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Tom’s Pancreatic Cancer Journey

By November 19, 2020 No Comments

“I have been married to Janice for 58 years, we met in Auckland, NZ, and courted for three or so years. We sailed on P&O in September 1962 to honeymoon in Sydney and never returned fulltime to NZ.

During the 1960s we both moved through various businesses individually before Janice settled in horticulture and plant nursery retail marketing, while I ventured into the media specialising in automotive and motoring sports publishing.

Janice and I have two sons; Shane 56, now retired after 26 years as inspector with the NSW Police Force and living in Sydney, and Trent 51, semi retired from his Sydney automotive engineering business and now living in S.E. Queensland.

We have five grandchildren from the boys, and two step-grandchildren. Trent’s daughter is expecting our first great grandchild in February 2021 in Queensland.

Janice and I lived in leafy St Ives for 35 years and 14 years ago built a new home in Warriewood, Northern Beaches.

The feelings of being diagnosed:

Profound shock, mental numbness, wondering “why?” after managing to overcome thyroid and prostate cancers, the latter recovery requiring the continued assistance of, to date, three AMS800 bladder implants over some 14 years.

Having no real knowledge of pancreatic cancer, apart from the often stated five-year average survival, my future suddenly became clouded until I was nurtured back to the reality of facing all the upside possibilities and probabilities by the surgical and oncology team I am so lucky to be associated with to this day.

Positiveness and challenges during the journey:

To their credit, no-one from either side of my medical “team” ever discussed anything other than looking at a positive future. I had nurse associates who visited me constantly during recovery and whom I could call to get any information throughout the tricky parts of this four-year journey, I had team doctor associates who constantly checked on me in recovery assuring me during infrequent low points that “they had my back, and were looking after me”.

All three hospitals gave me excellent treatment at all times, the RNS public ward was a new experience after years of private admissions and the staff at all three hospitals were wonderful to me. Dr Samra’s medical teams and associated personnel like Jenny Arena were outstanding to me and my wife.

They were all so comforting to me that I can hardly praise myself as being stoic when I also had the love, strength and absolute support of my wife throughout the entire exercise. I was challenged admittedly. The chemotherapy was a challenge as you learn what is actually taking place. The massive surgery was hard to face once you understood there were no real limits until the surgical team were well advanced with the operation and could face the reality of the situation.

I was challenged when, halfway through my initial chemotherapy course, my gall bladder gave up one evening. I woke from surgery to find I was classified “toxic” and no-one was allowed in the room other than to eventually dash in quickly and leave me a meal. Tests were somehow carried out at a distance and no visitors or family were allowed. In this instance I was full of Endone, suffered massive haunting hallucinations and thereafter requested I receive alternatives for pain. However, I must gratefully admit that during my four-year journey, I never felt aches or pains, despite five bouts of surgery – the Port, gall bladder twice, Whipple and hernia repair.

I was challenged when I woke up during the night in ICU, alone, on a bed situated amongst banks of machinery, soft lights, dials and readouts, wondering briefly why I felt nothing physically or mentally – and where was everyone before slipping back into oblivion. I have no recollection of actually waking again, only realising later that I was in another light and airy room with my family who told me later I was babbling all sorts of stories.

My PCC experience

Due to various recovery instances I have only been able to attend 4-5 PCC meetings, though I have enjoyed each of them without getting too involved at this stage. The Covid-19 virus upset things for everyone, particularly the hard-working organisers Rosemary and Milton. I am somewhat technology challenged, so have been unable to participate in the latest Zoom practices, but have recommended and passed-on the information to a nearby neighbour who is currently nearing three years from diagnosis and her ultimate surgery. She says she is so pleased to be able to compare journeys with someone. I am still unaware of the goals, aims and forward plans of the PCC, but fully support its efforts.

My biggest change since diagnosis?

Facing the future without regard to what has happened. You try to put on a positive face when your inner being is telling you to constantly take stock of your life, especially at my age. I find myself preparing information in files of what if…. so my family can pick up where I happen to leave off. But then again, I guess anyone should be doing that once they reach my age regardless of what has happened to them.”

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