For anyone who’s facing a Whipple, lots of questions arise about what recovery is like and what’s life like afterwards. Here’s my take, based on my experiences 2 years post Whipple. Experiences will differ depending the person (age, general health, etc.,) and the extend of the cancer.
Not to be a downer but only about 10 to 20% of folks with PC are eligible for the Whipple. So if you are eligible to have one, know that you are in much better shape than many others who have been diagnosed with the type of cancer. Without going into to much gory detail, I can tell you this. The Whipple surgery is tough to have but you can survive it and do well after it.
A lot depends on the quality of the surgeon and hospital where you have the Whipple. This is the type of surgery where you want a top-flight surgeon with lots and lots of experience. I would strongly recommend JHH or MD Anderson or another major hospital that is known for this type of surgery. My surgery was at Hopkins with Dr. John Cameron and the choice was easy since I live in the DC area and travel to Baltimore was a non-brainer. Dr. Cameron is the dean of the Whipple surgery at JHH and has trained most of their other surgeons. Good, technically competent, well-trained folks at JHH. Can't say enough nice about them.
The Whipple basically removes parts of the digestive system and then the surgeon has to make sure everything is re-connected and working (if you want a more technical description, check out the JHH website). All you need to know is that it's a MAJOR insult to the body. However, baring complications (of which there are many, so no free lunch here); life does get better post-whipple. Unfortunately, for PC, the Whipple is about the only means to try to get rid of the cancer. There are no guarantee’s however, that it the cancer will stay away forever. But, it's the best option we have.
Eating, post whipple gets to be a challenge for awhile as the patient finds out what they 'new' system will tolerate or not. This part takes time and everyone is a little different. My eating is fairly normal but I do tend to stay away from higher fat foods and focus more on lean protein.
Would I do it over again - Yes, I would. So far, it's been 2 years since my Whipple and life is good. I got very lucky that my tumor was only 1 cm in size with no lymph node or mets involved. I won the lottery! I mean that sincerely. Each day is a gift. I still see a gaggle of doctors (forgive me gentlemen for calling you all a gaggle, but...) every six months for more check ups, Ct-Scans, blood work, etc. to check for re-occurrence. Medically, I'm in better shape than I was before.
To have the surgery or not is a tough decision that each person has to make
for themselves. This is a tough cancer to fight but there is hope out there.