Pancreatic Cancer Survivor
In early November 2019 Tino Tabacchiera noticed dry blood in his stool when using the toilet. He initially put it down to a stomach virus or something insignificant and never gave it another thought.
However, by the middle of the month 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, he kept his ailments to himself and hoped whatever was troubling him would eventually resolve itself. It didn’t. On Wednesday, 20 November 2019, Tino’s health issues came to a head and it’s a date he will always remember.
“I was at work and feeling incredibly lethargic. After a weekly team meeting I began to sweat profusely. My abdominal pain was getting worse and I decided to head home and try to sleep it off. Along the way I called my GP to make an appointment as I knew the pain needed investigation.”
He made an appointment to see his GP in the afternoon and after resting a few hours woke up. It was time to tell his wife, Fiona, how he was feeling and what had been going on.
At his GP, Tino described his symptoms and after some pushing and prodding his doctor told him that he 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. However, Fiona was not convinced and after seeing Tino in such excruciating pain she insisted that the GP call an ambulance which took him immediately to the Austin Hospital Emergency Department.
Tino remained in hospital for eight days where he underwent a battery of tests and investigations and was ultimately diagnosed with Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. He was then told that he would need to return to hospital so that more tests could be undertaken to determine why the Pancreatitis attack had occurred.
Tino returned to the hospital to meet with a specialist to discuss some of the test results from his previous visit. The specialist advised him they had found an abnormality on his pancreas, stating “we don’t think it’s sinister, but we can’t be sure”. Afterwards Tino’s symptoms settled down but the words of the specialist stuck in his head.
Nearly three months after his first trip to the GP, in February 2020, Tino received a letter to attend 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 three gastroscopies, three PET scans, three MRI scans, three CAT scans and countless blood tests. During these further investigations specialists found a lesion on his oesophagus which turned out to be benign, but a malignant lesion was also discovered on his pancreas which led to a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer.
Upon such a devastating diagnosis Tino couldn’t help but wonder how long he had left to live. He started planning and putting his affairs in order. However, after a while he 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 it.
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 onboard 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. He was referred to a specialist surgeon and on 21 May 2020 Tino underwent a distal pancreatectomy which removed his spleen and one-third of his pancreas in a procedure that took six-and-a-half hours.
Tino remembers with clarity the moment he opened his eyes after surgery and saw the nurses’ faces. After a night in intensive care he was given some good news: his tumour was a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour that was caught at an early stage and had been resected.
Tino realises that he was very lucky, and his experience has given him a new lease on life. He has made significant changes post-surgery, especially around food and 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 allowed him to make new friends and allies during his journey. He is now motivated to help others living with UGI 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.