Rachel shares the story of her Dad, Steve, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.
Dad, like so many others went through a long journey before finally being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had experienced stomach pain for several years but this was correctly diagnosed as a gastro problem. However, in 2018 he started to experience a different pain from before and extensive tests began to find the source.
Fortunately his GP was very thorough and swiftly arranged for Dad to have several different forms of scans to try to diagnose the source of the pain. He was sent for tests and tumours were found in his liver. Unfortunately it was clear that these tumours were secondary and meant that Dad's cancer had already spread from its primary source.
In June 2018, the news that none of our family or doctors wanted to hear was announced; Dad had advanced pancreatic cancer. It had already spread and he was told that his survival was around 6 months, but with palliative chemotherapy this could be up to a year or longer depending on the response to treatment.
Those that knew Dad can testify to his strength of character, and this was only reinforced when he was given his diagnosis. His concerns were more for our family and his close friends than for his own wellbeing, and this helped him focus on the battle he was about to undertake.
Ever the optimist, Dad started a gruelling chemotherapy treatment called FOLFIRINOX, but after the first scan in September it was clear that the existing liver tumours had grown and a number of new liver lesions had appeared. The doctors advised Dad to have another form of chemotherapy, called GemCap, which had a less than 10% chance of getting a positive response, but there was a 30% chance of disease stabilisation (the disease not getting any better or any worse).
Dad made the choice to try this type of chemotherapy, as it would give him an improved life expectancy of 6 months rather than the 2 months he would have had without it. Unfortunately this also didn't have any effect on the tumours.
The decision was made by our family to stop treatment and spend the year making as many wonderful memories as possible. We spent a wonderful week together in Cornwall, exploring local towns, visiting places where Mum and Dad had previously created wonderful memories and eating lots of scones and Cornish pasties.
Dad continued to inspire his doctors, family and friends as he didn't allow this terminal diagnosis to stop him from living his life. Despite a continuous stream of side effects from the disease, such as diabetes, jaundice, oedema and cellulitis to name a few, he spent his final year living life to the full.
Dad had always wanted to visit Seville so Mum and Dad had a wonderful trip, soaking up the Mediterranean sun and drinking the odd cerveza. They also went on many other adventures within the UK over the course of the year and one final trip to Spain where he got to take in the sights of the Mediterranean sea for the last time. Unfortunately this final trip was cut short and he returned to the UK early.
Dad's face would light up every time he saw or heard his Granddaughter Elsa, and Elsa felt the same about her Grandad. They would spend their time playing, dancing and most importantly laughing together. In Cornwall they made very special memories building Elsa's first ever sandcastle together and laughing as Elsa has a sugar high after her first ice cream.
Dad spent his time teaching me and my fiancé Lee how to do DIY in our new home and spent a wonderful week camping and exploring Suffolk with me, Lee and Mum only weeks before he passed.
Dad and my brother James spent the last year attending live football matches together, watching their beloved Chelsea. During the last few years, Dad started to follow Hampton and Richmond Borough FC, a non-league team, and spent many happy weekends with my Uncle John watching from the terraces with a pint of cider and burger in hand. As James re-located to Bognor and started following his local side, Dad would look forward to watching this fostered team with his son and enjoyed watching the Sussex senior cup final at the Amex stadium only a few weeks before he passed away.
Dad also shared his love for Spain with my sister Beth and they spent some wonderful afternoons planning her recent trip with her partner Chris to Majorca together. Beth will always treasure afternoons spent in the Anglers pub together reminiscing and sharing their love of films, including going to the cinema to watch Bohemian Rhapsody together.
These are just a handful of the wonderful memories that were made over the course of 13 months since his diagnosis.
Dad continued to live his life to the full until the very end. He spent the weekend before he went into hospital celebrating his Granddaughter's 2nd birthday and reminiscing with John and Darren, the two men he called his brothers, and Eileen and Mum over many drinks at home.
Coping with our loss
Before Dad finally left us, he ensured that we were prepared. Any words that needed to be said were said and the family that Mum and Dad had created stuck together and took care of each other. We believe that Dad would have left us in peace knowing that this will continue as we start a new difficult chapter of our lives without him.
Our family feel lucky that although over those 13 months we faced more challenges and cried more tears than ever before, we also got to spend the time making wonderful memories. Unfortunately, many others who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not get this opportunity. This is why it is so important to us that we support this charity so that we can help other families make memories and hopefully beat this terrible disease.
Since losing Dad, our family have set ourselves a target of raising £10,000 in his memory by July 15th 2020, the 1 year anniversary of losing him. We asked for donations to Pancreatic Cancer UK at his funeral and have organised different fundraising activities, me and my office mates took part in a 10,000 steps a day challenge and held a bake sale, Beth asked for donations instead of birthday presents and is currently organising a fundraising night in a local pub in February, and James is running the London Marathon in 2020. Mum has been a part of each and every event supporting us.
Life will never be the same without Dad, but the strength and positivity that he showed over the 13 months as he fought this terrible disease has passed onto his wife and kids as we continue his fight for others.