When he first developed the symptoms of jaundice, Chiang Rai-based British expatriate John Laycock decided to combine a planned trip to Bangkok with a visit to Samitivej. It proved to be a wise decision as John was quickly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and on the operating table less than 48 hours later. Thanks to the quick diagnosis, prompt laparoscopic surgery, and expert care by the Samitivej medical teams, John is now on the road to recovery. Here he shares his experiences of the diagnosis, treatment, recovery and care he received at Samitivej.
On the decision to come to Samitivej, and the speed with which he was diagnosed and treated
John Laycock’s decision to combine a visit to Bangkok with an appointment at Samitivej began a much faster process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery than the British expatriate expected. “I had some symptoms of jaundice,” John explained. “I was in my house in Chiang Rai, but I was coming to Bangkok anyway, so we arranged a quick appointment at Samitivej.” At Samitivej, John saw Gastroenterology Specialist, Dr. Vinita Oranrap, who immediately recognized that something was wrong. “She arranged an ultrasound and a scan within 2 or 3 hours,” John continued. “She found there was a mass on my pancreas.” Despite the dire diagnosis, there was, however, good news. “The scan showed that it was resectable; it could be operated on,” John told us. “So we were quite happy about that and the next morning, I met their surgeon, Dr. Pakpong Wathanaoran. He said he could do it and he would like to do the operation by laparoscopy. To my amazement, he could do it the next afternoon, so that was only 47 hours from the first time I came to the hospital until he did the operation, and I couldn’t believe it could all be done so quickly. I was really happy.”
On recovering from the surgery
Things were moving quickly, and fortunately for John, he was in expert hands. The fact that he underwent laparoscopic surgery also made his post-operative recovery much easier. “The surgery took 13 hours, which I found amazing that an operation could take that long,” John explained. “But after the operation, I woke up in the ICU, and they put me on painkillers so I felt no pain,” he continued. “It was just a bit difficult to move, and I couldn’t eat anything for, I think, 4 days. But they looked after me extremely well and fed me intravenously.” After two days in the ICU, John was moved to the surgical ward. “The first night after that, I was allowed to have some soup, and gradually I was given better food. After about a week, I was eating fine, except that it had to be a very controlled diet – nothing fried, nothing very sweet and all very plain, but I began to get my weight back up a little bit, so that was fine.” John was impressed not only with the speed of his treatment and recovery but also with the prompt care he received. “When I had a few minor problems, like there was a small problem with my voice, the ENT specialist checked that, and I had a rash on my back, which the dermatologist checked within such a short time,” he explained. “My recovery went fine.”
On the care he received at Samitivej
“The care all the time in the ward was absolutely excellent,” John told us. “The nurses were looking after me very well, and the doctors came regularly, in the morning and in the evening, and if we needed another specialist, they came within an hour to see what the problem was.” As John’s recovery continued, it was also time to begin some rehabilitation. “The nurses were very good to help me get up and start walking,” explained John. “First of all, they took me for a walk along the corridor, and then I was allowed to go downstairs in a wheelchair to walk a little bit around the beautiful garden in the hospital, which was lovely.” After just over two weeks, John was ready to leave the hospital. “We rented an apartment in the soi with a kitchen and a bathroom. I mean the kitchen was important so that I could have the right food,” he explained.
On his chemotherapy treatment
John admitted that he was a little bit scared about the chemo because of what he had heard from others. However, he felt he got good advice from his doctors at Samitivej. “I was lucky because Dr. Pakpong and Dr. Vinita encouraged me to go on a trip before I started the chemo, so I went for 4 days to Doi Tung, and that was wonderful because I could walk a lot, get the fresh air, and my weight increased, so when I came back and began the chemo, I was well recovered from the operation,” John explained. However, even when the treatment began, John was pleasantly surprised. “I thought that very bad things might happen to me when they started giving me the drugs but actually, it’s been fine. I’ve just been a bit sleepy and I have a very dry mouth. But, so far, there’s been nothing else to worry about. Their oncologist, Dr. Phuchai Pitakkitnukun, said that everything is going very well with the chemo. I needn’t worry about that. So I’m very happy.”
On the doctors at Samitivej
John expressed his delight for how much time the doctors at Samitivej had for him. “I come from a different country, originally, and sometimes the doctors don’t have very much time to spend or explain things to you,” he told us. “But that was not what happened to me here. The doctors came to see me and spent maybe 5 or 10 minutes with me explaining everything, looking after me. And apart from that, they were very, very kind and friendly. There was nothing to worry about. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I simply couldn’t have asked for better treatment from the doctors. It was really special, particularly the doctor who admitted me. She immediately put me on her Line, so we’ve been Line messaging everyday. It’s wonderful because it gives you a lot of confidence, and you know that if there is a problem, you can immediately share the problem on the Line message. Dr. Phuchai has also done the same thing, when he said I’ve now finished the first cycle of chemo, and can go home. He said ‘If there is anything that happens that worries you, just send me a message immediately and we’ll tell you what to do.’ So that’s been wonderful.”
On the advice he would give anyone in a similar situation
John had some useful advice for anyone who is facing surgery to treat pancreatic cancer. “It’s a big operation. For me, I didn’t check the full details first because I thought it was better I didn’t know everything. I only followed what Dr. Pakpong explained to me on a diagram. I think it’s up to an individual whether they want to know the full details or not, but what I would say is, in my case, there was nothing to be frightened of. It was a very big operation, but it was fine. There was nothing to worry about.” John also stressed the importance of choosing highly qualified and experienced doctors who know how to perform the latest procedures. “I was in expert hands and I appreciated very, very much having the operation done by laparoscopy because that meant there was no big incision and the recovery was much easier. So I would advise anybody to have the operation done quickly, have it done by an expert surgeon, like Dr. Pakpong, and you will be fine.”