Friday, December 4, 2015

Understanding life after pancreatic surgery

A GROUP CHAT: Lillemoe listens to patients during group discussions at the pancreatic surgery symposium.

Thirty-six former MGH patients, ranging in age from 35 to 81, recently returned to the hospital for the inaugural pancreatic surgery patient symposium, “Through Patients’ Eyes: Understanding Life After Pancreatic Surgery.” Each had undergone a pancreaticoduodenectomy – more commonly known as a Whipple procedure – from as recently as one month to up to 22 years ago.

The Oct. 31 event, hosted by the MGH Pancreatic Surgery Group in the Department of Surgery, provided a chance for patients, along with their loved ones and caregivers, to reconnect with their surgeons and discuss their postoperative recovery. The patients at the event had Whipple procedures not only for pancreatic cancer, but also for other indications, both benign and malignant.

“The Whipple operation offers the only potential cure for pancreatic cancer, but its aftermath carries a price,” says Andrew Warshaw, MD, emeritus chief of Surgery. “Recovery from the operation may be difficult and prolonged. As surgeons we want now to focus on the outcome of our treatment from the patient’s point of view. What can we surgeons learn from our patients to support them better during recovery and to improve their lives in after-years?”

After welcoming speeches, patients and caregivers were split into four groups for discussions led by MGH surgeons. Leading the discussions were Warshaw; Carlos Fernandez-del Castillo, MD, director of the Pancreas and Biliary Surgery Program; Keith Lillemoe, MD, chief of Surgery; and Cristina Ferrone, MD, of Surgical Oncology and General Surgery.

“You can try to find support groups online, but many websites can scare the living daylights out of you,” says Andrea Cleghorn, who came to the MGH nearly five years ago for a Whipple procedure to treat her cancer. She attended the symposium because she was curious what other people had gone through with the procedure. “Not eating afterward and the weight loss were difficult. Coming together and talking were helpful. How often do people get to talk about their experience with others who have gone through the same thing? This was a really positive experience. The doctors sincerely cared about what we had to say.”

Patients were encouraged to discuss their care and recovery with the surgeons. Cleghorn says she learned how afraid most people were of the procedure initially, but after meeting with their skilled MGH surgeons they gained confidence about their treatment. Today, Cleghorn says, she is feeling energetic and doing great.

“As patients continue to live longer following complex pancreatic surgery, we need to strive for a better understanding of their long-term outcomes,” says Fernandez-del Castillo. “In addition to allowing us to reconnect with our patients, this symposium represented the critical first steps in accomplishing our mission. We hope this will become an annual event in which we can continue working together with our patients to help improve the experiences and outcomes for patients in the future.”

Read more articles from the 12/04/15 Hotline issue.

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