Well, shit just got REALLY real didn’t it. The day has arrived and am I feeling it? HELL TO THE YEAH! 💪
This entire week, the excitement and anxiety have been building, and I’ve had so many thoughts and feelings going through my head. One minute I’m relaxed and chilled, thinking ‘I can do this, yeah, I CAN do this’. Then BAM! There I am crying into my cup of tea, telling Craig to stop me from making stupid decisions like this. Then, I thought of why I was doing it.
Over the last few months, I’ve spent my time informing you all about Pancreatic Cancer, sharing others experiences of the disease, and mainly over the last few weeks, about my training. When I was carrying on at Craig this morning about my stupidity in running this marathon, Craig said in his wisdom ‘remember why you’re doing it’. There and then, I stopped, I remembered.
This marathon is for my Auntie Barb.
Always kind, always caring, always there.
I asked my cousin Jenny to write for this week’s blog, to share her family’s experience of this disease. Firstly I want to thank Jenny and Andy for all their help with fundraising, all their constant support throughout, and so spurring me on when I’ve needed it most. Thank you Jen for writing for my blog this week, and sharing with us all – it means so much.
From Jen to you all:
I used to know that the pancreas has something to do with insulin, but I couldn’t have told you where it is located in the body. I had heard of pancreatic cancer, as the cause of the death of Patrick Swayze, but I thought it was rare. Now, sadly, I know all too well the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, the awful survival rates and that this is actually now the fifth most common cause of death from cancer in the UK – and I know this because in 2015 this vile disease took the life of my beloved 68 year old mum, just six weeks after diagnosis.
Common symptoms are pain or discomfort, jaundice and weight loss. All of which my mum had, but were also fitting with the difficulties she had been having with a gallstone lodged in her bile duct. Pancreatic cancer may not actually cause symptoms for a long time and as such a lot of diagnoses are made in A&E at an advanced stage. In England and Wales the five year or more survival rate is under 5%.
My mum was a wonderful mother, wife, nanny, sister and friend. She was a healthy and amazingly strong woman. After losing my father when she was only 38 years old, she did a wonderful job of raising my brother and I and running my father’s business. I don’t recall mum being ill very often, other than the odd cold, and she took nothing more than a vitamin supplement and ibuprofen when she had a headache, which was rare! She would always have her five a day, never smoked and drunk no more than a glass of sherry or wine every now and then. She was enjoying life; newly retired with my stepfather and planning their future and most of all, loving every second of being a nanny to her beloved first grandchild Max. And then in early 2015 our world was torn apart – pancreatic cancer took away my mum far too soon.
The six weeks between us finding out and her passing are a blur. She suddenly had a bag full of drugs to take and hated what she described as becoming a cancer patient. She wanted life to be as normal as possible and this was how she wanted to deal with it – I would fuss that I wanted her to rest, but she wanted to do the washing while she could. She was so brave, more worried about how we were, but she was of course scared too – she said she then understood what panic felt like, she felt like she wanted to run away, but she dealt with this feeling by clearing out a cupboard. She was a very private person and wanted us to try to come to terms with it in our immediate family unit before telling other loved ones. We weren’t ever told how long mum had or if she could have treatment, because they wanted her to have a biopsy first. She was never able to have this as she deteriorated so rapidly. My stepdad says he never realised how serious it was at that stage. I had done research and I knew of the awful survival rates and I felt helpless. It broke my heart when one evening mum said to me ‘you know I’m not going to be ok, don’t you?’ and I could only nod. We just held each other. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had had a bad dream and then reality hit again and again. Mum would even apologise to us that this was happening! It was awful watching mum get weaker and weaker. She struggled to eat anything, was in a lot of pain, slept a lot and had swelling in her stomach, legs and feet. She was told she had a bleed in her stomach and would need a blood transfusion. However it had got to the point where we couldn’t get her to the toilet without it causing her to scream out in pain and sadly on the 22nd February 2015, a day I had always shared with my mum as it was our joint birthday, mum told us she needed to go to hospital and we called an ambulance. Mum was taken for assessment and when we got to see her she said the doctor was looking for us all. She had been told, on her own, on her birthday, that it was a matter of time, probably months, and the cancer had spread to her liver and now also her lungs. However, she appeared peaceful and I spent the evening of our last ever birthday together feeding her some soup and talking with her. I went home feeling quite hopeful that she would recover enough to come home for a while at least, but sadly that wasn’t to be and on arriving at the hospital the next day we were told she had only weeks left. She was no longer very coherent, but she was put in a private room and we had family visit to say goodbyes. The saddest thing I have ever seen was watching my two year old nephew kiss her and say “night night Nanny”. We were again taken into the family room and told it was now likely to be hours only. What was so shocking is that as we came out of that room, another family was going in. Cancer is affecting lots of people right now. You always think ‘why us?’ but why not? Cancer does not discriminate.
We kept vigil overnight, talking to each other in mum’s room, as they say the hearing is the last thing to go. Mum was so pro-life and fought so bravely until the very end. She passed away surrounded by her family the next evening and life would never be the same again.
Losing mum has been like losing the button that held our family together. Her passing has left a massive gap in our lives, but we continue to live it the best we can and to try to make her proud. She now also has another grandchild, Milo, and I am pleased she knew he was on the way before she passed, but saddened she never got to meet him. We try to keep her memory alive and make sure her darling grandsons both know what a special and brave Nanny they had.
So this is where we fight back. Fight to try to stop other families going through what we did. Raise awareness of symptoms and raise funds for essential research in the hope that earlier detection means more people will survive pancreatic cancer. Despite lots of advances in cancer research and increased survival rates in some other types of cancer the survival rates for pancreatic cancer have remained terribly low. However there are survival stories and I want to read about more of these.
I was truly touched when Lucy told me she was running the marathon for pancreatic cancer UK and in memory of mum. Mum was so fond of Lucy and I know she will be with her on the day watching over her. Lucy, like mum, you are an amazing, courageous woman and I am so very proud of you. You have raised an incredible amount of money for a fantastic cause. You can wear your vest with pride.
To our wonderful Auntie Barb; today is for you.