Making exercise a priority during treatment helped Don overcome the odds.
Don’s daughter, Amanda, shares their story.
“Our first experience with pancreatic cancer was in 2009 when my uncle, Rod, was diagnosed. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed too late and was unable to have treatment. Rod passed away just four months after being diagnosed. He was 54.
Years later in 2015, my fit and healthy 64 year-old dad, Don, started experiencing fatigue. In the months leading up to his diagnosis, he often commented that he felt like he was lacking motivation and was found napping on couch regularly. He then experienced an unexplainable itch all over his body. Dad is a tough old farmer, and not one to complain so we knew this was unusual.
Instinctively we knew something wasn’t right and sought advice straight away. Dad visited his GP who ordered blood tests, including a liver function test. We were fortunate to have results back the same day which highlighted an issue with his liver. We were referred to a specialist who, despite discussing the family history of pancreatic cancer, didn’t believe the elevated liver results were related to pancreatic cancer and thought it could be gallstones or something less sinister.
Fortunately, dad was referred to another specialist at the Monash Hospital for exploratory surgery to determine the underlying cause. Surgery confirmed that dad did have pancreatic cancer and that he was also eligible for life-saving surgery to remove the tumor, known as a Whipple procedure.
Despite being dad’s best chance for survival, the Whipple procedure is radical surgery. The recovery period was significant, including time spent in critical care before being transferred onto a ward. Dad was determined to have a strong recovery and focused his attention to getting his body moving. However, ten days post-surgery dad experienced complications and his health rapidly deteriorated, so much so that a family meeting was called with doctors to discuss the state of his health.
Dad turned the corner for the best and only five days later I drove him home to continue his recovery. Exercise became a huge part of dad’s journey to getting better. He built up to walking longer distances and commenced chemotherapy six weeks post-surgery. Dad made exercise a priority during his six months of chemotherapy which we believe, along with his positive outlook, helped him immensely. His message for others diagnosed is simple “If you’re alive, you’re still in the game. Put your head down, keep yourself moving the best you can and get on with it.”
Within 12 months of the surgery, dad was back to his full fitness. He is now a 4-year survivor and still makes exercise a priority.
Despite the terrible statistics of pancreatic cancer, we want other families to know there is hope. Do your research, advocate for your loved one, trust conventional medicine and supplement with complimentary therapies if you wish. We’re so happy to have our fun-loving dad and grandpa here with us still, which wouldn’t have been possible without surgery and chemotherapy.”