Meet our ambassador Olivia Williams

We are extremely proud that actor Olivia Williams is an ambassador for our charity and are hugely grateful to her for taking the courageous decision to share her story and help us raise awareness.

Olivia, who starred in The Sixth Sense, Victoria & Abdul, and Anna Karenina among many other popular productions in a career spanning film, TV and theatre has been a Pancreatic Cancer UK Ambassador since 2019. She shares our determination to transform the future for everyone effected by the disease.

A personal connection 

As a survivor of a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour (PancNET) and someone who has lost a dear friend to pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), Olivia knows the devastating impact a diagnosis of cancer in this little known and hard to access part of the body can have – and how punishing the surgery can be.

It took almost four years from her first symptoms until Olivia finally learnt of her diagnosis with a rare form of PancNET called a VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide carcinoma), on a film set in 2018. The emotional strain and repeated misdiagnoses in her long journey will sadly be all too familiar for many of our supporters.

Fortunately, Olivia was able to have surgery – not the Whipple’s procedure used to treat some patients with the most common form of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) – but a distal pancreatectomy and splenectomy.

Olivia, is very open about her diagnosis and the fact that her cancer occurred in her pancreas. However, Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) do grow in other parts of the body and this is something we are clear about in our patient information, and when people call our specialist nurse Support Line. But we have always supported people with PancNETs and do not turn anyone affected by pancreatic cancer away from our services.

Some of our support groups are run by PancNET patients while also being attended by people living with PDAC, the most common form of this devastating disease. We will continue to signpost people to these groups and on to other relevant organisations such as Neuroendocrine Cancer UK, who Olivia also publicly supports.

Campaigning for change

Olivia is committed to transforming the future for other people with pancreatic cancer, using her notoriety to bring vital awareness to the issues surrounding the cause.

Her operation left Olivia dependent on Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT), simple, inexpensive medication she must take every time she eats otherwise her body cannot digest food to absorb nutrients. Knowing just how important PERT is, regardless of whether someone is living with or beyond pancreatic cancer, Olivia has helped lead our Transform Lives: Prescribe campaign, championing our call for everyone who could benefit from PERT to prescribed it at the point of diagnosis.

“Early diagnosis could have saved the lives of so many people – among them my friend Tom Beard, my acting hero Alan Rickman and The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.”

Olivia Williams, Pancreatic Cancer UK ambassador

 

Supporting our research

As an ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK, Olivia shares our determination to make early diagnosis a reality and has visited scientists from The Early Diagnosis Research Alliance (EDRA).

This ground-breaking project is not only our largest-ever single investment into early diagnosis research, but also the largest ever investment in PancNET detection by a charity in the UK.  The goal of the EDRA, led by a team of researchers specialising in both PDAC and PancNETS, is to find a simple test to diagnose all patients at an earlier stage.  The new tool will be sensitive to both PDACs and PancNETs. Once validated, this tool will represent the most accurate early detection test for the disease ever created and will help doctors save lives.

Pancreatic cancer is predicted to become the fourth biggest cancer killer by 2026 in the UK, if decades of inadequate investment in research are not reversed. The majority of our research will rightly focus on PDAC as this has a far lower survival rate and is more common than PancNET. But we are determined to continue investing in research to transform the future for people with all kinds of pancreatic cancers.

We’re delighted to have Olivia as an Ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK, and thank her for generously giving up her time to support the cause.