Nicola & Alan

Nicola’s dad, Alan, had several symptoms of pancreatic cancer before being diagnosed in 2019. He sadly passed away in 2022. Nicola tells their story.


Back in early 2019, my Dad, Alan, began to get discomfort here and there, a kind of stabbing pain under his ribs. After a while, it became more uncomfortable and frequent, so begrudgingly he went to see the GP. Dad was quite old fashioned and stoic, not one to see the doctor unless he had to, but it was becoming a bother.

He was sent for tests

The GP asked for an ultrasound scan, gave him some antacids as indigestion was a slight issue too, and sent him on his way.

The pain increased and he began to lose a bit of weight. The ultrasound showed that he had a few gallstones, which could explain the discomfort. It was around this time too, that he had an endoscopy for the reflux and it was found that he had early Barrett’s oesophagus.

So, he was given some medicines. But the pain continued and the weight loss increased. By now the weight loss was about four stone, so concerning amounts. The doctors ordered more scans.

We suspected it was something serious

By now it was Spring, and we had the inkling that something else was going on. Dad was one of those who was never ill, walked for miles and had only recently taken early retirement, so this was unusual for him.

I had a conversation with him about the early pains being where the pancreas is, but he had quickly waved me away, as he had lost his mum several years before to pancreatic cancer.

He was finally diagnosed and treated

Time passed and he had the scans and we were told he had both kidney cancer and a shadow on his pancreas. It seemed relatively small and his kidney tumour was very stable, but they felt he was a good candidate for the Whipple operation.

He had the very long and complex operation in the August, with some recuperation time and then some FOLFIRINOX chemotherapy to follow. This is heavy duty chemo, and it caused Dad to have very low platelets, resulting in the chemo being put back here and there to allow them to rise in between. He also experienced quite a bit of neuropathy. Dad being Dad, he carried on stoically! They adjusted one of the drugs so he could tolerate it.

Dad was his usual quiet self, not really sharing his feelings, but obviously this was all a bit scary and unknown, especially given the family history. He carried on as though nothing much was amiss!

He seemed to be doing well

Once it was finally over, they did some tests to see how it all looked and thankfully there was no sign of cancer relating to his pancreas.

For several months, although weakened by it all, Dad felt relatively well, his energy returning. He and Mum went away a few times and they were out and about all the time. He was monitored here and there, and things seemed positive.

Dad felt a little tired, but he put it down to all of the chemo he had had and from all the pills he now had to take. The diabetes could be a bit up and down and that was managed by the diabetic nurse.

His cancer came back

However, after one of his routine scans, he received a phone call. His cancer was back. Not in the remaining pancreas, but in the stomach lining.

Cue more chemo, but a kinder one – Abraxane and Gemcitabine. This was more of a palliative nature, to try to slow or halt the new growth. Although drained, he felt better on this type of chemotherapy, with no real side effects. We all kept our fingers crossed it would work some magic, but we were well aware of the horrible statistics and what it really meant. There was obviously an unspoken stress and tension.

After some time, he had some tests. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news and the cancer had spread to his liver and his leg muscle and beyond.

He gradually got weaker

Time went on and he became weaker, in small, graduated stages, and kept going on as best he could – short trips out, conserving his now fairly depleted energy. Dad was a very determined type of man, who wouldn’t be defeated – but also someone who never spoke about his feelings, meaning that Mum and I could feel a bit shut out.

Further tests showed that the spread continued, now in several areas and this began to take its toll in time. Watching this slow deterioration was incredibly difficult. Dad went into hospice care at the start of October 2022. They gave him morphine to help with the pain. He had become very delirious, unsure of his surroundings and ill. It was exceptionally hard to see.

Dad was cared for in the hospice for a few days, and he passed on the night of the 8th October. He had just turned 66 years old.

It was such a hard time

It still seems surreal and the experience from start to finish was upsetting and a rollercoaster. Yes, we had some time with him… but that time was traumatising and painful, particularly as time went on.

He has left a huge void and is missed every day. I see Mum as much as I can, and she misses him terribly. They were childhood sweethearts and never apart. She recently took on a rescue dog and this helps with company and comfort, taking her for beachfront walks and having cups of tea with neighbours.

Pancreatic Cancer UK were a great support

Pancreatic Cancer UK helped me through, explaining jargon and supporting me when I had very down days. I so appreciate their help and support and continue to fundraise for Pancreatic Cancer UK, taking part in sponsored walks and birthday fundraisers.

Let’s spread awareness for this truly horrible, all too often fatal cancer.  It is not spoken about anywhere near enough, or the early indicators made known or investigated with any speed or thoroughness. This can lead to delays and/or wrong conclusions.

Sending love to anyone going through this, keep strong.


September 2022