Elliot & Denise
Elliot's mum, Denise, passed away a few months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 57. Elliot reflects on their journey to diagnosis and how the family supported Denise at the end of her life.
My mum, Denise, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. After a short battle, she passed away on the 12th March 2017 at the age of 57.
Six years on it’s still difficult to come to terms with the loss, however I felt it important to share this story.
She had some vague symptoms
Looking back, the symptoms started in January 2016, with Mum frequently feeling tired throughout the day with a lack of energy. At first you just put this down to being run down, constantly being on the go and your body wants to rest, right? It was in the summer of that year that events started to unfold.
Denise with her family
Diagnosed with diabetes
Mum decided that she would go to the doctors to discuss her symptoms. After some blood tests, the doctors decided she had Type 2 diabetes. Whilst it was a relief it was nothing more serious and could be managed by tablets, for someone that listed chocolate and biscuits in their top 5 food items, it was difficult! We adapted, started cooking healthier, taking recipes from various websites to accommodate her diabetes.
After a month or so, it was apparent that things still weren’t right. Mum at this point returned to the doctors, and was referred to the hospital. After some blood tests things had now developed into Type 1 diabetes. Ok, we thought, that makes sense, easily misdiagnosed. We pulled together as a family and continued to support Mum with this diagnosis, trying our best to get our heads round the insulin.
After a further couple of weeks, things still weren’t right. This time Mum decided she wanted to seek some private advice, so made an appointment with a specialist gastroenterologist at a private hospital. Further tests ensued, with the outcome this time being less than positive.
Receiving the terrible news
In July 2016 we received the news that no one ever wants to hear, ‘you have metastatic pancreatic cancer that has spread to your liver’. I still remember Mum sitting in the kitchen delivering the news and telling me ‘you mustn’t worry and please don’t research this; I’m going to be fine’. Of course, like any millennial with access to technology, I’d already done my own research and knew this wasn’t positive and the likelihood of this being ‘when’ not ‘if’, were high.
As soon as the diagnosis was received, the care required kicked in with full force. Mum had another consultation where her diagnosis was discussed and chemotherapy was agreed. Whilst apprehensive, Mum was determined to fight this and went for her first chemotherapy. The side effects of chemotherapy took their toll on Mum, taking everything out of her.
She continued with the chemotherapy for a couple more sessions until her next consultation. By the next consultation Mum had jaundice, a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. She was referred for a stent in her bile duct to offer some relief. Within a week or so, the jaundice began to ease.
It was the beginning of the end
Christmas came, ensuring we made the most of this one as you just never knew. New Year came, but this year came with an air of uncertainty. In the January of 2017, the beginning of the end (to coin a phrase from Mum’s favourites, Status Quo!) started.
By this point I had reduced my hours at work to ensure I was at home for half of the week. It was a Friday morning (the 13th to be exact, which really didn’t help) and Mum was in a lot of pain. I called an ambulance and phoned Dad to come home from work. The paramedics arrived and assessed Mum. They knew taking her to hospital wasn’t the right option, they knew it was busy and she would spend too long sat on a trolley in a corridor. They phoned around and managed to find her space at the hospice.
Mum’s pain was treated
Upon arriving they were expecting Mum and had arranged a private room for her. They completed their assessments and decided to put Mum on a syringe driver. Now for those with prior experience, the words syringe driver do come with a sense of negativity, however this was a positive step. With a mix of morphine and Buscopan, the pain started to subside, with Mum returning to normal. After a week or so’s care, Mum returned home with her trusted syringe driver. She was referred to the district nurse team who would come and see Mum daily to top up her syringe driver and make sure she was ok.
The hardest appointment
A couple of weeks passed, Mum was ‘ok’, good days and bad days. In February we attended a follow up appointment at the hospice, this was the toughest appointment for me.
The usual tests were conducted and then Mum asked, ‘how long?’ The nurse looked at us all and said, ‘are you all happy to know?’ We all reluctantly nodded. ‘A few months to weeks.’
That’s when it hit, this isn’t getting better, this isn’t going away. We returned home, very solemn, not sure what to say.
A week or so later Mum again ended up in the hospice. Again, they got her under control, and she came home. But this time felt different, it didn’t feel like last time, less positive.
By this point I had begun to return to work, working with an incredibly supportive team who couldn’t do more for me. Mum would text me throughout the day with updates of how she was. On one day (9th March to be exact) I didn’t receive so many texts. I left work with my colleagues saying, ‘see you next week Elliot’, I smiled and said, ‘I’m not so sure’.
Saying goodbye to Mum
When I got home, all my family were there. I panicked, walking into the house everyone in the living room. Dad pulled me to one side and explained what was happening. I went upstairs to find Mum lying in bed, her syringe driver attached to make her comfortable.
A couple of days passed days that can only be described as ‘Groundhog Day’. Family visiting, lots of crying, lots of making tea. The day then came, Sunday 12th March. Family still visiting and sending love. Mum by this point was constantly sleeping, we took it in turns to sit with her playing her favourite songs, holding her hand. At 21:09, she passed, slowly slipping away.
Whilst we were all heartbroken, it was a relief. Mum had suffered enough, she was suffering no more.
My Mum was a loving, funny, thoughtful Mum, wife of 25 years, sister, auntie, and friend. Always putting others first and enjoyed making others smile. She left behind a legacy that each day I do my very best to hold on to and through this story, I hope that legacy lives on.