Coventry & Warwickshire

Radical surgery 'has kept me alive' says cancer sufferer

Liz Smith
Image caption Mrs Smith said she is now diabetic following the surgery

A cancer patient who had radical surgery in Germany after being told her cancer was inoperable says she is leading a relatively normal life, 11 months since her diagnosis.

Liz Smith from Coventry was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and told that she had months to live.

The 48-year-old then borrowed £40,000 for the operation at University Hospital in Heidelberg.

She said the tumour has not returned and the surgery has kept her alive.

Surgeons at the hospital, south of Frankfurt, removed her pancreas, spleen, gall bladder and a section of liver.

'Doesn't stop me'

She then had the blood supply to her remaining liver reconstructed and her bile duct rejoined.

Surgeons do perform the operation in the UK but three cancer specialists did not recommend she have it done.

Although the operation has left her a diabetic and having to take enzymes with food, Mrs Smith said it was better than the alternative and she still has hope.

"My diabetes has been quite severe since the surgery so I have to have someone around in close proximity in case I have a hypo [a hypoglycaemic episode] but it doesn't really stop me.

"If anyone said I'd have this surgery and be living the way I am, I wouldn't have believed it."

Image caption The couple had to borrow the money from relatives to fund the surgery

Her husband Andy said she had to have the surgery.

"We turned to family and borrowed the money," he said.

"We took the opinion that 'what's a life worth?'

"People pay thousands for [hair] extensions to be done and you can pay for it over a period of years so we just took that attitude, that it's got to be done."

Mrs Smith spent a week in University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) with bleeding, but was discharged with suspected gallstones in March last year.

It was only during a second admission to the hospital on 20 March that an endoscope examination identified a problem.

After waiting a week for an urgent scan, Mrs Smith decided to pay for a private scan on 27 March, which showed her cancer of the pancreas was advanced.

A team at the hospital decided not to operate, but to offer chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumour.

Meghana Pandit, the hospital's chief medical officer, said: "We have absolutely no doubt that the care Mrs Smith has received and continues to receive at UHCW is of the highest standard.

'Agreed with specialists'

"Mrs Smith elected to have a scan and operation carried out privately since being offered an established and widely accepted treatment for her aggressive and advanced medical condition.

"Three independent medical opinions from other leading centres all agreed with our specialists and the recommended course of treatment."

Cancer of the pancreas is usually detected late and patients usually live for six months after diagnosis.

The survival rate for pancreatic cancer in Britain is among the worst in Europe, according to Pancreatic Cancer Action, and it has not improved for 40 years.

Founder Ali Stunt said that 80% of patients in Britain are not eligible for surgery at diagnosis because GPs do not recognise the symptoms, and it takes too long for patients to have a scan.

She said: "Eighty per cent of patients are diagnosed too late for an operation to be a possibility for them so what we really need to see is more patients diagnosed in time for surgery because that's the only potential cure we have."

A 42-year-old patient from near Manchester will also fly to Heidelberg on Monday for an operation after being told his cancer was inoperable in the UK.

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