And That’s What Your Pancreas Did Today

Many regulars to my little corner of Blogandia know that I had Pancreatic Cancer. I have written about it here, and here, and here, and if you have read those articles then you know that I also beat the cancer without chemo and radiation. I used diet and exercise to keep my body clean after my surgery, and I have been cancer free for over two years.

This makes me happy.

I have already discussed my experiences with getting sick, being diagnosed, having a Pancreaticoduodenectomy, and my natural health plan that has kept me healthy. What I would like to discuss today is how diabetes was a trigger that should have alerted the doctors that a tumor was growing on my pancreas.

I am not a scientist or a medical doctor, so this essay will not have a lot of technical jargon, which is a nice way of saying that I have dumbed-down the information for myself. It would be pretentious for me to speak like a lab rat; I can only speak with my own voice.

Toward the end of the summer of 2010, I went in for a regular check-up with my General Practitioner (GP). We were doing regular blood tests at that time because my cholesterol and triglycerides were too high, and I was trying to bring them down with diet and exercise. Unfortunately, I hated exercise, and did it rarely, and my diet, while still better than most Americans, was not great. I was avoiding the usual cholesterol medicines in the hope that I could bring my levels down on my own. It was not working.

But in late August, 2010, my doctor looked at my blood panel analysis and declared that I was diabetic. Huh? I had never shown any signs of being diabetic before. Apparently, though, my glucose levels were a little high; 135 units when it should have been under 105. This was an entirely new development. I was a bit overweight (212 lbs at 6’2), but not too heavy. However, I was 42, and the body changes with age. I guess I was now diabetic.

My doctor prescribed Metformin, which is a first-line drug for Type 2 diabetics with normal kidney functions. It came in tablet form, so no injections for me!! That worked to lower my glucose, so I guess everything was fine, right?

Wrong. Fast-forward to late October and I start showing symptoms that eventually led to the discovery of a tumor on the head of my pancreas. Looking back, it should have been obvious enough for a doctor to suspect something awry with the pancreas since my diabetic symptoms came on so suddenly. Every medical website I visit (again, I’m no doctor or scientist) explains that the sudden onset of diabetes is rarely associated with pancreatic cancer, but only because of misdiagnosis. There is, in fact, a direct correlation between sudden onset diabetes and pancreatic cancer, and doctors need to get in the habit of connecting the two.

One of the main functions of the pancreas is the regulation of insulin, which helps to regulate the glucose levels in the blood. Tumors on the pancreas affect the pancreas’ DNA structure, upsetting its ability to regulate insulin and other hormones.

I have referred to Pancreatic Cancer as “the silent killer”, and that is because it is often unnoticed until too late. I think that not associating sudden onset Type 2 diabetes with pancreatic cancer right away is a big cause for this. I was lucky. I noticed that something was wrong with me early.

Once I had my surgery that removed the tumor from the head of the pancreas, all of my diabetic symptoms disappeared. My cholesterol and triglyceride levels dropped to well-below normal levels, but that may be due to my stricter diet and exercise regimen.

I caught my cancer early, and it was removed before it could metastasize and spread to the lymph nodes. I am a lifelong student, and I like to do my own research, therefore, I now see how so many things could have gone wrong with my cancer scare. I can look back now and see how obvious it should have been to any doctor that sudden onset Type 2 diabetes was a sign of pancreatic cancer. I am blown away that nobody connected the two until after my diabetes symptoms were gone.

I am not the type that likes to tell people what to do, or how to live their lives, but I urge anyone who knows anyone with sudden onset diabetes to have their doctor check for pancreatic tumors. Do some research to find out more about the pancreas and its functions.

When I was sick, my family was together for Thanksgiving and we made up a silly song that you could imagine The Wiggles singing to educate kids on the pancreas. It was fun and ridiculous, but we learned more about this organ that most people only know from Biology classes and dead celebrities like Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze.

Here are some of the functions of the pancreas (from Wikipedia)…

“It is a glandular organ in the digestive system and endocrine system. It produces several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide. It is a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juices containing digestive enzymes that assist the absorption of nutrients and the digestion in the small intestine. These enzymes help to further break down the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in the chyme.”

And here are some of the symptoms to look out for (from Wikipedia). I had all of these…

· Pain in the upper abdomen that typically radiates to the back

· Loss of appetite

· Significant weight loss

· Painless jaundice when a cancer of the head of the pancreas (75% of cases), it obstructs the common bile duct as it runs through the pancreas.

· Diabetes, or elevated blood sugar levels. Many patients with pancreatic cancer develop diabetes months to even years before they are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, suggesting new onset diabetes in an elderly individual may be an early warning sign of pancreatic cancer.

“And that’s what your pancreas did today!”

6 Comments

Filed under Cancer Musings

6 responses to “And That’s What Your Pancreas Did Today

  1. It’s so important to be involved in your own health care these days. Doctors all have varying degrees of knowledge and experience. They’re only human, so it’s important to question what they say and not take it at face value. You had to learn the hard way, but you were very fortunate it was caught so early. Kudos to you for spreading this information. Hopefully it will help others in similar situations. Knowledge is power.

    • Thank you. I understand that doctors are only human, and that is why I do my own research. So many others in this world just go with whatever the docs say without question. I always say, “It’s my body, not theirs!”

      • That’s an excellent outlook to have. I wish more people were as proactive as you. As an RN, I’ve seen too many people use a doctor’s prognosis as an excuse to give up or say “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

  2. This is really interesting. Well done to you for beating this hideous disease! My hubby has also had cancer of the pancreas and had to undergo a ‘whipple’ procedure last year. He’s doing very well now 😀

  3. Pingback: Emotional Costs | It's a Blog About Nothing

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