Nicki’s Smile founder: ‘We need a simple test’

Nicki was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, too late to be saved - now her husband Dan is helping to fund early diagnosis research.

Dan Blake
29 July 2020

Dan Blake, shares the story of his wife, Nicki, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer too late to be saved – and how this led to him help fund research to find a simple test for pancreatic cancer.

My wife Nicki was a very happy person. She was a primary school teacher who loved her job and she loved life. When we got married and had our son Joshua, she absolutely adored him and was the most incredible mummy. Then our world was turned upside down.

Dan Blake on helping to find a simple test for pancreatic cancer

When our son was only a few weeks old, Nicki experienced excruciating stomach pain as well as severe back pain and nausea. We went to A&E and were told that it was likely caused by pulling a muscle from lifting our son, which seemed unlikely given he only weighed a few pounds. Nicki was given some painkillers and as the symptoms then died down, we didn’t think much of it.

This is a story of how signs were continually missed. With a simple test, early diagnosis would have been possible and Nicki would still be here today.

Fourteen months later Nicki was suffering again from pain but this time she had itchiness, discolouration of her stools and yellowing of the eyes. She was diagnosed with Obstructive Jaundice, likely caused by gallstones and booked in for surgery.

We accepted this diagnosis because for someone of Nicki’s age, it was more likely to be something like gallstones than pancreatic cancer.

During the ultrasound I could tell that something was very wrong because the radiologist went very quiet and said that Nicki needed a CT scan. I happened to bump into the consultant in the grounds of the hospital and asked him to tell me honestly if it was cancer.

He put an arm on my shoulder and nodded.

I broke down at that point, then took time to compose myself so that I could be the one to tell Nicki that she had pancreatic cancer. I wanted it to come from someone she knew and loved.

Joshua was only three years old when Nicki passed away, aged 33. For months after her death, he kept asking me, ‘When is mummy coming home?’

It was then that I knew I had to do everything I possibly could in Nicki’s memory to help others so that they didn’t have to suffer like we did. I’m 100% confident that had the primary tumour of the pancreas been identified, Nicki would still be here today.

In 2011, I set up a fund with Pancreatic Cancer UK in Nicki’s memory and I have been funding early diagnosis projects through that ever since.

Most recently, we have supported the Pancreatic Cancer UK Early Diagnosis Research Alliance. The aim of this very exciting collaboration is to develop a simple test to diagnosis pancreatic cancer early.