This is especially the case for pancreatic cancer, which in comparison to other tumours (e.g. melanoma) has an exceptionally low prognosis: a survival rate of just 9.8 per cent. This is because in its initial stages - when it’s considered most curable - there are typically no tell-tale symptoms.
As early detection greatly increases the chances for the treatment’s success, awareness is key. That’s why it’s so important to hear the real-life stories behind the statistics.
Here, three men who lost their wives to pancreatic cancer share their heart-breaking experiences.
Tony and Lyn
My wife Lyn died from Pancreatic Cancer seven months after she was diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer has dreadful mortality rates, and the main reason is that it is diagnosed so late. Lyn had some vague symptoms similar to gallstones and had some discomfort in her back that she couldn't really describe. Like many busy women, she put her own health needs last on the long list of things she needed to get done each week. She was lucky to have received excellent surgical and oncology care following her diagnosis. Unfortunately, time was not her friend.
When she died so quickly it was a shock. Not just because she was a fit, vital and healthy 69 years old with vague symptoms but also because we had no idea what we were facing. Until that point, our family had not been touched by cancer, and it seemed unbelievable that it would be Lyn who would be struck down. When it became evident that Lyn’s prognosis would be the same as 92% of pancreatic cancer patients, we faced her death with humility, humour and pragmatism. We were grateful she could have surgery and chemotherapy. It took a terrible toll, but it enabled her to have quality time with her children, grandchildren, family and friends; as short as that was.
When she was diagnosed, Lyn began planning her own funeral. In doing so, she knew the impact raising funds for research would have on the next person to be diagnosed with this insidious disease. Rather than flowers, she asked mourners to donate to the GI Cancer institute rather than send flowers. Her consideration of others facing this terrible disease through this act raised money for pancreatic cancer research.
Her death has been devastating. Losing Lyn to pancreatic cancer has inspired me to raise awareness of the disease, to encourage early detection and, as Lyn did in her dying days, to continue to raise much-needed funds for research.
So my advice now would be: get those vague symptoms checked out early by a health professional and together let's raise awareness of Pancreatic Cancer so we can improve outcomes for future generations.
Frank and Mee-Na
Four and half months from diagnosis to her passing. After ‘successful’ surgery, a liver secondary observed about 5-6 weeks later. Mee-Na decided NOT to proceed with chemotherapy and for us that was the best decision we made as we had 3 ‘good’ months of pretty normal time together, only getting very sick and weak in last two weeks before death.
The next best decision was to nurse her at home, with palliative support and family all around ministering to her every need, till the end.
We were two days short of our 55th wedding anniversary.
She was beautiful and we miss her. She is at peace, where The Angels learn to fly.
Danny and Rochelle
Rochelle’s journey to death in 2014 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57 was extremely difficult. She suffered through 13 chemotherapy treatments, 10 sessions of radiotherapy, multiple drains of the abdomen and the insertion of a stent in the bile duct.
We had no knowledge of this disease before her diagnosis. Since then we have learnt that pancreatic cancer has a 5-year survival rate of only 9.8 per cent compared to the common cancers of breast, melanoma and prostate that all have 5-year survival rate higher than 90 per cent.
Pancreatic cancer is the fifth-highest cause of cancer deaths and the period from diagnosis to death is very short - usually months, sometimes weeks but rarely years.
In the absence of an early detection test or more effective treatments for pancreatic cancer sufferers, it is estimated that there will be well over 30,000 deaths from this disease over the next decade.
Looking back I know that Rochelle exhibited some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer for at least 18 months prior to her diagnosis. These symptoms included mid back pain, insulin resistance, nausea, changes in bowel motions and lost of appetite.
Make sure that you listen to your body. If you are exhibited similar symptoms seek medical assistance and request that the appropriate medical test be undertaken.
The GI Cancer Institute conducts clinical trials to improve the outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer. The GI Cancer Institute is the only organisation in Australia conducting research into new treatments for all digestive cancers and this includes pancreatic cancer. To know more about the GI Cancer Institute, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month or to make a donation for the new Neo-IMPACT trial, please visit ImpactPancreaticCancer.com.au