My cancer was so fierce surgeons removed every organ I could live without. British cancer patient tells how she underwent the Mother Of All Surgeries to survive a rare cancer that used to come with a certain death sentence. IT WAS the morning after her operation that Pam Pope’s surgeon stood by her bedside and listed all the organs his surgical team had removed in order to save her life. By the time he had reached the ninth, the 65-year-old had burst into tears. “I just wasn’t expecting to be told so much of my body had gone,” she says. “The list of organs that had been removed was so long that I actually lost count. I just could not fathom how I could still be alive when so much of me was missing.” The 13-hour operation, carried out by a team of six leading UK surgeons, is known in medical circles as the Mother Of All Surgeries and with good reason. It is one of the most invasive operations performed in Britain and the only way to treat a rare cancer of the appendix, otherwise known as pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP) which quickly spreads around the abdominal cavity meaning diagnosis usually comes with a death sentence. Now the mammoth operation to remove as many organs as possible while keeping patients alive means sufferers like Pam who would previously have been considered too sick to treat are being offered a lifeline. “I was already stage four when they operated because the cancer had gone undetected for so long and I would not be here now had it been left for a few more months,” she says. Though Pam suspects her cancer may have developed earlier, she had been complaining of symptoms for 15 months before her final diagnosis. “I just did not feel right,” she says, “I had stomach pain and nausea.” After several visits to her GP, the insurance executive from Camberwell, Surrey, was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). “I felt that was not accurate. I had always been very fit and very healthy with a good diet but my GP did not want to consider anything else.” Pam returned to see her GP several more times over the course of the next year, each time requesting a referral to hospital which was denied. It was only after she reported a change in bowel habits to a different doctor that alarm bells finally rang. “The new GP agreed my symptoms warranted further investigation, which was a huge relief because by then I was in no doubt that it was not IBS.” In December 2012 a laparoscopy (a fibre optic instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall to look at organs) quickly identified that abnormal cells were present. She says she felt “strangely relieved” to hear this news having spent so long insisting she did not have IBS. It was like “being proved right”. But when her consultant told her she was the one in a million patient suffering with rare PMP, like many people she had never heard of the cancer. He explained that the disease had started in her appendix but may have spread around the abdominal cavity in mucus leaked from the organ. The microscopic cells can then attach themselves to other organs and tissue the mucus comes into contact with. An operation to “debulk” the body of cancerous cells, she was told, was her only hope of survival. The surgeons had no idea how far spread the cancer was and how many organs they needed to remove until they operated. Pam was hopeful when she was wheeled into theatre in May last year that surgery would be minimal because she had not suffered the weight loss or thickening of the waist common with advanced PMP. JUST 24 hours later she was told surgeons had removed her appendix, large bowel, most of the small bowel, gall bladder, spleen, womb, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix as well as most of her stomach lining and navel. “I cried because I could not believe I was still alive. I had thought I might lose one or two organs but not all that. I realised then why it was called the Mother Of All Surgeries; everything that I could live without had gone to give me the best chance of survival. “It was a shock but the surgeon was very supportive in offering to arrange counselling,” she says. The radical operation had been followed by a controversial chemotherapy bath where the cavity was filled with hot chemotherapy liquid in an attempt to wash away any remaining cancer cells: “Despite everything that they had taken I was told five per cent still remained on my small bowel. “It was too dangerous to remove it all so they left as little as they could which needed conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.” Pam spent the best part of the following year in hospital recovering and undergoing more chemotherapy. The biggest hurdle was adjusting to the loss of so many organs. At one stage she looked unlikely to pull through and was advised “enjoy the time you have left”. Determined not to give up, Pam contacted cancer professor Justin Stebbing at the London Clinic of Oncology: “I had read about his work and my surgeon agreed to refer me. He was a leading voice on cancers like mine and probably about the only person who wouldn’t turn me away.” Professor Stebbing found a regime Pam’s body could cope with and a scan earlier this year revealed no signs of any cancer, but hydration is still an issue and Pam relies on a drip every night, which she uses at home. She struggles with tiredness and remains frail though her health has improved enough for her to return to work part time: “I love my job so that was a major achievement for me.” Fortnightly chemotherapy will, she hopes, keep the cancer at bay: “This has been a fight but I need to tell my story to make people aware of this very sneaky cancer. “I was told this disease would likely kill me but I’m still here thanks to the Mother Of All Surgeries, which has lifted a death sentence.” For more information about pseudomyxoma peritonei and to make a donation towards research please visit http://www.pmpcure.org/
My cancer was so fierce surgeons removed every organ I could live without. British cancer patient tells how she underwent the Mother Of All Surgeries to survive a rare cancer that used to come with a certain death sentence. IT WAS the morning after her operation that Pam Pope’s surgeon stood by her bedside and listed all the organs his surgical team had removed in order to save her life. By the time he had reached the ninth, the 65-year-old had burst into tears. “I just wasn’t expecting to be told so much of my body had gone,” she says. “The list of organs that had been removed was so long that I actually lost count. I just could not fathom how I could still be alive when so much of me was missing.” The 13-hour operation, carried out by a team of six leading UK surgeons, is known in medical circles as the Mother Of All Surgeries and with good reason. It is one of the most invasive operations performed in Britain and the only way to treat a rare cancer of the appendix, otherwise known as pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP) which quickly spreads around the abdominal cavity meaning diagnosis usually comes with a death sentence. Now the mammoth operation to remove as many organs as possible while keeping patients alive means sufferers like Pam who would previously have been considered too sick to treat are being offered a lifeline. “I was already stage four when they operated because the cancer had gone undetected for so long and I would not be here now had it been left for a few more months,” she says. Though Pam suspects her cancer may have developed earlier, she had been complaining of symptoms for 15 months before her final diagnosis. “I just did not feel right,” she says, “I had stomach pain and nausea.” After several visits to her GP, the insurance executive from Camberwell, Surrey, was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). “I felt that was not accurate. I had always been very fit and very healthy with a good diet but my GP did not want to consider anything else.” Pam returned to see her GP several more times over the course of the next year, each time requesting a referral to hospital which was denied. It was only after she reported a change in bowel habits to a different doctor that alarm bells finally rang. “The new GP agreed my symptoms warranted further investigation, which was a huge relief because by then I was in no doubt that it was not IBS.” In December 2012 a laparoscopy (a fibre optic instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall to look at organs) quickly identified that abnormal cells were present. She says she felt “strangely relieved” to hear this news having spent so long insisting she did not have IBS. It was like “being proved right”. But when her consultant told her she was the one in a million patient suffering with rare PMP, like many people she had never heard of the cancer. He explained that the disease had started in her appendix but may have spread around the abdominal cavity in mucus leaked from the organ. The microscopic cells can then attach themselves to other organs and tissue the mucus comes into contact with. An operation to “debulk” the body of cancerous cells, she was told, was her only hope of survival. The surgeons had no idea how far spread the cancer was and how many organs they needed to remove until they operated. Pam was hopeful when she was wheeled into theatre in May last year that surgery would be minimal because she had not suffered the weight loss or thickening of the waist common with advanced PMP. JUST 24 hours later she was told surgeons had removed her appendix, large bowel, most of the small bowel, gall bladder, spleen, womb, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix as well as most of her stomach lining and navel. “I cried because I could not believe I was still alive. I had thought I might lose one or two organs but not all that. I realised then why it was called the Mother Of All Surgeries; everything that I could live without had gone to give me the best chance of survival. “It was a shock but the surgeon was very supportive in offering to arrange counselling,” she says. The radical operation had been followed by a controversial chemotherapy bath where the cavity was filled with hot chemotherapy liquid in an attempt to wash away any remaining cancer cells: “Despite everything that they had taken I was told five per cent still remained on my small bowel. “It was too dangerous to remove it all so they left as little as they could which needed conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.” Pam spent the best part of the following year in hospital recovering and undergoing more chemotherapy. The biggest hurdle was adjusting to the loss of so many organs. At one stage she looked unlikely to pull through and was advised “enjoy the time you have left”. Determined not to give up, Pam contacted cancer professor Justin Stebbing at the London Clinic of Oncology: “I had read about his work and my surgeon agreed to refer me. He was a leading voice on cancers like mine and probably about the only person who wouldn’t turn me away.” Professor Stebbing found a regime Pam’s body could cope with and a scan earlier this year revealed no signs of any cancer, but hydration is still an issue and Pam relies on a drip every night, which she uses at home. She struggles with tiredness and remains frail though her health has improved enough for her to return to work part time: “I love my job so that was a major achievement for me.” Fortnightly chemotherapy will, she hopes, keep the cancer at bay: “This has been a fight but I need to tell my story to make people aware of this very sneaky cancer. “I was told this disease would likely kill me but I’m still here thanks to the Mother Of All Surgeries, which has lifted a death sentence.” For more information about pseudomyxoma peritonei and to make a donation towards research please visit http://www.pmpcure.org/