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In Hindsight, Pancreatic Cancer Reared Its Ugly Head With Subtle Early Signs
My father died of pancreatic cancer 4 years ago. Unfortunately, my father’s first signs of this cancer (he woke up with jaundice) were also the terminal stages of this terrible disease. All cancers are scary, but pancreatic cancer takes it a step further. Its first noticeable symptoms are usually terminal. I became aware of my family and was given many indications that my father’s health was changing. Unfortunately, none of us noticed those signs in time.
One of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer is abdominal pain, often radiating to the back. My father didn’t suffer from back pain, but rather a dull, aching pain. He dismissed it as nothing serious, since he had always had back problems and had surgery several years ago. He started sessions with a chiropractor, who tried to relieve the constant pain.
Another symptom that was overlooked was his weight loss. He was always a giant of a man and maintained his weight at 240. He began to lose weight, but he insisted that his stomach was tired from his desk and that he wanted to shed pounds. I believe he really thought what he was saying was true, but I was convinced that the underlying cause was pancreatic cancer rearing its ugly head very quickly.
In early 2003, my father became picky about his food. Nothing fancy, but for a man who sits down and enjoys every hearty meal, suddenly some of his favorite foods just don’t taste right. He would make my mother taste jaggery and even though she would tell him it was fine, he would insist that it was funny or not ready.
The fact that my dad’s food tasted different was a huge sign that his health was changing, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest clue we got and didn’t notice. My dad was a beer drinker all his life. He used to drink beer every day. I don’t want to make him sound like a hobo on the track, but he worked hard and he played hard. He enjoyed beer with his meal. After mowing the grass, he enjoyed the beer. He enjoyed beer while watching his football games. He was a beer drinker.
Imagine our surprise, when he just stopped drinking it. He no longer cared for the taste and drank water or diet cola with meals. This has yet to trigger a clue for us, and thus a hint of weight loss. My dad is going to lose weight because he doesn’t drink beer. So we missed another valuable indication that my father’s health was changing. All this was approximately 1 year before his diagnosis.
Another sign we don’t recognize is that my dad eats peanuts all the time. He couldn’t get enough of them. Before his skin turned jaundiced, his entire body itched. I have since learned that the itching was caused by bile salt crystals under his skin. The tumor was on the head of the pancreas and, unbeknownst to us, was already blocking his bile duct. I don’t know where the amount of salt fits into peanuts. He must have craved the salt because it was accumulating in his skin tissue instead of being distributed throughout his body, but I’m just guessing.
I’m not in the medical field, but I’m obsessed with pancreatic cancer funding and trying to find an early diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer and the deadliest of all cancers. I hope that by writing this article it can make the readers aware of some very subtle changes in their health which were clearly noticeable in my father’s case, but not noticed or processed by us or need our immediate attention.
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