Survivor Stories
November 7, 2019 • 3 Min

Around to Enjoy the Simple Pleasures of Life

Ken Vickers

pancreatic cancer survivor Ken Vickers and his motorcycle
  • Long-time stomach troubles finally diagnosed as pancreatic cancer
  • Surgery, then chemotherapy
  • Serious side effects of treatment finally resolve

After 63 years of no personal health issues and riding all over the countryside on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with no helmet, I considered myself to be somewhat untouchable.

Then, five years ago, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and life in the Pacific Northwest changed! Thanks to Dr. James Park, a surgeon at the University of Washington Hospital, and Dr. Andrew Coveler, my oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, for extending my days.

About eight or so years ago, I started losing weight and finding myself having frequent toilet visits. I had stomach cramps pretty often but thought it was stress from work and other life events. I went to my long-time family doctor and personal friend of 30 years, who misdiagnosed me for a couple years, trying this and that. I finally decided to go get an ultrasound, thinking I might have an ulcer.

As I lay on the table, the technician was doing their thing and said, “One moment. I’ll be right back.” Then, the doctor came in and did the same thing. When the doctor returned the second time, he said, “There seems to be an unusual mass around your pancreas, and we think you need to go to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.” The next day I checked in as a new patient, had a CT scan, and met with a surgeon, oncologist, and team.

Life Changes Quickly with a Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Just a few short weeks after the initial diagnosis, I was at the hospital getting prepped for what turned out to be a 12-hour modified Whipple surgery. They removed most of the pancreas, several feet of infected intestines, three-quarters of my stomach, and my gallbladder. They rerouted the way my stomach empties and did an assortment of other things. The tumor itself was six inches in diameter.

On release I was told to go home, resume life, and eat whatever I wanted. One week later, I was in the worst pain of my life and ended up in the emergency room, where I was admitted for another week. It seemed that the nerves in my intestines had quit functioning, and for the next six months nothing crossed my lips other than liquid shakes. I went from my healthy weight of 180 pounds down to 95 pounds.

After I recovered for a bit I started chemo with gemcitabine. I had the treatment for about six months and it was brutal. I used medical marijuana to give me a welcomed relief over the nausea, and to help me maintain a state of calmness in the middle of the storm. I had chemo for about six months.

Enjoying the Simple Pleasures After a Whipple

As a survivor of pancreatic cancer, I now have been thrust into a new category that I had never heard of in my life, and it would appear that not many others have either. Approximately a year ago, my labs came back showing high glucose levels, and my A1C registered in at 9.8, so I am now considered diabetic. I also take pancreatic enzymes with everything I eat. The endocrinologist I met with stretched out his hand and said, “I would like to shake your hand.” In the 42 years he had been a specialist, I was only the second person he had met that fell into this category of diabetic. Not type 1 or type 2, but a separate category. In my research I have found so far, some call it Type 3c (not the same as pregnancy diabetes).

What more can be said, other than I am extremely fortunate to be here, hugging grandkids, feeling the breeze in my face and the sun on my back. After all, it’s not the destination, it’s the ride! We survivors understand the importance of enjoying the important, and many times the simple, pleasures of life and no longer stressing over the peripheral things.

Hear Kenny’s own words in “Every Day is a Gift.”