Bile Duct Cancer

Nicole Coppin – Six years’ cancer-free

February 8, 2023 Word for Word Media 0Comment

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Single mother, Nicole Coppin, shares her story of having periampullary adenocarcinoma (a bile and pancreatic duct cancer).

What is periampullary carcinoma?

Periampullary carcinoma is a broad term used to define the group of carcinomas arising from the head of the pancreas, the distal common bile duct, and the first part of the small intestine.

Nicole Coppin (46) lives in Edenvale, Gauteng with her 14-year-old son, Joey.

In March 2016, it was found that Nicole had a tumour around her bile and pancreatic duct; this was after she experienced a sore stomach and nausea. 

She first consulted with a new GP (as her regular GP wasn’t available), who diagnosed her with reflux. “After a few days, I felt worse so I went to my regular doctor. Immediately he saw that I was yellow, a sign of jaundice (and a symptom of bile duct cancer). His first thought was hepatitis, so blood tests were done but they were negative. So, the next day a sonar was done where something abnormal was found. Later that day I went for a CT scan and a mass was confirmed, but the doctors weren’t sure what it was.”

Nicole was referred to a hepato-pancreato-biliary surgery specialist who did a gastroscopy and it was confirmed that a cancerous tumour was around her bile and pancreatic duct.


The single mother underwent Whipple surgery (major surgical operation to remove cancerous tumours from the head of the pancreas) and six months of chemotherapy.

“Thankfully, I healed well and quite quickly from the surgery. Before the surgery, I was informed that Whipple surgery was extremely painful, so it was decided to do a spinal block to help with the pain. It was also mentioned that my blood glucose would have to be monitored as there is a strong possibility that I can develop diabetes. Thankfully, so far, my pancreas is still functioning well,” Nicole explains.

She goes on to say, “However, the chemotherapy was horrific as well as the side effects. Anything cold would burn me; I couldn’t touch anything cold or even drink room temperature water, added to that I did chemotherapy through winter. I lost feeling in my fingers and toes, but they would still burn from cold surfaces. For a long time, I couldn’t write or draw. I also lost the skin on my fingertips, so had no fingerprints for a long time too. My muscles would cramp and seize a lot, especially in my legs which made it difficult to walk. I didn’t really experience nausea as I was given medication for that, but I had constant diarrhoea. I lost 20kg in those six months.”

“Chemotherapy makes you feel like you’re dying. I cried happy tears when I finally reached the end of the course. I was also extremely lucky not to lose my hair.”

What is Whipple surgery?

Whipple surgery, also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy, is a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct. Whipple surgery is used to treat tumours and other disorders of the pancreas, intestine and bile duct.

Sisterhood support

Nicole says she had an amazing support system in her mother, Annette, her sister, Tandee, and two friends, Saskia and Jennifer. “They would all take turns taking leave from their jobs to take me to my treatments. The same amazing group of ladies also helped out with, Joey, as well as some of Joey’s school friends. 

He was only seven so didn’t really understand cancer. We would organise sleepovers at his friends on the days I had chemotherapy, so he didn’t have to see me. And all through this, Joey’s school helped a lot too. They sent him for counselling and were extremely supportive and he aced the year with flying colours,” Nicole says.

Though the 46-year-old mother admits it was hard to be away from Joey when she was in hospital for 11 days for surgery. “It was so hard for both of us to be apart forso long.” 

She adds that her boss, surgeon and oncologist also played a huge role in supporting her and she can’t thank them enough.

Six years’ cancer-free

Nicole is a year into complete remission. “My oncologist said you’re officially in full remission once you are five years’ cancer-free, I’m now six years’ cancer-free. Though, I still go for six-monthly check-ups with yearly CT scans and five-yearly colonoscopies.”

Editor Laurelle Williams

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write me: [email protected]

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