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Interview 28

Age at interview: 72
Age at diagnosis: 70
Brief Outline: Diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in 2001, followed by a laparotomy, a gastrojejunostomy and then chemotherapy. After having had some chemotherapy he decided to try an alternative therapy, apricot seeds.
Background: He is a retired rigger; he is married with three children.

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He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2001 after reporting the sudden onset of indigestion and jaundice to his GP. He later wondered whether the bad breath and tiredness he had suffered for some time may also have been symptoms of his cancer. The GP sent him to hospital where he spent two weeks having investigations, including seven scans. Major surgery was planned to try to remove the tumour but he was told there was only a 40% chance of him surviving the operation. When they opened him up they found that the tumour was too advanced for removal so instead they did a gastrojejunostomy. This is a surgical procedure where the stomach is surgically connected to the small intestine. 
 
He was then offered chemotherapy, which he had for seven weeks. The treatment was considered a partial success as a scan showed that the tumour had neither shrunk nor grown. It was recommended that he should continue the treatment but he decided not to. He said he found the treatment dehumanising, his veins had collapsed, he no longer wanted to put up with the side effects, and just felt it wasn’t worth it; he didn’t want to be a burden and would rather let nature take its course.
 
His wife, who had previously lost her brother to pancreatic cancer, searched the internet for information. She discovered websites that promoted apricot kernels as a cancer treatment and suggested he try it. They ordered some from the USA via the internet and he began eating them, combined with a strict diet that included lots of fruit. (He now can no longer tolerate the fruit.) He later replaced the apricot kernels with tablets containing an artificially produced substance based on the same active ingredient.
 
After declining further chemotherapy he was told there was nothing more they could offer him and he probably had only about six months to live. This spurred him into action and he decided to use his remaining time to organise things to make his life more comfortable and to prevent his wife from being left with problems to sort out after his death. He decided to replace one of his off-road vehicles with a saloon car so he could make journeys to his relatives and places of interest in greater comfort. He sold his collection of rare books and his guns. He resolved a problem between him and his son. He also started doing the house up with the intention of selling and moving to somewhere smaller and easier to manage, however, he found he didn’t have the energy to do as much as he would like each day. The job has taken much longer than he anticipated and he is still doing it more than 18 months later. He has lived a lot longer than anyone expected, his condition seems stable, although he has had no further scans, and he has even reduced the amount of pain relief he uses. He would like to attribute his long survival to the apricot kernels but cannot be certain of it. 
 
He has been seeing both the oncologist and the surgeon every three months and the offer of further chemotherapy still stands. The oncologist has now lengthened the interval between consultations to six months. He takes pancreatic enzyme replacement tablets to help his digestion. He also sees his GP regularly, who has suggested he might be depressed and has prescribed anti-depressants. He doesn’t like taking them because, although they help him to sleep, they also make him dopey in the daytime.
 
He gains comfort from his religious beliefs and accepts that he may die from his cancer. It is not the first time in his life that he has faced the possibility of death and feels that at his age he cannot expect to live a lot longer.
 
Interviewed for Healthtalk in 2003
 
 

Surgeons performed a gastrojejunostomy to overcome the obstruction caused by the tumour and to...

Surgeons performed a gastrojejunostomy to overcome the obstruction caused by the tumour and to...

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It was cancer round the pancreas and the tubes were, when my food goes through that way, I’ve not got a very clear, I asked for a technical definition I did get one, verbally but I didn’t get it in writing so I can’t explain exactly what it is but, I was getting chronic indigestion and turned yellow, jaundice and went to the hospital and I was two weeks in there and I had several different scans, they couldn’t make up their minds even then what it was. I don’t know really why so I came home for Christmas from the hospital, went back in two week’s time and they opened me up then to have a look and you know found that it was too far gone to do any, to undergo surgery and so they made up two tubes from bits and pieces of my intestine some where, that part of my flesh. They made two by-pass tubes round the bit that was being strangled so that I could still eat and drink and it was a bit of a relearning process because I’ve lost all of my refinements, all of the digestive refinements you know you don’t realise what a wonderful mechanism you’ve, it’s, got in there until you lose a bit of it, [laugh]. 

 

When he was told he had six months to live he sorted his things, sold some of them, improved his...

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And so we did that and then I had to say, over the years I collected books on my particular subject which was sailing ship rigging, old sailing ships and some of them were quite, you know quite expensive and the sort of horror you have is that if you die and nobody knows then somebody could have picked those up in a boot sale or some dealer’s going to come on a house clearance and whip the lot away and give [my wife] about £50.00 for them you know, so I took a bag full of those up to Bath and sold them, they didn’t give me much for them as it happens but I said I’d rather that I know that they were going to back to people who needed them, because they were quite rare books some of them. I’d rather know that they were going to be re-circulated to people who were interested rather than wind up on a barrow somewhere you know.
 
And the next thing was I thought well I’ll never be able to fire a twelve-bore shotgun again because if I shake any of my surgery loose I’ll get into trouble [laugh] so I sold my twelve-bore guns, now I want one again, I don’t want the twelve-bore I’ll get a smaller one but I could use it, I can drive my jeep now occasionally but at the time I couldn’t envisage being able to drive it, even just climbing up into the seat was hard work and the clutch peddle is very heavy, so yes, we did that but apart from going just to see my brother once, we haven’t done anything else, I’ve been too busy working round here.
 
So when you were told it was six months you thought I’ve got to make all these decisions?
 
Yes, I just wanted to tidy things up, yes, as I say the last thing really, I got some of [my wife’s] brother’s tools, when he died with the same thing, I inherited them and that was my thought again that you don’t, if you don't see that somebody gets them whose going to use them or make use of them or appreciates them then they’re going to wind up with the house clearance bloke or on a car boot sale.
 
What other decisions did you think you needed to take, did you think for example about a Will?
 
Well we’ve got a Will, pretty straight forward really, I leave it to my wife and then to my children after but, no I didn’t really, it had been done a long time ago so no I wasn’t worried about that, I got on a better footing with my son, we had been at loggerheads a bit lately and not speaking a lot of the time so that improved, otherwise I don’t really, apart from as I say trying to get everything squared off, you know, while I could, that was really my main motive you know.
 
You got everything tidied up then?
 
Yes, I’m nearly done, but I mean there’s a lot to do, I mean the day, the day I was sent to hospital in the morning, that hoard of timber came for that decking out and it stayed under the tarpaulin there for nearly six months till you know last summer and then I got a carpenter with me for a week and we put it up, well I was determined to do it and I thought actually that would probably be the last, you know that would be my project, once that was done I’d probably fall off the perch but I didn’t so the next thing I, well not the next thing but I did several things I’ve never done before, repaired windows and door frames, renewed them and stuff like that, I’m not a carpenter you know but I’ve done a lot of that sort of work round here.
 
 

He wanted no more chemotherapy to treat his pancreatic cancer and explained why he took dried...

He wanted no more chemotherapy to treat his pancreatic cancer and explained why he took dried...

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Can you tell me a bit more about why you’re so convinced these [apricot seeds] are doing the job for you as it were? Some people might say well it, it might have happened anyway.
 
Oh sure yes, well because after the seventh chemotherapy I went to see the specialist, the cancer specialist and she said, well, they scanned me then, and they said, “Well your tumour’s no smaller and it’s no bigger so it looks as though we can control it and I suggest you have another course” and I said you know, that’s when I made up my mind I didn’t want another course. I didn’t want to do it so she said, “Well you know come and see me again in three months” and every time I’ve been since she just says, “Well let well alone” and now she doesn’t want to see me for six months this time and my doctor was pretty much the same I mean she said, “You know those things you’re taking are poisonous don’t you” so I said “I know they are but so is chemotherapy” and she said, “Well you must be doing something right because you’re still here”.
 
The origin of the theory is that there is a tribe in the upper west Pakistan near the Himalayas called the Hunsa people, a small tribe of people and their, one of their main diets is apricots because they grow them there and they’ve always eaten the seeds as well and they’ve, there’s no cancer there, they’ve never had cancer and they live to considerable ages in spite of the fact that they live in a very harsh climate, and that’s where the idea comes from and the chemical side of it, again I don’t know, I’d have to refer to a book to tell you in detail, is that half of the, or part of the ingredient in the tablet, in the seed, apricot seed, is cyanide, it’s that and something else but the cyanide only splits if it meets cancer cells, if it meets a cancer cell it attacks it in your system in your blood stream, that’s the theory, very, very basically.
 
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