Dr. Perry Bender

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You might find it impressive that at 80 years old, Dr. Perry Bender says waterskiing is “quite easy.” But having survived metastasized cancer, Whipple surgery, and a myriad of other health complications, the watersport really is a breeze in comparison to what he’s been through.

Bender waterskiing

Bender’s health journey

 “It’s been a rough ride,” says Bender about his experience with cancer. “When I look back, it was horrendous.”

In 2010 after experiencing severe abdominal pain, Bender learned that he had a twisted intestine. During surgery to address it, doctors found a cyst on his pancreas. And while they thought the cyst was benign, Bender requested to have ultrasounds every few years, just to be safe.

In late 2016, one of those ultrasounds showed changes in his pancreatic duct, which were unrelated to the original cysts. Bender was referred to surgeon Dr. Shiva Jayaraman at St. Joseph’s Health Centre who informed him that the changes likely indicated pancreatic cancer. He recommended a pancreaticoduodenectomy.

Pancreaticoduodenectomies, also known as Whipple procedures, are very difficult and laborious surgeries that involve the removal of the gallbladder, bile duct, duodenum (part of the small intestine) and head of the pancreas. Due to the number of organs involved and the deep location of the pancreas, the surgery can be quite risky, and the recovery is very long and difficult.

Fortunately, Bender made it through, and Jayaraman was able to confirm that he indeed had cancer.

“It was pure shock,” says Bender on his reaction to the diagnosis. “No one in my immediate family had cancer, so it was just a shock.”

To reduce the chances of the cancer coming back following the operation, the father of three and grandfather of seven began chemotherapy.

Bender family

Despite enduring eight months of “horrible, terrible” chemo, five and a half years after the Whipple surgery, during a routine scan, Bender learned that he had a new tumour in his liver. Dr. Jayaraman performed a liver resection at St. Joseph’s, and the mass was found to be a metastatic recurrence of his original pancreatic cancer. The surgery was successful, but shortly after that, Bender found himself at his local hospital in Vaughan, this time with a bowel blockage.

Though Jayaraman was not the physician to treat the blockage, Bender says the surgeon still played an important role as he was communicating back and forth with the Bender family, offering support and advice, despite being away at an international conference at the time.

“He was unbelievable,” says Bender of Jayaraman. “He’s just such a caring person.”

Dr. Shiva Jayaraman

Bender’s life advice

While Bender has gone through the tough experience of treatment and its resulting side effects, and though he has continued uncertainties for the future, he considers himself “extra lucky” to be here today.

Reflecting on his life so far and what’s got him through his tough times, he shares this advice:

  • Enjoy each day because life is uncertain. “I didn’t think I would have cancer. I didn’t think I would have metastases. I didn’t think I would have a blockage. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does. So, socialize as much as you can with your friends and family. Pursue a hobby. Do things you enjoy.”
  • Exercise and get outside for some fresh air. “When I was going through chemo, when I was able to, I would get out and garden. That helped me a lot. Walks, even short ones, helped too.”
  • Get vaccinated and protect yourself and your loved ones. “Having had this type of cancer, if I get sick, I’m really going to be sick. So, it’s so important that I protect myself. Ask your physician about getting COVID and flu shots. That’s something I would really recommend.”
  • Look at the bright side. “When you have this Whipple surgery, one of the complications is you lose a lot of weight. So, that makes it easy for me to get up on water skis!”

Bender looks forward to being back on his water skis in the summer. In the meantime, you can find him spending the winter months in Florida with his wife of 54 years, Barbara.

By: Kaitlin Jingco

Photos and video of Dr. Perry Bender and family courtesy of the Bender family