Pancreatic Cancer

Learning of a recurrence

When symptoms recurred, or when new symptoms appeared, people went back to their GP or reported the symptoms to a hospital doctor or nurse. The doctor then usually ordered tests, e.g. blood tests and CT scans. Some people had a PET scan (see ‘Signs and symptoms of a recurrence’). Some people discovered they had a recurrence after routine tests as part of follow-up before they had symptoms.
People usually learnt that their cancer had returned from a doctor in a hospital clinic once the test results were back. Steve had realised the news was bad because a nurse was also there - but of course the presence of a nurse does not necessarily mean bad news. Specialist nurses may be present at any consultation: a multi-disciplinary team usually includes specialist nurses. After many consultations patients spend time with the nurse, discussing treatment and care in further detail.
People reacted to the news of a recurrence in various ways. Shock and disbelief were common. However, Hamish had not been surprised because he had lost so much weight, and John (Interview 40) said that the news that he now had cancer in his lung was shocking but this had not been as traumatic as hearing the initial diagnosis of cancer of his pancreas.
Others also said they weren’t really surprised that their cancer had recurred, because they were aware of the statistics, but at the same time felt disbelief. Ann feared that she would die quickly and it was difficult to plan her life. Although she stressed that she didn’t feel depressed, she said that she felt very sad that she would not be able to see her grandchildren grow up. She also felt a sense of “Jewish guilt” and a sense of failure because she was giving her children so much to deal with and because she was making them unhappy. Telling them what had happened was very difficult (see ‘Telling others about the illness’).
David (Interview 09) had felt relief that his doctors had found the cause of his symptoms. He had lost weight, with nausea and diarrhoea for about a year and had been very upset when his GP suggested his symptoms might be all in his mind.
When Audrey heard about her recurrence she was very disappointed and upset. She had thought that surgery had cured her. After getting the bad news she spent the first night lying awake composing what she planned to write to members of her family.
Others were more optimistic. Vicky said that nothing could be worse than the surgery she had had already. She felt she had been lucky because she had been diagnosed early and survived surgery and she thought that other treatment would be minor in comparison. Peter (Interview 43) was also optimistic and was confident that he would survive.

Others said that they just had to accept what had happened, one saying that he had had a good life and wanted to make the most of the time he had left. He decided to spend his remaining time, which was much longer than he expected, doing practical jobs around the house to make life easier for his wife, doing up the house for possible sale, selling his best books and shotguns, visiting relatives, and visiting places he had always wanted to see in Britain.  

Last reviewed September 2018.

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