Living with pancreatic cancer can affect your daily life in lots of ways. Here people share how they adapted to everyday life with pancreatic cancer. Some had finished treatment and were well, others were still having treatment. A few were having palliative care which aims to help manage symptoms and make the person comfortable (rather than try to cure a disease). Even though many people had wanted to lead ‘normal’ lives for as long as possible the lives of most had changed.
People told us that their cancer affected their everyday lives in many ways:
- Physical changes such as symptoms, treatment and its side effects
- Emotional changes and reactions
- Changes to their outlook on life
Ann’s life had changed ‘phenomenally’. Some people had symptoms, such as backache. Many felt very tired at times and needed to rest. Some needed help with housework. Adrian said that he spent most of the time in bed, and Ben had become a ‘hermit’. Steve had to retire from work so got up later than usual and watched daytime TV. Ann did her shopping online for the first time and found she missed looking for the things in the supermarket, and forgot several things she needed.
Eating was a problem for many people too. Lilian, who was having chemotherapy, had bouts of sickness. Hamish found eating ‘frustrating’ because he quickly became bloated and couldn’t eat much at a time. He also complained that his taste buds had ‘gone’ and that food tasted like cardboard.
Ann described her changing tastes. Sometimes she fancied eating bland dishes, at other times she wanted something spicy. She concluded that ‘getting food right is actually quite difficult’. She no longer enjoyed cooking and sometimes couldn’t decide what she wanted to eat.
Alison cut out most refined sugars because she had developed diabetes. She found red meat hard to…
A few people talked about the effects of their illness on their sexual relationships. William’s painful incision made ‘intimacy’ impossible. Donna also explained that pain and tiredness had ended her sex life. However, she always made an effort to look nice to prevent herself feeling undesirable. Peter’s radiotherapy and chemotherapy had reduced his ‘sex drive’ to zero. However, one woman said that to her surprise the drugs she was taking had improved her sex drive (libido).
Maureen had a good relationship with her partner but while she was having chemotherapy the…
Emotional changes and reactions to life with cancer
People had experienced a wide range of emotions during their illness. For example, when Ann was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she felt it was very unfair because shed already had breast cancer. When recovering from surgery she felt so ill that, at times, she wanted to die. However, after she had recovered from the Whipple’s operation she felt quite positive about the future and decided to get on with her life.
She didn’t feel she was ‘fighting’ cancer but just carrying on with life. When her cancer came back she felt angry at times because she knew she wouldnt be able to finish plans in her work life. She was angry that some of her grandchildren may not remember her. Ann also felt very sad that she no longer had the strength to do various things, such as cycling.
Sometimes, when Ann felt unwell, a hot bath would change her mood and make her feel better. At other times a walk up the garden and some fresh air or a chat to friends would lift her mood. Looking at old photographs and making memory boxes for her grandchildren also gave her enormous pleasure (also see ‘Making plans for death’).
Ann loved looking at her old photographs. They gave her more pleasure than any of her other things.
Many people said that their mood varied from day to day or that they had conflicting feelings. Bob, for example, felt lucky that he had survived so long and that he still ‘felt good’. On the other hand he had been ‘robbed’ of his retirement.
William had been told that he had terminal cancer, which depressed him a bit at times. However, some days he woke up and felt ‘really upbeat’ and that ‘life was great’. He decided to live life from day to day, and not to think about the future.
Ben felt he was ‘living on borrowed time’ and at times felt life was ‘horrible’, he had no idea what was round the corner. However, he hoped that new treatments might be developed. Bob tried to keep positive to avoid depressing the people around him.
Peter found that working on the house and garden helped him to forget his illness.
Some people found it hard to forget they had cancer and regretted that they had so little time left to do things they wanted to do. They often wondered whether they would live to see their children grow up.
Adrian knew he was dying and was ‘very unhappy’ about the situation. He thought about it from when he first woke each morning. Steve enjoyed life, but sometimes he felt he was living with a ‘ticking time bomb’. Hamish felt depressed at times but said he had had a good life.
Vicky found it hard to forget that she had cancer and that one day her health might deteriorate…
Changed outlook on life
Peter said that he lived a normal life in ‘every way’. Hed had a neuroendocrine tumour which is a rare type of pancreatic cancer. It was successfully removed 10 before we spoke to him. Peter felt very lucky to be alive. Although from time to time he remembered vividly what had happened, most of the time he did not think about it much. Just occasionally he wondered if his cancer might return. He felt that fear of death is part of being human.
Peter agreed with Epicurus, who argued that working to remove the fear of death is a very…
Elaine finished her treatment in 15 years before we spoke to her. Although her outlook on life had changed, she wanted to lead as ‘normal’ a life as possible.
Cancer made Elaine appreciate her life. Although she wanted to lead a normal life she decided…
Tony had a Whipple’s operation just before we spoke to him. In spite of still having chemotherapy, his life was ‘back to normal’.
Tony said that his life was as it was before he had his operation. However, he missed his…
Carol finished her treatment about a year before we met her. She had survived major surgery and finished chemotherapy. She was incredibly happy that she was alive and feeling well. Occasionally she worried about the cancer coming back, and sometimes she felt sad because life had changed. But most of the time she felt that ‘bad experiences’ were behind her. She described her everyday life, which included cycling, swimming, walking and gardening.
Carol felt tired at times but her life was almost as it was before she became ill. She ‘listened…
Fred also felt optimistic about the future. He hoped for a long life and said that if his health kept on improving he would soon be back playing golf, swimming and walking as he had done before the Whipple’s operation. Others said they were pursuing hobbies or sports, taking holidays or doing voluntary work.
Michael had just finished his treatment. He suspected that his life might be shorter than he had expected, which made him sad. However, he was quite optimistic about his chances of survival. He felt at peace with himself, partly due to his spiritual beliefs, and he still enjoyed life and laughter with friends and family. He saw his illness as a ‘wake up call’, which led him to decide to spend his future time in supporting others. Other people said the illness had made them change their values.
Some people knew that their prognosis was poor but were determined to enjoy life for as long as possible. Dorothy developed jaundice three years before we spoke to her and she had a stent put in. Her consultant said that she almost certainly had pancreatic cancer. He also said that major surgery was impossible. Dorothy felt well, apart from feeling a bit breathless at times. She decided not to have chemotherapy.
Dorothy felt quite well. She decided to try to forget about her illness and to carry on life as…
Peter had a list of things he wanted to do before he died. He wanted to get better at playing musical instruments, to read more and to walk the South Downs. Steve felt well. He hoped he would remain well until close to the time of his death.