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Gordon Garrett Patient Story


I was diagnosed with a bile duct tumour in June 2003, after showing signs of jaundice a week prior to an operation to straighten my nose after many years of rugby injuries. I was totally numbed initially, as it came as a bolt out of the blue. Why me, when I had always tried to stay fit and healthy? When asked if I was happy to go ahead with the proposed surgery, despite being advised of the various risks which accompany most operations, I had no hesitation about going ahead on the basis that no action would leave me with about 12 months to live. A comment from a junior doctor who said that if they had to have that operation, they would want the consultant I was seeing to carry it out, helped immensely.


I was operated on, and a Whipple procedure was carried out within two weeks of diagnosis. I think the operation took 9 hours and I spent a day in intensive care and two days in a high dependency ward before transferring to the main ward. I was fortunate not to need any painkillers a day after the epidural was removed. I had been pretty fit for a 56 year old at the time, running several times a week and playing squash twice a week. My rehabilitation began about eight days after the op but the rehabilitation to full fitness began in earnest two days after going home. Eating sufficiently was a problem for a couple of weeks as food did not taste the same as I had remembered. My appetite was diminished, and it took many months to get back to the weight I had been prior to the op. The histology revealed I did not need follow-up chemotherapy, as no spread of the cells was detected. Neither did I develop diabetes.


For about a week the stomach incision had prevented me from walking at any pace faster than a shuffle. I had however managed full squats and walking the length of Ewing at Southampton General (about 1/4 mile at a time) before leaving hospital. After walking at home for a couple of weeks, I tried jogging very gently, and started running again after about 3 weeks. 3 months after the op I ran 12 miles with a friend who wanted to get training in for a local half marathon. I returned to playing rugby the following winter, but retired quite soon after when I found greater pleasure in watching my local first team. Probably a sensible decision for someone at that age, even without my history. I continued playing squash and running until about two years ago when an old knee cartilage injury played up, and I made the decision to quit, hoping that the knee would “see me out” without the need for surgery or a new knee joint.I needed to find alternative exercise, so a year ago I took up indoor rowing and bought a Concept 2 machine, the type that you find in most gyms. It is a non weight bearing exercise, and as I discovered, is not an easy alternative. After a few months posting my times for 5000 metres and the distance rowed in 1 hour, I peaked reaching the top 5% for the 60-69 age group presumably worldwide, as users of the Concept machines, which are standard for rowing competitions, upload their results globally. I have reduced the competitive element in my rowing now, and use it just to keep fit, and have fallen down the rankings. Maybe next year…..I had been unable to do many sit-ups prior to rowing and subsequent to the operation,and the six pack had turned into a party seven, however the rowing strengthened my stomach muscles to the point where I can now do 200 crunches at a time.  Diet wise, I can eat all the foods I had eaten prior to 2003, but do try to restrict the amount of onion I consume. I can eat large meals comfortably despite the loss of half of my stomach. Eight years down the road, and I still forget occasionally to take my pancreatic enzyme supplements with my meals, with uncomfortable but not unbearable consequences.


Some might say I have been very fortunate and I would agree. However, I am convinced that my fitness prior to the op and my determination to get into a fitness regime again was a major contributory factor in getting life back to normal. I am always aware however that the CT scan I now have every two years, (it was annually) suggests that the possibility of a recurrence of the cancer has not gone away completely. I never say I have beaten it, but try to give myself the best chance of staying cancer free. Nine years ago I never imagined I would feel so upbeat about getting close to receiving my old age pension.


At a friend’s house about 18 months ago, I met quite by chance someone who was about to undergo chemotherapy and a Whipple procedure. I told them of my experience, and although not trained to offer advice, decided that I would not under state the difficulties which she would experience. After a successful op, she told me that my talk had helped her greatly when she remembered, particularly when feeling low and in pain, that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. If I could help others feel confident about recovery, I would be most happy to do so and to share my experiences.


Gordon Garrett Jan 2012

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