Man holding birthday cake decorated with a little model of a cyclist

Andy & Joanne

Andy, a husband, father of two and keen cyclist, was 44 years old when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His wife, Joanne, shares their story and talks about making memories before Andy passed away in August 2023.


Andy’s journey to diagnosis

Andy led a healthy and active lifestyle. He had never been to see his doctor. His passion was road cycling and mountain biking. At the end of August 2022, we went to Bike Park Wales for the week with the children. He had back pain and put it down to his spondylolisthesis. He had an ultrasound on his prostate, kidneys and abdomen – all clear. In December 2022 he had a gastroscopy, and all was clear. In February 2023 he was referred for CT scan by his GP. The CT scan revealed a mass tumour on the body of his pancreas and 6 small metastatic deposits on his liver. A biopsy in March confirmed adenocarcinoma. He was prescribed Creon and pain relief. He was 44 years old.

He was referred for palliative chemotherapy prescribed for 8 cycles.

He said, ‘it’s not good news’

After he had his CT scan that day in February 2023, it was midday and I was walking home from work eager to find out the results. I thought it was nothing serious and given that he had covid twice before assumed that he may be suffering from symptoms of long covid. As I approached the house, I had a vision of our youngest son with his mountain bike standing on a hill in Llandegla all alone without his father. I quickly dismissed it and told myself to stop catastrophising.

Andy was in the porch putting his shoes on and said let’s go and get lunch. His face was ashen and clearly needed to tell me. I got changed and went into the living room. The first thing he said was, ‘it’s not good news’. I asked what did he mean? He said, ‘Jo it’s the worse cancer you can get. I have pancreatic cancer, they found a mass. I had to go through another CT scan but with contrast. A Macmillan nurse ushered me in to see the doctor. He said the mass is cancer.’

I didn’t know what to think or say as I had so many questions running through my mind. He carried on to say the survivability is low. Most patients are diagnosed in the late stages and treatment options are limited. I don’t know how but I just switched into positive practical action mode. I told him that we shouldn’t panic and lets just wait and see what the consultant says once his case is reviewed, and they confirm that it is cancer. I reassured him that whatever the outcome we have critical illness cover and we can go places to make happy memories with the boys.

Telling our boys about their dad’s cancer

The wait between hospital appointments were short but at the time it felt like an eternity. We told our sons aged 13 and 11 as soon as the histology results arrived. Our eldest son is autistic and I printed out a diagram of the pancreas and liver highlighting the cancer. It took him a bit of time to process and he just went up to his room to research on how to find a cure for his dad’s cancer. I explained to him that dad is not going to be cured but he will try chemo. Hopefully it will slow the growth of the tumour but if it doesn’t dad does not have long to live. The youngest burst into tears and sobbed for an hour.

We told our immediate family and friends. We also arranged a surprise birthday party for Andy. It was so good for friends and family to see him well before having treatment.

Getting ready for chemotherapy

Andy’s oncology appointment took place on the 18th April 2023 and it felt like there was no time to decide, just sign the form to consent to chemo and you can withdraw from treatment at any point.

We told them that we wanted to go on a cruise, and they scheduled his chemo to start over a month later. He was prescribed Creon and codeine and was well and able. We thought it would be easy to go away abroad and how very wrong we were. It transpired that we couldn’t just go and book a cruise because of his terminal prognosis none of the specialist travel insurance companies would insure us. So we just decided to holiday around the UK.

I did a lot of reading about how to care for a cancer patient undergoing chemo and prepared the house in readiness. Our family and friends pitched in to help and take the boys on days out.

Before his first session of chemo in May he was admitted into hospital with shortness of breath. It was a chest infection and he was discharged home with antibiotics. Andy did one session of chemo. He suffered nausea and extreme tiredness. He was bed bound for 5 days. He didn’t eat anything, just had fresh carrot juice and ginger. Andy decided he couldn’t face another round of chemo and withdrew consent. He wanted quality of life over quantity.

We decided to have a week in Center Parcs at the beginning of June. Andy thoroughly enjoyed the break as he could relax with our own sauna and jacuzzi. He also had an ebike which he could whizz around on.

The cancer had spread rapidly

He was still coughing and wheezing and was given more antibiotics. At the start of July his left foot was swelling up. They found a blood clot behind his left knee. He was prescribed anticoagulant and I learnt very quickly to inject him daily. By mid-July he was still struggling with shortness of breath and he was diagnosed with pleural effusion. He had a chest catheter fitted on the left side and was discharged home with oxygen. The cancer had spread rapidly.

We managed to have another holiday at Center Parcs with his parents at the beginning of August. On the second day Andy was struggling to breathe despite having oxygen. I called an ambulance and we went to A&E. His right lung was full of fluid. He was discharged home to seek medical attention from his pleural team. At the time there was a lot of discussion with the doctors about DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate) and end of life medication. But it didn’t seem like we were at that point yet and I think I was in denial about it. Andy’s health deteriorated and we cared for him at home. He passed away peacefully on 28th August 2023.

Adjusting to life without Andy

The final weeks of his life were stressful and traumatic.

We had fantastic nurses coming every day to care for him. However, the 24/7 care took its toll on me physically and mentally. The last two nights our best friends stayed with him so that I could sleep.

His funeral took place on the 16th September 2023 and we gave him a lovely send off. It is still very early days while we grieve for him and adjusting to life without him. I am having bereavement counselling and it has been a great help. The children are also receiving bereavement support and will start counselling in the coming weeks.