Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK, with around 10,000 people diagnosed each year. The disease has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 most common cancers, with just 7.9% of people in the UK living for five years or more after diagnosis. This has risen from 3% in the last ten years.
It is the human stories that show the devastating impact pancreatic cancer can have on people and their families. Here Pf’s Melanie Hamer shares her Dad’s story.
John William Street as told by his daughter, Melanie Hamer
My Dad was always healthy. He was a quiet, thoughtful man and he’d do anything for anybody. A draughtsman by trade, he was also a keen artist – though he played it down – and was always interested in his grandchildren’s lives, and in our business. He never complained about anything, and he was never ill.
But in the spring of 2015, Dad started getting tummy troubles, then in May, he started feeling an uncomfortable twinge under his shoulder blade, and he lost a little bit of weight. The doctor thought he might have gallstones, so sent him for tests.
Pancreatic cancer had been mentioned in passing, but the possibility of gallstones was the focus. While we waited for the test results, the tummy troubles persisted, and his urine was darker. The twinge under his shoulder blade was still there too, and he was developing back pain. But he never complained and only took some paracetamol when it was really needed.
On the 27th of June 2015, Dad’s eyes went slightly yellow – he was going to the GP for his test results on the Tuesday. I said to my Mum to take Dad to A&E if he wasn’t well before then, and he went to A&E on Monday the 29th of June, even though he disliked the fuss. There, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
On 2nd July, they told him that it was advanced and aggressive and had spread to his liver, gall bladder, stomach, and bowel. When symptoms show with pancreatic cancer it is very often too late for treatment and this was the case for Dad. We asked how long Dad had left. “Six to eight weeks,” the doctor replied. It was too late, they told us. There’s nothing to be done. We were all horrified and shocked. We had no time to come to terms with Dad being ill, let alone how little time we had left with him.
I looked at the consultant and asked him what he would do, if it was his father. “I’d take my Dad home,” he said. People say that the world stops when you get bad news. Mine did. I can still remember how I felt, looking at Dad.
My dignified Dad stood up and shook the doctor’s hand after he had received the news that he was going to die. He was such a proud and dignified man; he would have worn a tie in his hospital bed had Mum taken one in for him. It was heart-breaking.
We brought Dad home. He got everything in order, which included buying a new car for Mum, so she could get around. The palliative care nurses visited him, and though part of me wanted to keep him at home, so we could look after him there, he told us he wanted to go into the hospice. My sister, Mum and I sat vigil with him, 24/7, and he was never alone. We lost Dad a week after he went into the hospice, on the 26th of August 2015. He was 77.
It was such a shock, it was so quick, just eight weeks from diagnosis.
Pancreatic cancer can be a devastating disease. Understanding symptoms and signs could potentially lead to early diagnosis, which may lead to a more positive outcome.
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