Two women pose happily for a photo in a cafe.

Fiona & Ann

Fiona’s mum, Ann, was 77 when she was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and passed away just six months later. Fiona reflects on the shock to their family from her mum’s diagnosis.


My mum had breast cancer in 2012 and tongue cancer in 2020, she also had a skin cancer. But the cancers were all primary cancers and not metastatic. Finally she was diagnosed in January 2021 with pancreatic cancer. Mum lasted 6 months from diagnosis.

She had lots of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Prior to this, in the October of 2020, she had been going back and forth to the GP with irregular diarrhoea, bloating and constipation. She was also complaining of pain in her left side and her lower back. I kept pushing her to go back to the GP, when they were not resolving the issues. They kept giving her numerous different types of laxatives and medications.

She finally had an appointment with one of the practice nurses (as she couldn’t get in to see the GP) who referred her for an ultrasound. They found a shadow on her pancreas. Mum had lots of bloating and bowel blockages over Christmas 2020, and spent a lot of time in and out of hospital having CT scans and MRI scans. She was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021.

She had been so full of life – it was such a shock

Although mum was 77, she was extremely fit, going to the gym, never sitting down and running rings around me! She was a force to be reckoned with and helped me so much with my three little children, who were her world.

She hadn’t touched alcohol for over 10 years, as she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at that time and was so scared to ingest anything with sugar. She had never smoked and had a very small frame. She was such a health conscious person and was always looking after herself and everyone else in the family. That is why it was such a huge shock for mum to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She had such a zest for life and wanted to live so much. I remember her coming home from the hospital when they were trying to diagnose what the shadow was. She was sobbing and telling me she didn’t want to die.

She started treatment for the cancer

In January they discovered that mum had a blockage in her duodenum, and she had a stent fitted.

Then she could start chemotherapy. She started FOLFIRINOX chemotherapy in February 2021. Mum had another round of FOLFIRINOX two weeks later, but unfortunately the hospital she was at did not manage her diabetes alongside the chemotherapy. This made mum even worse. She could not stop vomiting, even with anti-emetics (anti-sickness medicine). Her weight had massively decreased by this point, and she had gone from 7 stone 2 pounds, to around 5 and a half stone (she was only 4 foot 11).

She had problems at the local hospital

She was admitted back into hospital again. They monitored her, and on the Friday they were about to send her home, saying her stent was not blocked. But the radiographer came in after the weekend and reassessed the scan. Her stent was actually blocked, and she had to wait three more days for them to do the operation to unblock it.

She had a very stressful time in hospital. They said she had a blood clot in the artery to her bowel and my brother and I were told she may die that night. But mum didn’t.

Whilst she was there, the consultant was very blunt with mum and had absolutely no bedside manner. He told her she was going to die and that the cancer had metastasised all over her body. Mum was very, very distressed on leaving there.

The specialist hospital was wonderful

I finally fought to get mum into a specialist pancreatic cancer hospital. I wish so much that we were advised of this from the outset. I think mum’s journey would have been very different.

The change in the attitude of the consultant and the nurses was so different. They were so caring and did everything they could to help mum. Even though she was battling against the odds, they were so positive.

In April, on transferring mum’s care to the specialist hospital, mum became jaundiced. Just as we had agreed a plan to start mum on Gemcitabine and to build her weight up with special foods and PERT tablets to aid digestion, they performed a scan which showed that her bile duct had blocked.

Unfortunately they discovered that the previous hospital had perforated her bowel when they performed the stent operation. This unfortunately meant we lost more precious time waiting for that to be dealt with.

Mum’s condition began to deteriorate

Therefore mum deteriorated further without chemotherapy intervention. And she became so malnourished as she struggled to eat.

Her many stays in hospital also made her mind deteriorate somewhat and she became very depressed. Her skin would tear if it was touched. Because of the fear of mum falling, she wasn’t allowed to walk unaided when she was in the hospital. This further destroyed her independence and confidence.

She was such a fiercely independent woman, to watch her deteriorate into this frail lady, crushed me. We were both in denial. I fought so hard to build her up after her first stay in hospital and succeeded. In my mind I could do it again. She would not accept that she would die. Right up until the day of her death, when she found that she could no longer swallow water, she fought. And she passed away in her sleep on June 13th 2021.

We need more awareness of pancreatic cancer

Since losing my mum, I have become paranoid and terrified of this disease and cancer in general. I’m convinced that it will be me next, but unfortunately I am not eligible for screening, as in my family it is only my mum, as far as I know, who has had it.

Cancer is a terrible disease, but pancreatic cancer is soul destroying and devastating. Before mum was diagnosed, I had never even heard of the pancreas! So much more publicity is needed to highlight this horrible illness.

August 2022