Cancer and Chemotherapy

The last couple of posts, here on my personal blog, have been about my health issues and diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer.  Since then I’ve spent eight weeks in hospital at Monash Clayton following the “Whipples Procedure” surgery, which removed the head of my pancreas, Gall Bladder and part of my intestine.  The operation its self was a success, but subsequent complications and infection kept me in hospital longer than originally expected.  Even after I was eventually allowed to go home, I was re-admitted twice more following further complications.

Not only has cancer been tough on my health, this time has been really tough on my family and finances (I haven’t worked since March).  Thankfully we’ve received a lot of support from friends and family, and our employers have been very understanding and supportive.  I’m really glad I signed up for Income Protection insurance some time ago, I don’t know how we’d be surviving right now otherwise!

Since leaving hospital I’ve been doing regular physio/rehab to rebuild my health, strength and fitness.  I’ve also began a six month chemotherapy course, where I attend Monash Moorabbin hospital fortnightly for twelve sessions.  Even though my surgeons believe they were able to remove all of the cancer from my pancreas, the chemotherapy should minimise the risk of any stray cancer cells causing a problem in the future.  Unfortunately the chemo comes with some side affects, but so far they haven’t been as bad as we were told they could be.

Cancer Video Updates

Rather going into detail about everything here, I’ll refer you to a series of YouTube videos I’ve been making to keep friends and family updated on my cancer journey.  At the time of writing, my Cancer Playlist has five videos.  That number will increase as I publish further updates.

You can view my cancer and chemotherapy videos at this YouTube link…
www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMW46fXcTq_JmrNOKlnAHTTpeR4gopXqf 

Cancer Surgery

I explained in my previous blog post that I was in hospital with what is more than likely a cancerous growth on the head of my pancreas.  Tomorrow I’m having major surgery to remove the tumour, which will also mean loosing the head of my pancreas, gall bladder, part of the bile duct and part of my bowel.  Yep, it’s pretty full on!

I’m thankful I was allowed to come home for a week, after 10 days of hospital tests, before going back in tomorrow morning.  This morning I recorded a video for YouTube and Facebook to explain to friends and family what’s been going on, and to thank all those special people who have offered their best wishes and support.

Check out the video below.  I will post updated when I can.

Thanks.

I’m in hospital

As I write this, from beside my hospital bed, I’ve spent the last eight days in two different hospitals.  All of that time has been the investigation phase, as the doctors try and work out what’s going on.

It started two weeks ago, just feeling sick.  I thought I had eaten too much, but the feeling didn’t go away.  Then I noticed my urine had become very dark, and it was hurting to pee.  My GP had some blood tests done, when we went in for the test results the she said my liver function was off the chart and I should go straight to hospital.

The early diagnosis was gallstones, but an ultrasound ruled that out.  Then a CT scan found a growth on my pancreas, that was compressing my bile duct.  The lack of bile flowing through was the reason for my symptoms.  An MRI scan has since established a very high chance the growth is cancerous.  Tomorrow they are putting an ultrasonic camera down my throat for a definitive look.

If tomorrow confirms what the doctors suspect, then major surgery awaits.

Simon Yeo, waiting in hospital

Waiting in hospital

This blog post isn’t seeking sympathy (I’m getting lots of support from family, friends and work colleagues).  Rather this, and subsequent posts, are more like a personal diary to keep track of the timeline, and a record (in my own words) of whats happening.

Hospital, Surgery, Recovery

Hospital Room Panorama

The past nine days have been horribly painful, but I knew my hospital stay was coming.  I went under the knife last Tuesday, having major abdominal surgery to address a bowel issue and repair a hernia, both related to an even bigger operation 14 years ago.

The Pain and Drugs

Lets be honest, having your chest and stomach opened with a knife is always going to hurt, I certainly remember the pain from 2002, but I still wasn’t prepared.  I took a heap of magazines to the hospital with me to catch up on some reading and thought I’d get the family to bring in my iPad for movie watching on day two or three.  Most of my time, however, was just spent laying in the uncomfortable hospital bed, or sitting in an equally uncomfortable hospital chair.  Despite all the pain killing drugs being pumped into me, thinking about anything else was difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, the “Pain Team” at any hospital do an amazing job.  Even with my allergy to morphine, they managed to keep my pain scale rating in the early days to around 3 or 4 (out of 10) – until I moved.  I was horrified when they told me  it was time to start removing the pain drugs, but they were right, after five days or so the oral pain killers were enough to keep things under control.

Dreaming

There is a side affect to the pain drugs pumped into your body after surgery – dreams.  Really realistic, and sometimes scary, dreams.  Replays of childhood nightmares not experienced for decades.  I even visited my grandparents property as it was in the 1970’s, every detail just as it was during my childhood.

Thankfully my dreaming returned to normal (the sort of dreams normally forgotten in the morning) once the drugs had been wound back.

Hospital Food

In the early days after surgery, all I could have was “sips” – little sips of water or small ice cubes.  With this type of operation the bowel will become inactive for days afterwards (after my 2002 surgery it took three weeks for my bowel to become active again!), so until then there cant be any solid food going in.  Even once there is a little bit of activity from the bowel, you still have to take it easy, or food will come out the way it went in.  Initially that means a clear broth, then soups before basic solids like bread.

After around six days I was able to eat normally, although keeping portion sizes small was best.

Hospital Meal - Soup, meat with vegies, followed by jelly and ice-cream.

Soup, meat with vegies, followed by jelly and ice-cream.

Australia’s Health System

We gave away Private Health Insurance some time ago, as it had just become too expensive, so we’ve been dealing with the Public Health System.  A few weeks after my last hospital stay we had a meeting with surgeons who explained my condition and the type of surgery needed.  They also explained I would have to endure a three month waiting list before I could be squeezed into surgery.  Thankfully my symptoms didn’t return while I was on the waiting list, so I was able to keep working throughout.

Ten weeks later I received a call to say the public hospitals were still full, but they were going to utilise space in the Private system to get me done.  So three months to the day after being told of the three month waiting list, I was admitted for surgery in a Private Hospital, as a public patient.  Of course Australia’s health standards are so high that the treatment in any facility would be almost identical.  The only benefit of a Private Hospital over public, as far as I can tell, is free TV, slightly better meals and the option of a private room (I declined and told the nurses to give it to someone who has paid for the privilege).

Victoria’s 4:1 nurse to patient ratio meant I always received the best of care.  It really is amazing the work our nurses do!  I felt compelled to leave the team of nurses on my ward a Thank-You Card when I was discharged.

My surgeon was great too, checking in on my progress every day, even on his way to his son’s weekend soccer match!

Recovery

Abdominal surgery wound showing staples

Surgery Wound & Staples

After the last drainage tube had been removed, and the surgeon has said I can go home “tomorrow”, that last day is spent being bored while the nurses still monitor everything – just to be sure.  The images and Instagram posts you see in this blog post are the result of my final day boredom.  I also managed to read a few of those magazines mentioned earlier and a few short walks (which still hurts) around the ward.

During my final night in the uncomfortable hospital bed I noticed more coughing, snoring, nurses talking and machines that go “ping” than any other night, but unhindered by any attached hoses I was able to roll into a semi comfortable position and string together a few hours sleep.

Now I’m at home, and glad to be sleeping in my bed, but I’m still bored.  I’m supposed to walk up and down the house as much as I can to help rebuild my strength.  I even walked to the letterbox this morning to get some Sun on me, but then felt I’d wasted that energy when there was no mail!

Also on my first full day at home today I’ve managed to watch three hours of breakfast television, a documentary on the Bacardi Rum manufacturing process and parts of the United States political convention, including presidential speeches, that were being shown live.  Oh, and write this really long blog post you’re reading now!

In five days time I see the surgeon again (or at least his nurse) to have the many staples removed from the wound.  Another week or so after that I might be able to go back to work on light duties.

All of this will have been worth it after three to six months when my fitness has returned and my insides are working as they should.

Hospital Room View

The view from my hospital room.