It's not much more than three years since I had most of my pancreas, stomach and upper intestine removed due to a cancerous tumour that had been growing on the head of my Pancreas. In that time a lot has happened.
Lying in the hospital bed in Adelaide, shortly after the operation commonly called the "Whipple's Procedure", I started to look on the internet for stories of Pancreatic Cancer survival. I didn’t find any. I found the survival statistics. The average survival rate for someone diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer is 3 to 6 months. Only 15- 20% of those diagnosed are able to undergo a "Whipples", and of those only about 15% are expected to have a five-year survival. I was angry, I was scared, I was frustrated.
I tried to be positive. I tried that hard that I got out of the bed, and went for a walk around the ward. I had a naso-gastric tube hanging out of my nose, I had two drain tubes, one coming from each side of my stomach, and I was hanging on to an intravenous drip stand, rolling it along side me. I don’t know how many staples were holding my abdomen together. I walked up to the doors of the intensive care unit where I had spent three days, then on past the doors of the High Dependency Unit where I had spent a week. Every step laboured, but every step necessary to get some sort of a plan for recovery in my own head.
When I made it back to my bed I was more exhausted and in more pain than I had ever been in my life. I started to bargain in my own head. I made four promises.
The first was that I would go back to Ireland and see my family and tell them in person of my illness. I had kept my Cancer diagnosis a secret from them. This worked in my favour during the next six months of Chemotherapy. It motivated me to eat and to exercise. I wanted to appear as healthy as I could to my family when I arrived there. I made it back to Ireland in May 2013 and spent a fantastic month with my family and friends.
The second was that I would get married to my now wife Veronica. Once again we traveled back to Ireland in March 2014. We spent a month with family and friends before getting married in a castle on the rugged coast of County Down, not far from where I grew up.
The third promise I made was in collaboration with Luke. He had suggested that we should travel to Africa, and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Sounded reasonable. Together with our close friend and colleague Paul Lawson we reached the summit on the 27th February 2015. In the process, with the assistance of The Northern Territory Police, The Northern Territory Government and the Northern Territory Branch of the Australian Hotel's Association we managed to raise $131,727.84 (for Avner’s Foundation) for research into Pancreatic Cancer.
The final promise was a blessing. On our return from Africa, Luke told me some fantastic news. He told me that he and his partner Kerry were expecting their first child at the beginning of September. A couple of weeks later, Veronica and I had an announcement to make ourselves. We were expecting our first child at the end of September.
Five weeks after Luke's son Eli was born, we welcomed a beautiful daughter into the world. Isobel Jude Grace Hillen, born at 3.12pm on the 4th October 2015. My heart is bursting and I can only look forward to the future.
Not sure what the next few years will hold, but I'll be looking for another challenge to raise more awareness for Pancreatic Cancer. I'm open to suggestions.
In the meantime I'm going to try and give Isobel the best start to life that I can.