During a routine visit to his doctor in 2012, Dr William Andrews was diagnosed with an adrenal adenoma, a benign tumour of the adrenal gland. His doctor suggested that he follow this up with a CAT scan in six months, but like many of us, the CAT scan form sat on Dr Andrew’s desk for about eight months before he went ahead.
Then Dr Andrews started feeling unwell. He wanted some reassurance, and finally decided to go for the CAT scan. His doctor did the scan and “there it was”-pancreatic cancer
“The diagnosis itself was devastating; it was probably the hardest thing about this whole experience,” said Dr Andrews. “I was told I had 10 to 14 months to live. I came home and opened a big old medical book called ‘Harrison’s’ and under pancreatic cancer saw the words ‘4% cure rate’ and I shut it and didn’t open it again.”
Following his diagnosis, Dr Andrews was treated with abraxane for 12 months as well as gemcitabine for seven to eight months.
“My surgeon advised me that I wasn’t eligible for a trial as the cancer had spread , so we funded my treatment ourselves,” Dr Andrews stated.
“During my treatment I experienced bad side effects, so I couldn’t continue with the gemcitabine. I also experienced terrible fatigue and oedema (fluid retention) which made me swollen. But now I am great, everything is good.”
Dr Andrews says he received a lot of support from the Oncology unit.
“On the first day, I felt dreadful and I hadn’t even started the chemo. My physician said people like me often experienced peptic ulcers, so I took something for that and felt better. I received top notch care. I have to say that the Mater open plan ward was much nicer for me. I could talk to other patients and it was much better than being isolated and locked away in comparison to my first treatment where I was in a small room, curtained off, and I felt very alone.”
“My family and friends have made me feel very wanted and appreciated —they all expected I was going to die. I saw the children frequently, and one of my sons even postponed an overseas trip to spend more time with me!”
When asked if he wished he had known anything then that he knows now, Dr Andrews said that he wished he had known more about the subtle symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and that he had been in denial about the secondary tumour on his umbilicus (belly button) — otherwise known as a Sister Mary Joseph’s nodule which can also be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
“I knew that night sweats can also be a symptom of cancer but I just thought it was from a glass too many of wine! I was in denial about a lot of this.”
“During my treatment I took a long sailing trip in stages. I would sail for 7 to 10 days with my family and friends and then leave to undergo treatment. I enjoyed it so much, those sailing trips, they were so helpful to me in keeping my outlook positive,” said Dr Andrews, “I didn’t go in for any fad diets while I was being treated because I had great faith in modern medicine and in my doctors.”
“Without clinical trials, I think it would have been hit and miss. Clinical trials are very important to determine outcomes for patients. Without them, my treatment may not have worked or taken a long time – a luxury I did not have,” said Dr Andrews.
Dr Andrews advises anyone else going through the same process to accept everything that modern medicine can offer. He feels strongly that it’s the best option there is.
“After eleven months of chemotherapy, surgery unexpectedly became on option which I took, and this offered better prospects. Without research and trials this would not have been possible” Dr Andrews explains.
“When I was told about my treatment regime, I asked my oncologist to tell me why I should do it. He told me: ‘All the studies and trials show you’ll have a longer life and a better quality of life.’ Well, I couldn’t argue with that!”