.
The whole experience has left us more grateful than ever – even though we have been touched by cancer, it was a blessing that we found it at the right time. We know we were lucky.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer