A photo of Jane Travers standing against a blue door wearing a t-shirt with the word hope repeated

Jane

Jane shares her experience of pancreatic cancer, the struggle she went through to get diagnosed and the treatment she's received since then.

Jane Travers, 65, a teacher and English examiner who loved her work, noticed that her energy levels were completely depleted last year and was going to bed as early as 7pm every night. After an otherwise fabulous trip to Italy left her with pustules all over her body, she visited her GP who noticed her stomach was jaundiced and felt a lump.

On further inspection by ultrasound, immediately, a “suspicious mass” in her stomach was found and he sent Jane to A&E for scans that day. After 15 hours in A&E and CT and MRI scans, days of waiting, a consultant informed her that she had pancreatic cancer. She later found out the location of her tumour meant it was inoperable. Jane has since had 10 rounds of intense chemo and her tumour is showing signs of shrinking. She has now completed six weeks of daily radiotherapy/chemotherapy combination treatment, in the hope it will shrink it further. She is off treatment for six weeks and going to Spain for a month to get “operation fit” although she will not know until end October if her “Prawn” (what Jane has named her tumour) is operable.

Jane has started a JustGiving page and an Instagram page @pancreaticpuma. She has raised lots of awareness and £4,500 in less than a fortnight!  She loves the fact that she can turn her pain into poetry and painting for these pages. Jane feels that as well as fighting cancer, she is also fighting for better treatment from an overstretched, understaffed, underpaid, underfunded and demoralised NHS.

“I had started to become incredibly tired which I put down to working too hard. I was working as an examiner of Spoken English online, a job I loved, but I was exhausted. I was going to bed at 7pm every night. I stopped running. I’d been doing a 5k challenge and I just had to stop. I just couldn’t do it any more. I’m fairly sure if Covid hadn’t been raging at the time, I would have gone to the doctor much earlier.

I just thought I’m not going to the doctor unless I’m dying during Covid, which is ironic.

I tried to look past the tiredness and I went to Italy with my sister for a quick holiday, however while there, I burst out all over in horrible pustules. I still don’t know if this was in any way related to my diagnosis, but it prompted me to go to the doctors when I came back. I told him that I was tired, and I was sure it wasn’t labyrinthitis, which is a diagnosis I had been given previously, and he said well you haven’t got labyrinthitis, but suggested it might be related to my hearing and booked me a hearing test.”

"Eventually, the health consultant appeared and told me at 10pm at night that there was a suspicious mass. That’s when I got my pancreatic cancer diagnosis, back in November 2021."

I got up one morning and my poo was really pale and my wee was like Lucozade. I went right back to the doctor, he did some blood tests and he felt my tummy and that’s when he said, “How long has your tummy been yellow?” I said it is not yellow, but he insisted it was. Immediately he said he could feel a mass. He got on the phone and I heard him say, I have a lady here who needs an ultrasound yesterday, can you squeeze her in. I was phoned soon after and told to go to A&E and I would be met by a doctor there, which I wasn’t. It took 15 hours in A&E before I was admitted. I then sailed through two MRIs and a CT scan. Eventually, the health consultant appeared and told me at 10pm at night that there was a suspicious mass. That’s when I got my pancreatic cancer diagnosis, back in November 2021.

My first line of treatment was chemotherapy. I was told the chemo is to control and shrink the tumour prior to an operation at the specialist centre, but if that doesn’t happen, the chemo is palliative. I hate that “p” word, but I got myself set for the chemo. I underwent six rounds of chemo which is a horrific poison. You cannot strike up relationships in the chemo unit like you would have done before. You can’t have a chemo buddy or anybody with you to see you through this at all. That’s really a huge, horrible thing to go through completely alone.

I was then sent for a CT scan at my local hospital the week of the 20th of December. They wanted to find out whether the chemo was working on the tumour. I had an appointment with my gastroenterologist that Wednesday who made me feel positive. He didn’t make me feel like I was going to die because at that stage, I didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer and I didn’t want to know. He made me feel that there was a lot of hope, which I was grateful for.

Jane Travers leaning against a wall next to one of her sculptures

The week of the 3rd of January, I got a call from the specialist centre by phone. The consultant delivered really difficult news to me; my scan had shown two liver lesions, which might represent metastases, which would mean the cancer had spread. He went on to let me know that they would like me to do another MRI to check the lesions. This was horrifying.

I kept thinking, “Oh my god, I’ve got pancreatic cancer and now he’s telling me it has possibly spread – by phone.”

He went on to tell me that the CT scan showed that I was responding well to chemo because the tumour hadn’t grown. Well that is not what I wanted to hear, I wanted to hear that the tumour had shrunk, but he also said that the lesions on my liver had disappeared completely, and that showed that the treatment was working. He wanted me to do more chemo and some radiotherapy to target the tumour. At that stage, I did not want to do more; I told him that I didn’t think I could handle it.

I spoke to my oncologist after this and lost my temper with him a bit. However, he told me he had spoken to the radiologist and that he had seen signs of shrinkage of the tumour. That was news that I really needed to hear, that I was waiting for. It encouraged me to do another four chemo sessions.

Now I’ve had the news that my tumour is shrinking, which is fantastic, but, and there is always a but in this journey…the problem is the tumour is by a major renal artery and therefore at the moment, although the tumour is shrinking, surgery is still not possible. Now I’m going to start six weeks of radiotherapy and that could be Monday to Friday daily for six weeks. The consultant has told me this chemo is in pill form, so it won’t be as strong and apparently radio is nothing like as awful as chemo. So I’m feeling quite optimistic that it might not be as rough as the last few months have been. But who knows?

When I finished the ten rounds of chemo, I was feeling so ill and I said to my consultant, “What is the point of going through this poisonous chemo process? And now you’re about to do another poisonous process, when treatment hasn’t changed in so long and outcomes are still so bad. What on earth is the point?” I was really angry, but he said, you are living proof as to why there is a point because you are responding well to chemo. Shortly after this, the nurse told me that a lot of people couldn’t handle more than three rounds and without that chemo, they don’t make it.

"All cancer is terrible, whatever cancer you've got, but I think it is terribly unfair that, for example breast cancer and prostate cancer are so well funded now and there's absolutely nothing for us."

I don’t understand why there’s such an imbalance.

All cancer is terrible, whatever cancer you’ve got, but I think it is terribly unfair that, for example breast cancer and prostate cancer are so well funded now and there’s absolutely nothing for us.

The impact my diagnosis has had on my small family has been enormous, especially on my sister, Sarah. Our mother died of vascular dementia about nine years ago and Sarah was her main carer. We all cared for our mum, but Sarah gave up her job and saw my mother every day because we wanted to keep her at home. The last thing I wanted was for Sarah to care for me, for her to have to do that twice in her life.

Really that is the silver lining of it all, my friends and family. They’ve just been amazing. So, it’s not all bad, you certainly realise how much you are loved. You also realise how much you love LIFE and what a scorching burning desire you have to LIVE!”

If you would like to support Jane, why not take a look at her JustGiving page or give her Instagram account a follow. 

Jane Travers standing in front of a mural of doves