Warrnambool's Karen Guyett shares her fight with pancreatic cancer

CHEERS: Now cancer free Karen Guyett pictured with St John of God's Fran Hynes are encouraging the community to come together for a Cancer Council Biggest Morning Tea on Thursday. Picture: Rob Gunstone
CHEERS: Now cancer free Karen Guyett pictured with St John of God's Fran Hynes are encouraging the community to come together for a Cancer Council Biggest Morning Tea on Thursday. Picture: Rob Gunstone

DURING Karen Guyett’s fight against pancreatic cancer the lowest point came when she was gaunt and  terribly weak and couldn’t brush her teeth without vomiting.

But the Warrnambool mother-of-three is not the type of person to dwell on negatives. She is now cancer-free and says the experience was not a negative one.

“I can’t say that it was a negative journey or a bad journey and I’m not in denial,” she said.

“I found it a really positive, beautiful journey. I was very lucky I didn’t lose my hair, I wasn’t violently ill.

“I’m a realist. I believe if my day is marked, it’s marked. 

“My chances of getting off the operating table were not good but I was like ‘you know what if they’re going to flap my wings from that table then be happy for me because I got here’. 

“I made it to the surgery and I’m grateful.”

In September 2014 Mrs Guyett and her husband Brian had returned from a holiday in Queensland and were catching up with their son and his young family in Mornington.

While Mrs Guyett, 60, was at the park with her two granddaughters she started to get what she thought were flu like symptoms.

She then noticed drops of fluid coming off her hair and felt more and more unwell.

“So I was looking around for a sprinkler or something,” she said. “This was all within 20 minutes. I just thought ‘God where is that coming from’?”

Mrs Guyett quickly took her grandchildren home and started getting back pain and sweating.

”I thought ‘yep this is pneumonia’,” she said.  

“Then I was lying down and my stomach just grew like I was seven months pregnant, right in front of me.”

An ambulance was called and it was initially thought Mrs Guyett was having a heart attack.

“I was just laughing because I thought if this is a heart attack well when does the pain start,” she said.

She was taken to the Frankston Hospital and by midnight the pain had increased, the swelling was still there and sweat was pouring off her.

After about four days and a series of tests, she was told there was a mass on her pancreas and she was asked if she knew what that meant.

“I said I think I do, I think we’re talking cancer,” Mrs Guyett said.

There was a four centimetre tumor and she was told pancreatic cancer had a six per cent survival rate.

“I thought ‘well this is serious’,” she said.

Mrs Guyett praised the nurses and doctors who looked after her, particularly her surgeon Charles Pilgrim who she described as a Godsend.

During her treatment she lost 20kgs and for a while she was weighed every day at 5am.

“I was watching the scales every morning and thinking how much lower can I go,” she said. 

“I was very weak and I was very, very sick.”

Her treatment consisted of chemotherapy for six to eight months, radiotherapy for six weeks, chemotherapy and radiotherapy together and finally surgery to remove the tumor.

“It honestly hardly touched me,” she said. “They said to me it’s an aggressive cancer. 

“We’ve got one crack at this or you die, it’s as simple as that and you have to pass 100 per cent chemo to have radiation, have to pass radiation at just about 100 per cent to get to surgery.

“I had the metal mouth, the ulcers, the cold sores and I couldn’t touch anything cold.”

Mrs Guyett laughed when she said her white wine had to be zapped for eight seconds in the microwave. 

“I couldn’t have it chilled but that didn’t stop me having it though,” she said.

She said the love and support she got from friends and family had been critical in her frame of mind and recovery.

“My husband Brian took three months off work and was by my bedside,” she said.

“And there was also love and support from the medical people. 

“It kept me going.”

According to the Cancer Council Australia pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells develop in part of the pancreas. 

“Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in men and ninth most common cancer in women in Australia,” the council states.

“Unfortunately pancreatic cancer has a low survival rate as it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

“Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death over all.”

The Cancer Council says pancreatic cancer rarely caused symptoms and they often only appeared once the cancer was large enough to affect nearby organs or had spread.

Early signs of the disease can include pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, changed bowel movements and jaundice.

Less common signs can be severe back pain and onset of diabetes.

Mrs Guyett has organised a Biggest Morning Tea at St John of God on Thursday at 10.30am.

The event will include raffles and door prizes and all money raised will go to the Cancer Council and entry is by gold coin donation.

She said it was important for her to get behind the so-called forgotten cancers.

“Anything I can do I want to,” she said. 

“I feel great. I go to the gym. It’s onwards and upwards.”

Visit www.cancer.org.au for more information or to donate to the Cancer Council.

They said to me this is an aggressive cancer. We’ve got one crack at this or you die, it’s as simple as that.

Karen Guyett