by Sue and Steve Quill
My name is Sue and I live in Poole, Dorset with my husband Steve. He, along with his sister’s Marina, Alice and Lucy, have all contributed to this blog. As a family, we have had experience of pancreatic cancer. On 17th November, World Pancreatic Cancer Day, we lit up various locations in purple as part of Purple Lights for pancreatic cancer. The Purple Lights campaign runs through November and aims to raise awareness of this silent killer.
Our mum, Betty Quill (pictured below), was just a month short of her 81st birthday before she developed pancreatic cancer. At the time she could still touch her toes and had all her own teeth - very proud of that she was too! She was extremely active for her age, going walking every week and joining in with University of the Third Age activities. A keen traveller, she had only the month before diagnosis, gone to France by train to visit her best friend. She was also actively involved with her five youngest grandchildren all under 10 years.
In the previous few months we all noticed that she was becoming increasingly tired, but put it down to her age and high activity levels. A normal portion of food became too much to eat. A glass of wine was no longer enjoyable. Her tummy felt uncomfortable and she had changes to her bowel habits and indigestion symptoms. Betty also suffered symptoms of depression, which was totally out of character for her. Sometimes when we rang she was still in bed at 11AM “having a lay in” - again previously unheard of!
Other main symptoms of pancreatic cancer: such as jaundice, weight loss and early onset diabetes, did not affect her at all. She was still nearly 12 stone when she died.
Early on Tuesday 13th November, Betty experienced sudden intense abdominal pain and a friend took her to the out of hours a hospital. The doctor there couldn’t find anything amiss so sent her home, only for her GP to find a mass which was painful to touch at 5PM the same day. The GP immediately sent her back to hospital for the surgeons to take a look. She was admitted to hospital that evening with what they first thought was appendicitis.
On 15th October, after a CT scan, she was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. The scan had revealed areas of concern on her liver, so a liver biopsy was done that confirmed the cancer had spread to her liver.
Mum was hoping for the option of chemotherapy, and wanted to delay telling the wider family until she had some news as to what might happen. By this time, she was already experiencing extreme fatigue. On 10th November, her oncologist broke the news that the cancer was already stage four, she was too weak for chemo, and that it would not extend her life but make her more ill. Her prognosis was about three months. The cancer was the most common form of pancreatic cancer. As the tumour was in the tail of the pancreas it hadn't produced as many symptoms as other types of pancreatic cancer.
On 16th November, Mum had a fall at home and couldn't get up. It was clear that she had become very weak in a short space of time. Her GP evaluated her prognosis to be about two weeks. At this point she needed 24/7 care and he arranged for her to be admitted into the local cottage hospital because there were no available beds in hospices nearby.
On Tuesday 24th November our mum passed away - almost six weeks from diagnosis. The whole family was devastated. It was such a sudden decline from her feeling “normal” to being so ill and then dying.
It struck a chord that Mum died on the 24th as she was born on the 24th. We also learnt that 24 people die every day from pancreatic cancer. Today, 24 November marks one year since we lost Betty.
We became aware of Purple Lights for pancreatic cancer and decided to see what we could do. Here in Poole many venues, restaurants and even a Dorset Police Car lit up purple for Betty and pancreatic cancer awareness.
We’d like to thank The Custom House, Da Vinci’s, Lake Yard, Isabel’s Restaurant, The Francesco Academy and Dorset Police for their support. We were so proud to see the places lit up. The Daily Echo ran a piece too. We hope that what we did helped raise awareness for a mostly unheard of cancer.
You can see more Purple Lights for pancreatic cancer light ups in the gallery.