Gary shares his experience of his father, Michael, being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017.

30 May 2018

I received a phone call from my Dad on the 29th April 2017, he told me he had passed a bit of blood and had a slight pain in his stomach. He booked to see his doctor but we weren’t too worried as we put it down to possibly being from a double hernia operation he had had the summer before.

My Dad’s GP sent him for numerous checks including an ultrasound scan, a CT scan and blood tests, all coming back negative. The GP was adamant that my Dad didn’t have cancer, mainly down to the fact that my Dad’s blood levels were fine.

During the summer of 2017 I watched my Dad, who was a very fit, strong 68-year-old who had still been bricklaying right up to the end of April, get steadily worse. The pain got stronger and stronger.

My Dad’s GP had booked my Dad to see a specialist, with the appointment for mid-September, but by mid-August the pain was so bad that it resulted in my Dad collapsing. Even then the hospitals wouldn’t do anything as my Dad had an appointment already booked and said he was in the system.

Getting a diagnosis

On the 1st September 2017 my Dad went for his routine check up with a prostate specialist and it was then that his doctor called an ambulance and admitted my Dad to hospital as by now he had jaundice. A camera was passed down my Dad’s throat resulting in the doctor’s diagnosing a large gallbladder. A few days later after another CT scan and another camera procedure my Dad had a stent put into his bile duct and we got the devastating news that my Dad had bile duct cancer.

Four days later this was retracted and my Dad was told that he didn’t have bile duct cancer but would need to have a procedure where they can check the liver. By now it was early October and after two failed attempts to get a sample of the liver and with my Dad now losing weight at an alarming rate, we started to push for some answers. Out of the blue we received a phone call informing us that my Dad had pancreatic cancer, and palliative care was the only option.

Our last family holiday

We were all devastated. Whilst coming to terms with this we took my Dad on a short break during October half-term to Hayling Island near Portsmouth so he could be with his grandkids. In the back of my mind it was heartbreaking knowing that it would be our last family holiday.

On our return my Dad was offered chemotherapy but at first declined to give him more chance of getting onto a research trial. To get onto a trial the doctor’s needed to get a sample from either his liver or his pancreas, which they finally got in late November.

By now my Dad was very weak, his breathing was starting to decline and he was on high levels of morphine to help with the pain. During a consultation at the end of November my Dad was told that there would be no trial and he decided to start chemotherapy.

His first bout of chemotherapy took place on the 7th December 2017, which went well and was a pleasant experience. The nurse’s were wonderful. However, after a few days my Dad deteriorated and collapsed at home on December 12th getting rushed to hospital, I knew this was the beginning of the end.

A difficult decision

On the 14th December I had to make the hardest decision of my life. My wife and I had booked the year before to take my little girl to Lapland to see Father Christmas, and with my Mum and Dad’s blessing I said my goodbyes and went to Finland not knowing if I would ever see my Dad again.

On the 15th my Mum told me that my Dad had really deteriorated and the doctor’s had said that he wouldn’t get through the night, that there wasn’t any response from him, and he was just lying there, eyes wide open. I asked to talk to him and when the phone was put to my Dad’s ear for the first time in nearly 24 hours he made a few grunts, he knew I was talking to him.

My Dad fought bravely and held on until my return early evening of the 17th. That was the hardest moment of my life, seeing him in a way no son should ever see their Dad. In the early hours of the 18th December 2017 my Dad slipped away.

Five months on

Christmas was tough, really tough, but having young kids certainly helps, it puts into perspective that life goes on. Five months on and there’s never a day that I don’t think about my Dad or shed a tear or two, but I’m now starting to look at all the wonderful times we shared together instead of remembering those final few months which were certainly the worst times of my life.

I’ve been raising money for Pancreatic Cancer UK and ran this years London Marathon 2018, raising £6,500 in the process. Raising the money and having the focus of the training really helped me channel what was the worst thing I’ve ever had to deal with into something good. I decided to run it in my Dad’s memory as he so wanted to get onto a research trial, not only to prolong his own life but to help others. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, so I thought I could take over the mantle and raise some much-needed funds to help the next generation.

May 2018