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Art transforms into compassion
Contributed by cancer survivor, Mr Ronald Fraser living in UK.

Lucky Guy

I was diagnosed in January of 2002 as having Extra-Hepatic Bile duct cancer. I had a tumour which was blocking the bile duct as it entered the duodenum. The resultant jaundice was the only symptom I experienced. I felt absolutely fine otherwise. When the jaundice first appeared, I was at home in UK during the Christmas break. My local doctor initially diagnosed that I had somehow managed to contract a mild case of Hepatitis A. This being due to the fact that I had been working in Southeast Asia for some time and the timescale fitted with the incubation time of the Hepatitis A virus. So everything was thought to be fine; no treatment was prescribed and I went back to work in early January.

After ten days of working in Thailand, I returned to Ho Chi Minh City and went to my local doctor to see what he had to say about my jaundice. It had not gotten any worse. In fact some days it was better than other days. Straight away, he organised a preliminary set of blood tests and CT and ultrasound scans at the local clinic and hospital. The result of this was a referral to attend the clinic of a specialist doctor (Dr C) at a private hospital in Singapore.

Dr C performed an ERCP (endoscopic procedure) and found the tumour, taking biopsy samples and pictures at the same time. Scans were also taken in order to confirm the extent of the tumour. A tube was also inserted through the center of the tumour so that my jaundice could be cured. The fact that I had cancer came as a real bombshell. Worse, it seemed to be a very serious cancer requiring extensive and complicated surgery if I was going to have any chance of survival. At forty-five years of age with a young family, I was simply not ready to accept any thing other than a complete recovery. I discussed the diagnosis with Dr C the following morning, and that afternoon I had my first appointment with Dr L who was going to perform the surgery. Dr C had called Dr L and asked her to take on my case. After my meeting with her, she decided that we should wait for my body to recover from the effects of the jaundice before going for the surgery. She assembled a very senior surgical team! and a date was set for the 7th of February 2002.

So, I went from thinking I had some form of mild hepatitis, to putting a comprehensive diagnosis and surgical plan in place, in a grand total of five working days. My family was going through all kinds of trauma, but I was so focused on obtaining a total cure, it all seemed to have washed over me with little effect. There was never one instant when I believed anything other than "it is not a huge problem", therefore I was pretty cool about the whole thing.

I was admitted to hospital on the 6th of February and the surgery went ahead as planned on the 7th. Dr L and her team performed a whipple procedure, which involves removal of the head of the pancreas, gall bladder, lower region of the stomach and duodenum, bile duct and top of the small intestine. The procedure took eight hours in all, so it was a very tired surgical team who turned me over to the ICU that evening. The prognosis looked fairly good. Dr L had managed to remove all of the cancerous tissue, and biopsy samples from the adjacent lymph nodes showed that only one had some cancerous cells present and that was because it was adjacent to the tumour.

My recovery was rapid, to say the least. I was back at work in Ho Chi Minh City three weeks after the operation. I was looking after myself obviously, but I was back in the office working and getting myself semi-fit again soon after what was a very major surgical procedure. I must say at this stage that I received the absolute best, world-class treatment from Dr L and the rest of the ward staff at the hospital. She is a very special lady as well as being a World Class Surgeon. I count myself as being extremely lucky that Dr C called her that day and asked her to take on my case.

I was directed to visit an oncologist for follow up treatment. Dr L prescribed some chemotherapy to be administered over approximately six months. We discussed the situation and came up with a schedule that suited my work schedule. So every two or three weeks, I went to her clinic to receive my dosage of whatever it was that they put into me. Once again, I received world-class treatment. Everyone is so cool and matter of fact about things, making it so easy to be objective and positive about sorting out problems and solutions.

I am currently about one third of the way through my chemotherapy treatment with another eight doses left to take. I may have to undergo radiotherapy afterwards, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I have suffered some hair loss (but a "number two all over" sorted that one out) and from time to time severe bowel "eruptions", and general nausea during the treatment, but no complaints overall. To all intents and purposes, life goes on as usual.

I am currently working in Indonesia for two weeks, and will return home to Ho Chi Minh City via Singapore (more chemo) within the next few days or so. I guess that my message up until now is that a positive attitude has carried me through this and consequently allowed my body to heal itself at an astonishing rate. In conjunction with the magnificent job done by Dr L, the physical strength that I was able to sustain through all of this has resulted in my returning to a totally normal lifestyle within two months of the operation. Another message is to have absolute faith and confidence in the medical staff looking after you. They cannot do it all on their own. We still have some way to go before we can say that I'm cured, but there is no doubt in my mind as to what the outcome will be.

I know that I am a very, very lucky guy.

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