Anastasia & Alex
Anastasia and her family were forced to leave their home due to the war in Ukraine in 2022, while her husband Alex was still being monitored after surgery for pancreatic cancer. Sadly, the cancer came back and spread, and Alex is now having chemotherapy in the UK.
Our pancreatic cancer story started more than three years ago when my husband Alex looked a bit yellow. On the 2nd of June 2020 he went to the hospital in Odesa, Ukraine, where in one day he had a blood test, ultrasound and MRI scan with the conclusion that he had a tumour in his pancreas. Yes, he was blessed to have a fantastic “fast track” service and no visible spread of the cancer. Three doctors’ opinions said the same. He needed to go for surgery in Kyiv as soon as possible.
We had to act fast
On the 4th of June Alex and I were there with our one month old son. It was the beginning of Covid lockdown with strict rules and restrictions. We were told that Alex needed the Whipple surgery urgently. It was very shocking but after coming back to Odesa he decided that it was his only chance and he had to use it.
In a few days we went to Kyiv with all our five children just to be able to be with Alex. After they treated his jaundice he had the Whipple surgery on the 17th of June. After this they confirmed that it was a pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma which had spread to some lymph nodes.
He began to recover
I visited Alex every day after surgery. He tried to go outside to see us as far as he was able to walk after the surgery. His recovery went very well. On the 30th of June he drove our family 500 km back to Odesa.
Then he had six cycles of GemCap chemotherapy without significant side effects. He had a blood test of his CA 19-9 with CT scans every three months. A year after the surgery this changed to CT scans every six months. The last clear scan was in December 2021.
We left home for a holiday, then the war started
On the 21st of February 2022 we flew from Odesa airport for our holiday to Spain. We had our return tickets booked for 28th of February and did not expect anything bad to happen.
On the 24th of February the war in Ukraine started and we got stuck in Spain with five children and only small backpacks of clothes. Our world turned upside down and I stopped thinking about the possible recurrence of the cancer for the first time since Alex’s diagnosis.
Alex still needed checks, but it wasn’t considered urgent
On the 14th of May 2022 we came to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. On the first week after moving, we went to meet our GP and said that Alex needed a blood test and CT scan in June because of the pancreatic cancer.
Alex was invited to the hospital for the CT scan only at the beginning of September. After a month of waiting to get the results, I started calling all the possible numbers and received the answer that it was not an urgent scan so the results might take 6 to 8 weeks.
The cancer began to spread while we waited
At the end of October, we were invited to the hospital to receive the news that they saw something in Alex’s abdominal nodes and in his sternum. They did a PET scan in November and in December 2022 Alex received the diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
I may never stop asking myself what would have happened if he had his scan in June, with the results on the next day as we had been used to in Ukraine.
He started chemotherapy again, but the cancer spread further
Unfortunately, CT scan results in April and then in August revealed growths in his sternum and three new spots in his spine. The doctors did radiotherapy on his sternum in April and on the spine in July. Alex started feeling back pain in July and it has been steadily getting worse since then. So far, even slow morphine 40 mg twice a day is not helping much.
Alex is now back on chemotherapy. Unfortunately, he was only eligible for gemcitabine on its own, which is not a promising option. Nab-paclitaxel is not available as a second-line option for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Our doctor applied for this drug on compassionate grounds and we hope to receive it on the next cycle. Unfortunately, while we wait, time is running out and the waiting is not helping Alex live longer.
We are grateful for what we have had – but people with pancreatic cancer deserve more
I know we are blessed because Alex was diagnosed early, had a quick and successful operation and had been living without recurrence for two years. I know that in the UK people sometimes have to wait for diagnosis and treatment for a long time. We, as refugees from Ukraine, have had the same access to healthcare as British citizens for some time now and we are very grateful for that.
However, I believe that people with pancreatic cancer in the UK deserve more attention and a better chance of life.
At the same time, as the wife of an amazing warrior, I know that time is of the essence when it comes to pancreatic cancer. Awareness, research and funding can and should help thousands of people have more time to live. There are many things you may not realise or appreciate until you are diagnosed, and these things become so important, valuable and meaningful when you are told you have pancreatic cancer. Every day is important and meaningful. I wish everyone more days in their lives to fill with important things.