For pancreatic cancer survivor Tino Tabacchiera, his experience has given him a new lease on life. Tino has made significant changes in his life post-surgery, especially around food & exercise. These positive changes have increased his energy, improved his fitness up and kept his mind clear.
In early November 2019 Tino noticed some dry blood in his stools. Putting it down to a bug, or something insignificant, Tino didn’t think anything further of it.
By mid-November, Tino started to feel a little unwell. He had some abdominal pain, had lost his appetite and was having trouble sleeping. Not wanting to worry anyone, Tino hoped that it would pass and carried on.
On Wednesday 20th November 2019, Tino’s health issues came to a head. It’s a date he will always remember.
Tino was at work and feeling incredibly lethargic. After a weekly team meeting Tino began to sweat profusely. His abdominal pain was getting worse, and he made the decision to head home and try to sleep it off. On his way home Tino called his GP to make an appointment as he knew that the pain needed investigation. He arrived home at 10.30am having made an appointment to see his GP at 2.00pm. After resting for a few hours Tino woke at 1.00pm and knew that he had to tell his wife, Fiona, how he was feeling and what had been going on.
At the GP, Tino described his symptoms, and after some pushing and prodding, the GP stated that Tino likely had diverticulitis, an inflammation and infection of the colon or large intestine wall. He suggested that Tino take some pain relief and give it a few days to see if there was any improvement. Fiona was not convinced, and seeing Tino in excruciating pain, Fiona insisted that the GP call an ambulance which took him immediately to the Austin Hospital Emergency Department.
Tino remained in hospital for 8 days. He was subject to a battery of tests and investigations and was ultimately diagnosed with pancreatitis. He was then told that he would need to return to hospital so that more tests could be undertaken to determine why the pancreatitis attached had occurred.
After a few days at home Tino returned to the Austin Hospital to meet with a specialist to discuss some of the test results from his previous visit. The specialist advised Tino that they had found an abnormality on his pancreas, stating “we don’t think it’s sinister, but we can’t be sure”. After this review Tino’s symptoms settled down but the words of the specialist stuck in Tino’s head.
Nearly three months after his first trip to the GP, in February 2020, Tino receive a letter to attend the Austin Hospital for a CAT scan. This scan was the first of many tests that Tino would endure over a further four-month period, during COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria, which added to the complexity and strain of the process. During this time Tino had 3 gastroscopies, 3 PET scans, 3 MRI scans, 3 CAT scans, and countless blood tests. During these further investigations specialists found a lesion on his oesophagus, and while this lesion turned out to be non-cancerous, a lesion was also discovered on his pancreas. Tino was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Upon diagnosis Tino couldn’t help but wonder how long he had left. He started planning and putting his affairs in order. However, after a while Tino decided that the only way he could possibly beat the disease was to stay positive and upbeat. He made the decision not to ‘Google’ the cancer or mortality rates and to believe that he could overcome the cancer.
Tino and Fiona made an appointment with a surgeon from the Austin Hospital to explore treatment options. Tino was terrified and nervous but had prepared himself mentally to take on board whatever the surgeon had to say.
The surgeon was incredibly empathetic, acknowledging the time it had taken Tino to secure a diagnosis from his initial appointment. Tino was referred onto a specialist surgeon and on the 21st May 2020, Tino underwent a distal pancreatectomy, where the surgery team removed his spleen and 1/3 of his pancreas in a procedure that took 6 ½ hours.
Tino remembers with clarity the moment he opened his eyes after surgery and saw the nurses faces. After a night in intensive care Tino was given some good news in that his tumour was a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour that was caught at an early stage and had been resected.
Tino knows that he was lucky, and his experience has given him a new lease on life. Tino has made significant changes in his life post-surgery, especially around food & exercise. A lower GI diet has given him an amazing amount of energy and a goal of 10,000 steps a day has kept his fitness up and his mind clear.
Although Tino’s journey wasn’t easy, even with the incredible love and support of his family, his experience has improved his outlook on life. The people he has met along his journey have become friends and allies. Tino is motivated to help others living with an upper gastrointestinal cancer and has used his experience as a trained chef and passionate foodie to develop some delicious and nutritious recipes featured in Pancare Foundation’s PanChef series, in the hope that he can inspire, motivate and provide hope to others.