'Surgery has enabled me to see my daughter qualify as a vet' 

Alan Bentley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to live.

"I began to feel poorly, like I was operating at 60% of my energy levels. I was lethargic, tired and just didn’t know what was wrong. I went to see my local GP, who gave me a blood test, but nothing really came up. 

"A couple of months later, I returned to my GP. By this time, my urine was bright orange and my stools were pale in colour. I’ve since learnt that these are typical symptoms of pancreatic cancer, but my GP still didn’t recognise the condition. 

"It wasn’t until my third visit, when my skin and eyes had turned yellow with jaundice, that my GP looked shocked and referred me immediately to the local hospital. 

"I had an ultrasound, and they discovered a tumour in my pancreas. I was 53. 

"I was told by the consultant that the chances of an operation to remove the tumour were non-existent, as it was in an inaccessible part of the pancreas. Instead I was offered a bypass, which would give me six months to live.

"I was totally shocked by everything I’d heard and was ready to agree. But after talking to my wife and daughter (who was training to be a veterinary surgeon, so had a medical background), I went back to the consultant. My daughter asked lots of questions, and they both insisted I should be referred to a specialist unit. 

"While I was waiting to be referred, I was fitted with a stent (a tube inserted into the bile duct to unblock fluids), which relieved some of the symptoms and made me more comfortable. In the meantime, my wife and daughter contacted my nearest pancreatic specialist unit.

"When I saw the specialist, I was checked for fitness and was recommended the Whipple’s procedure (surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas and other organs). Everything you read about this operation is very negative and it is really serious surgery, but I just saw it as a chance to have some extra time. 

"The operation took nine hours. The worst thing about it was that they put two drainage holes in my side, which took a long time to heal. I have an 18-inch-long scar across my stomach and I was in hospital for three weeks. I was lucky that I didn't develop diabetes after the operation, but I did lose three stone in weight (initially after surgery, you don’t want to eat anything). Now I eat exactly what I ate before the diagnosis, and I haven’t had any major problems at all.

"I also had chemotherapy after the operation. For six months, I’d have five days of chemo and then a three-week break. It made me sick the first time and I had a bad skin rash on my face, but that cleared up and I was given medication for the nausea, which helped. However, it wasn’t a good experience. You’re just beginning to feel better on your third week off and then it starts all over again.

"My advice to anyone dealing with this condition is to make sure you’re referred to a proper pancreatic clinic. And don’t be put off having the Whipple’s procedure. If you can put up with the trauma, it’s definitely worthwhile. 

"In the end, having a Whipple’s has given me wonderful years. It’s enabled me to see my daughter qualify as a vet, to see my son settled, and I’ve had the chance to travel the world. I’ve had a great support team, and I’ve tried to be positive all the way along. I feel every bit as good as I did before the diagnosis."

Page last reviewed: 10/07/2014

Next review due: 10/07/2016