My father died over 4 years ago from pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, the first sign my father had of this cancer (he awoke jaundice) was also the final stages of this hideous disease. All cancers are terrible, but pancreatic cancer takes it one step further. Its first noticeable symptoms are usually the final ones. In hindsight, I realize my family and I were given many clues that my fathers health was changing. Unfortunately, not one of us noticed those signs in time.
One of the first signs of pancreatic cancer is abdominal pain, frequently radiating to the back. My father did not have radiating back pain, but instead suffered a dull, achy pain. Since he had always had a troublesome back which lead to surgery years earlier, he dismissed this as nothing serious. He started sessions with a chiropractor, who tried to alleviate the constant ache.
Another symptom that was overlooked, was his weight loss. He had always been a giant of a man and usually maintained his weight at 240. He started losing weight, but insisted that he was tired of his belly being his table and wanted to lose the pounds. I believe he truly felt what he was saying was true, but the underlying cause is what has me convinced that pancreatic cancer was rearing its ugly head very early.
Around the beginning of 2003 my father started getting picky about his food. Nothing grossly peculiar, but for a man who would sit down and enjoy every hearty meal, suddenly some of his favorite foods just didn’t taste right to him. He would have my mom taste the morsel and although she would tell him that it was fine he would insist it tasted funny or was not prepared right.
In hindsight my Dads food tasting different was a very big sign that his health was changing, but certainly not the biggest clue that we got and failed to notice. My Dad was a beer drinker his whole life. He drank beer everyday. I don’t want to make him sound like a hobo on the tracks, but he worked hard and he played hard. He enjoyed beer with his meals. He enjoyed beer after mowing his grass. He enjoyed beer watching his football games. He was a beer drinking guy.
Imagine to our amazement, when he just stopped drinking it. He just didn’t care for the taste any longer and drank water or diet cola with his meals. That still didn’t trigger a clue for us and it masked the clue for losing weight. With my father not drinking beer it was a given that he was going to lose weight. Therefore we lost another valuable clue that my fathers health was changing. All of this was approximately 1 year before his diagnosis.
Another sign that we didn’t recognize was my Dad constantly eating peanuts. He could not get enough of them. Shortly before his skin turned jaundice, his whole body became itchy. I have since learned that the itchiness was caused from bile salt crystals backing up under his skin. The tumor was at the head of the pancreas and unknowing to us was already blocking his bile duct. I don’t know where the peanuts fit in other then their salt content. He might have been craving for salt since it was accumulating in his skin tissue instead of being distributed throughout his body, but that I’m just guessing.
I am not in the medical field, but I have been obsessed with pancreatic cancer funding and trying to find early detection. Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer and the deadliest of all cancers. I am hoping that by writing this article it can bring awareness to its readers on some very subtle changes in ones health that were obviously noticeable in my Dads case, but not observed or processed by us as anything major or needing our immediate attention.