Judy & Pete

Judy’s husband, Pete, found out he had pancreatic cancer after developing jaundice in summer 2022. Sadly, his cancer had spread to other organs and Pete passed away six months later, aged 66. Judy talks about their shock at his diagnosis and her wish to raise awareness of the symptoms.


This time last year my husband Pete and I were on our way to Northumbria for a few days’ holiday, the first in three years. As retired medical professionals, we had both been very busy working in vaccination clinics. We had a perfect holiday.

He developed jaundice

Three weeks later Pete said to me he thought his eyes were vaguely yellow. He’d been on a diet which warned it may affect gallbladder functions, so we just laughed a bit. He woke the next morning bright yellow, with dark brown urine and white faeces.

We saw the GP, who also thought Pete’s gall bladder was probably the culprit and referred Pete onto the 14 day cancer pathway. Within a few days he had undergone an ultrasound and we were sitting in front of the hepatologist who said it was a tumour on the pancreas.

The shock was huge

I gabbled, asking when he could have surgery. But we had to wait for a CT scan a couple of days later. This confirmed a large tumour in Pete’s pancreas, wrapped around the blood vessels, and a small tumour in his liver. The consultant then went on to say that it was inoperable and there was nothing he could do but refer Pete to the oncology department.

For the first time in my life I thought I was going to faint. Pete was taken off for blood tests and I sat in the waiting area with a cancer specialist nurse, crying my eyes out. Shock does not even describe my feelings and those of my husband. He had suspected this would be the outcome of his jaundice, although not the severity.

Telling our two children and his sister was horrendous, but we fixed our eyes on the oncology appointment to offer a little hope.

His health began to decline

A couple of days later he became very feverish and started having violent shivering fits with a high temperature. This was the start of weeks of hospitalisation and discharge, which delayed the chemotherapy.

He finally started chemo, but missed a couple of sessions due to being too unwell. His food intake dropped and dropped. The dietitians gave him high calorie drinks, but they became too much for him. He ate nothing solid, his fatigue was extreme, he vomited frequently. Throughout all this time, he never had a day when he could even contemplate going out for a walk. He would sit in a chair downstairs and read a bit but sleep a lot.

Christmas was a very quiet affair, our daughter came but we just had small bits and pieces to eat as Pete was eating nothing and we didn’t feel like a Christmas dinner. It was as lovely as we could all make it, our thoughts all on the staging CT scan.

The cancer had spread

The follow up appointment was 8th January 2023. We waited quite excitedly to see the oncologist, hoping that the scan would show shrinking of the tumour. She said the chemo had had no effect and the tumour had spread more into his liver and also into his lungs. There was nothing to be done.

It’s not hard to imagine what it was like. We got home and told our children. Pete went to bed and never got up again. I looked after him, and he died in his own home in his own bed, with our cats and me lying next to him, our daughter and two very dear friends nearby. He passed away almost exactly six months to the day from first noticing symptoms.

Coping without Pete

On Wednesday 21 June 2023 I celebrated 43 years of our marriage. I must admit that I am still trying to process what has happened to us and finding it difficult.

I also am realising that the jobs Pete had at home fed into his skills, and the same for me, so the learning curve is steep now that I am on my own. For example, computers are a relatively closed book for me. I have been searching for a bereavement group and almost everything is via telephone or online. I find it difficult to believe that I am the only grieving person who would like physical company rather than a disembodied voice. Finally I have found something called a compassionate café around 20 miles from me, so I will go to that.

More needs to be done to tackle pancreatic cancer

I am now on a mission to try and raise awareness of the common symptoms of this hated and despised disease. My husband was a doctor with decades of experience, and he didn’t see this coming! But looking back, there were warning signs of pancreatic cancer. Pete had extreme fatigue, he was as tired as he used to be as a busy junior doctor up all night. He also had extended heartburn, bloating, and a dull ache around his ribs.

Pancreatic cancer is still classed as rare, but I know of many people who have it or have lost friends and relatives. I just hope there will be more research. As my husband would say, “It’s not sexy enough to attract attention or funding.” He is so right!


July 2023