Pancreatitis

Weight loss and self identity

When our body changes through illness, accident or injury we have to develop a new relationship with ourselves, with our new physical identity.

For me it was weight loss through illness. For most of my adult life I had been around 140lbs, but when I went into my 40’s this gradually increased to 148lb, and it was a continuous battle to remain at that weight. There were a few exceptions, for example prior to getting married I was eating 1300 calories a day and it still took 4 months for me to loose 8lbs prior to our wedding in 2013, needless to say it soon went back on. Then in the late Summer of 2014 I naturally began to lose weight which I put down to a change of diet; drinking smoothies and eating lots of salads, but the weight continued to fall through the autumn.

After an episode of acute pancreatitis – where the pancreas becomes inflamed and the digestive enzymes it produces begin to digest the pancreas itself – my diet became more restrictive. I was eating less generally, as well as having a low fat diet (less that 35g of fat a day bearing in mind an Avocado pear is around 20g!).

However, due to the pain I was in, eating wasn’t enjoyable, it became a chore rather than a delight. Anything containing too much fat caused me discomfort as my pancreas wasn’t able to digest it properly.

I struggled to get used to my lighter weight and what I called my scrawny shape. Why? Because it wasn’t my choice. The interesting thing about losing weight when it’s not planned is that there is a sense of confusion about why it was happening and also a concern as to when it would stop.

How low could my weight go for me still to have enough energy to get through daily life?

Then when I was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumour (IPMN) in January 2015 the weight loss made sense, at least I knew why, which was a relief. Also, the tumour could be removed, an even greater relief.

By the time I had surgery to remove my tumour I was down to 120lbs, the last time I was this weight I was a teenager! Having lost 2 stone none of my clothes fitted, everything was baggy, making my weight loss more obvious. I became gaunt as my face became thinner.

My sense of identity had never been challenged before, and I didn’t know how to adjust to the change. It was like I had been given a new body to live in, a very disconcerting feeling. My view of myself changed. I may have looked a thinner version of my usual self to everyone else. But I felt small, not just physically but psychologically too, it felt like everything about me was diminishing, fading.

Fortunately as with most things, it was time that allowed me to accept my new shape and identity. I literally had to shrink into my own skin and then as I got used to it, I became stronger and more confident in myself and my new body.

When we chose to change our body shape, it’s because that is what we want to do, and therefore we are delighted when we achieve it whether that is due to diet, exercise or surgery.

Having lost 28lb in the 12 months prior to my operation, it has taken 9 months to put on 8lbs due to a low fat diet. But I now finally feel comfortable and well in my own skin, and I am enjoying having a new body, a new shape, a new identity.

It takes time to adapt and accept physical changes. I am fortunate, I haven’t lost a limb or one of my senses, I just have an abdominal scar that fades with each passing day. I also have age on my side, at 50, I no longer want or have any expectations of a ‘perfect’ body, what ever that may mean. I am just happy that I have a body that is still functioning and enables me to live fully.

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Pancreatic cancer – survival rate unchanged in 40 years!

Last week on World Cancer Day, Cancer Research UK released the latest statistics showing that cancer deaths in the UK have fallen by almost 10% over the last 10 years. In addition, the 10 year survival rates from some cancers have significantly improved since 1971, all of which is positive news.

However this is not the case for pancreatic cancer where the rate of people dying from pancreatic cancer has not only increased by 8% but the 10 year survival rate still remains BELOW 1%,  the same as 40 years ago, which quite frankly is appalling.

Pancreatic Cancer has the lowest survival of all 21 common cancers

The general consensus for the poor survival rate is that it is often diagnosed too late, as there are few symptoms. However there is also another factor which is the lack of funding for research into pancreatic cancer which lags well behind that of other cancers.

“While funding for pancreatic cancer research has increased marginally over the past 10 years it still accounts for only one per cent of overall research funding and only two per cent of site-specific funding. This is despite it being the fifth largest cause of cancer death in the UK.”
Pancreatic Cancer Action.

I know that this will change, it has to, because as research into others cancers results in earlier diagnosis, treatment and longer life expectancy then at some point in time the spotlight will eventually be on the incredible low survival rate of those with pancreatic cancer.

Also I believe that the incidence of pancreatic related illness, like Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis, Cancer and Diabetes will continue to increase.  Why?  Because the pancreas is the one organ that regulates sugar levels in the blood and also the only organ that digests fats. So as our diets continue to increase in fat and sugar, namely in processed foods, so to will the stress on the pancreas.

If you want to show your pancreas some love try to moderate your consumption of sugar, fat and alcohol or at least take the time to read the label on 1 or 2 ready meals in your trolley, whilst waiting at the checkout, starting with what you buy the most. You may be surprised by their contents, I was and I had thought that I was a healthy eater.

References;
Cancer Research UK, article and stats on cancer death rates
Funding statistics for cancer research, from Pancreatic Cancer Action