The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Pancreatic Cancer Part 4. Late joining this series? Catch up on Part 3!
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
Even when symptoms do develop, “they are not a very good way to find the disease,” he says, because they may be confusing to patients and doctors. The symptoms also vary depending on where the tumor is in the pancreas, which consists of a head, body, and tail.
According to the Lustgarten Foundation, the signs, and symptoms of pancreatic cancer that need to be taken seriously include:
- Jaundice (with or without itching), dark urine, or light-colored stool.
- General symptoms such as back pain, fatigue, or weakness.
- Other illnesses, including pancreatitis and new-onset diabetes in an adult.
- Digestive problems, such as unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, malnutrition, nausea or vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Blood clots, which may cause pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the leg, chest pain, or trouble breathing.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms to Take Seriously
Jaundice causes a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Jaundice may also cause signs and symptoms such as itching (which may be severe), dark urine and light or clay-colored stool.
Pancreatic cancer can lead to jaundice when a tumor blocks the bile duct. Bile, produced in the liver to aid digestion, contains a dark yellow substance called bilirubin. If the bile is blocked, it accumulates in the blood, skin, and other tissues, causing jaundice. This is a picture of me (in a hospital gown) and my sister. I had extreme jaundice in this photo and all the symptoms listed in this paragraph.
“The main symptom is abdominal discomfort,” Wolpin says. “That sometimes radiates into the back because the pancreas is in the back of the abdomen.” The pain may be constant or occasional and can worsen after eating or when lying down. Of course, many conditions other than pancreatic cancer can also cause abdominal or back pain which makes this a challenging symptom to attribute to pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer may cause digestive problems and weight loss. When pancreatic enzymes cannot be released into the intestine, digesting food, especially high-fat foods, may be difficult. Over time, significant weight loss and malnutrition may result. If the tumor blocks the upper part of the small intestine, that can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Chemotherapy and surgery if applicable are the common treatments for pancreatic cancer. Another key factor in my healing journey is that I considered chemotherapy a conduit for miracles instead of poison invading my body. I was happy when I could have chemo as it was working to shrink my tumor. I welcomed it.
My chemotherapy began on Feb. 5, 2019. I had Fluoracil chemotherapy referred to as 5 FU’s (which is fun to say!) I had 8 treatments before my surgery. My last chemotherapy treatment was on May 14, 2019.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
I am sharing what my experience was, not everyone will experience the same side effects. I had an almost immediate sensitivity to cold. Touching something cold including room temperature metal faucets, cutlery, or trying to eat or drink anything cool was painful.
I began losing my hair noticeably after the second chemo treatment. I had neuropathy in my hands and feet (loss of sensation) which has improved, I am happy to report.
Also, please be aware that chemotherapy can cause changes in the taste of food and beverages. I love water and was unable to tolerate it for a few months. I could drink hot tea but missed the water which was my favorite. After a few months, water tasted great again.
Before my diagnosis, I loved to eat, and after, eating was a necessity and something I had to force myself to do because nothing tasted “right.” I was able to tolerate bland food best, cream of wheat, toast, English muffins, rice, and potatoes.
I lost 30 pounds in 2 months at the beginning of my journey. During the following months after chemo began and post-surgery, I lost another 20. I did have the weight to lose and have maintained this current weight for the past 6 months.
Another part of my healing journey was surgery, the Whipple procedure. As mentioned earlier, it was borderline if I could have the surgery or not due to the tumor encroaching on a vein. I was happy that the chemo worked well enough that surgery was an option for me. Thank you, Dr. Sherman and staff. Hallelujah.
Here is a brief description of the Whipple procedure courtesy of Wikipedia: Is a major surgical operation most often performed to remove cancerous tumors off the head of the pancreas. It is also used for the treatment of pancreatic or duodenal trauma, or chronic pancreatitis. Due to the shared blood supply of organs in the proximal gastrointestinal system, surgical removal of the head of the pancreas also necessitates removal of the duodenum, proximal jejunum, gallbladder, and, occasionally, part of the stomach.
I reframed the word surgery and used the term, Operation Hope. Surgery was too scary of a word for me, and operation felt better in my mind.
I had my Whipple procedure on June 17, 2019, at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). My surgeon, Dr. Carlos U. Corvera, is a skilled master and such a wonderful man.
He has performed thousands of Whipple procedures, often two per day. The morning of my surgery, I told him, “I have been praying for you,” and he told me “I have been praying for you too.”
I was blessed that he was able to remove the entire tumor without any difficulty at the vein adhesion site, that no lymph nodes were affected and that I had clear margins. Also, another huge victory is that I was able to keep my entire stomach. Amen and Hallelujah.
“If you only carry one thing throughout your entire life, let it be hope. Let it be hope that better things are always ahead. Let it be hope that you can get through even the toughest of times. Let it be hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way. Let it be hope that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now, and that you are on the path to where you are meant to be…because during these times, hope will be the very thing that carries you through.” — Nikki Banas
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this series this time next week!
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