Woman on sofa holding a dog.

Debbie & Rachel

Debbie’s mum Rachel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, during the COVID lockdowns. She passed away at home in September 2022. Debbie reflects on her mum’s spirit and on the support their family had from each other and from Pancreatic Cancer UK.


Mum was a gentle soul, kind, caring, witty. She had unbelievable strength and resilience. There are probably not enough words to describe how amazing she really was. She was special. Above all, she was healthy – didn’t smoke, rarely drank, had never really been unwell.

The start of 2020 was perfect and even as we headed into lockdown, we truly embraced it as we live on a Scottish island and enjoyed our own little slice of paradise. Spending our days at the beaches that mum grew up on, just ourselves in the glorious sunshine. We were blissfully unaware of how the rest of the year would unfold.

Diagnosis took a long time

One night in June 2020 mum started complaining of a bloated stomach. We had a curry for dinner so put it down to that. When the feeling persisted, she decided to go to the doctors. As we were just coming out of lockdown the GPs at our surgery weren’t willing to see her. As the months went on, one doctor finally decided she should get a CT scan. In October 2020 she was called up to the surgery to be told the results showed a mass on her pancreas. The first thing she asked was “What will I tell my children?”

Her treatment was difficult

Six rounds of chemo and an operation was her treatment plan. If only things were as simple as that. Living on an island meant any appointment involved a lot of travelling, the uncertainty of getting a ferry booking, hotel stays, early starts, late nights arriving back home.

Mum’s treatment wasn’t easy, and not just because of where we live. She never had the operation in the end. She had three different types of chemotherapy, a stent, and radiotherapy.

She suffered terribly with the side effects of the first chemo. Then, symptoms that we thought were the side effects of the chemo ended up being life threatening sepsis and she ended up in the high-dependency ward. Because of COVID, she wasn’t allowed hospital visitors. Seeing that ambulance door close not knowing if I would ever see my mum again highlighted the seriousness of what we were dealing with. It was terrifying.

She wanted to keep going for our sakes

She has sepsis three times in total, and a bowel infection and a stomach ulcer. She was in and out of hospital, things kept trying to knock her down.

Despite all this, she would not give up. “I’ll do anything” she said. All she wanted was more time with us. “I’m not scared about what happens to me, I just don’t want to miss out on you three.”

She was determined to fight as long as she could. “You don’t have to put yourself through anymore chemo,” I’d tell her, but she’d reply, “I’m not giving up.”

So, we carried on. Each week she’d get blood tests to see if she was suitable for more chemo and each week she’d say, “Maybe next week I’ll feel stronger.”

Our family stayed with her

She had enjoyed a glorious week in the sunshine at the end of August with her two sisters, sitting in the garden, enjoying good food and her favourite company.

I’d read numerous times that this cancer creeps up on you quickly but even then, it wasn’t so obvious to us as she just grew a little sleepier the following week. But the doctor and nurse explained that it wouldn’t be long.

We set up camp in mum’s room. My brother, my sister, my little dog who had been by mum’s side so faithfully throughout everything, and myself. And we waited. She passed away on 14th September 2022 with her three children and her sister by her side, at home, where she wanted to be, the place that she rarely wandered far from all her life.

We had so much support from Pancreatic Cancer UK

Throughout mum’s journey, she endured so much, and we faced so many uncertainties. So much stress and fighting for things that should be given without having to request it.

The only constant support we had through this, apart from each other, was Pancreatic Cancer UK. Without them I truly believe we would have been lost. The emotional stress at times was almost too much to bear, but we kept it together for mum.

Thankfully Pancreatic Cancer UK have a dedicated Support Line from nurses whose information was invaluable, especially at the start of the journey. I’d never heard of PERT (pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy) until one of the nurses told me mum would need it. Equipped with this information I told mum to ask for it at her first hospital appointment in December 2020 where she was told “you don’t need that yet.” She absolutely did. I ordered every nutritional booklet I could find from Pancreatic Cancer UK.

We are forever indebted to Pancreatic Cancer UK for supporting us and others on this journey and will spend the rest of our lives raising funds and awareness in mum’s legacy. If love could have saved her, she would have lived forever.


July 2023