Pancreatic cancer patient story: Carl Denning
Pancreatic Cancer Carl Denning is an inspirational and positive man. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012 at the age of 38 and within weeks his whole life changed.
Before his diagnosis Carl was a healthy, active man, he worked full time as a web developer for O2 and ran his own start-up company, selling food wraps on the streets of Leeds. Life was hectic, but good, Carl went to the gym most days and felt that he had begun to establish himself as the man he wanted to be, he was healthier and fitter than ever.
But in 2012, everything changed. Carl began suffering with sharp pain under his right rib cage (which he describes as constant but not intense), back pain and a constant itch. After visiting his doctor, Carl was diagnosed with indigestion and possible gall stones. His work mates were concerned when he told them of his diagnosis, but Carl remained light hearted having no idea that it could be the start of something more serious.
Diagnosis: it happened so quickly, without any warning
A few weeks later things took a turn for the worse when Carl started to dramatically lose energy and turned jaundice yellow. He feels lucky to have such a great GP who was able to recognise the seriousness of his symptoms, and on seeing a change in his appearance, immediately admitted him to hospital. After many CT scans, X-rays and urine tests, the shocking diagnosis came of pancreatic cancer. At the age of 38, Carl’s diagnosis came completely out of the blue as the most common age for pancreatic cancer diagnosis is 75 years and above.
Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was too much for Carl to handle. He recalls going off the rails for weeks after his diagnosis, not being able to handle the reality of his situation and being told not to Google ‘pancreatic cancer’ for fear of sending him further into a downward spiral.
The diagnosis was all-consuming; it took over Carl’s waking thoughts and his dreams at night. He admitted that it’s easier when he dreams about his situation at night, as it’s less of a shock in the morning than if he were to wake up and start thinking about it all over again. Carl can only describe the way he feels as immediate and unexpected grief, something you have no control over, and that won’t go away no matter how much you wish it.
When thinking about his family, Carl describes the guilt he feels for how they have been affected by his diagnosis. He believes the cancer is something he can learn to deal with, but the affect it has on those around him is completely out of his control.
The impact of pancreatic cancer: from fit to disabled in a few months
With the life expectancy of pancreatic cancer being limited, Carl was treated very quickly, initially undergoing the Whipple procedure, which fortunately he was eligible for. The Whipple procedure is incredibly invasive and is only available for certain patients. It requires the removal of the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (bowel), the gall bladder and part of the bile duct. Following this invasive surgery, Carl had complications with internal bleeding and was taken back into surgery 3 days later. When he awoke from the second operation he realised the epidural (pain relief) had not worked and he could feel everything.
It took Carl weeks to get back on his feet, and every day was a struggle. He describes himself as going from fit to disabled in a matter of months, and struggles with the impact this has had on his family. During one hospital stay, Carl had to ask his parents to leave his bedside as it made him feel weaker looking at the sad, ashen expressions on their faces.
“Cancer feels like being in a car that’s sliding out of control, when you skid across the road everyone tells you to turn in the other direction, when you’re diagnosed with cancer that’s exactly what you do, you focus on everything else but the cancer”
For the past two years, Carl has been in and out of hospital. On his 40th birthday he suffered severe internal bleeding and a secondary tumour was identified on his liver. He went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a procedure similar to Nanoknife surgery, called radio-frequency ablation, in London, to destroy the soft tissue tumours and minimise his chances of the cancer coming back.
Looking to the future: getting back to the person I used to be
Experiencing what he describes as a “very different world”, Carl is now able to take stock of his life and begin to look forward. He is feeling healthier than he has in a long time, and is excited about the opportunity to return to the person he was before his diagnosis in 2012. For Carl, 2015 is about rebuilding himself and taking every day as it comes.
Carl understands that it will be an ongoing battle, as cancer doesn’t just affect your body; it affects your self esteem, your appearance, and creates stress and anxiety you’ve never experienced before – at his worst, Carl feels detached from the world, like no one knows how he’s feeling and sometimes wishes he could run away from his problems. But he believes the support of his family and partner is what has got him to where he is today and he is now looking to grow and expand his wrap business, hire more staff and stay positive for the future.
Carl’s advice to anyone else in his situation is not to feel like this is it! Two and a half years ago he was told he could have weeks to live, yet he’s still here and working to challenge his diagnosis every day.
Carl’s New Years’ resolution is to carry on getting better, to grow, achieve and become a better person, and to help and inspire those who are just starting out on their journey.