Peter & Sandra
Peter’s wife, Sandra, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2019, and sadly passed away in June 2020, aged 73. Sandra had been showing symptoms for some time. Peter tells their story.
My wife Sandra was diagnosed in March 2019 with terminal pancreatic cancer. Sandra very sadly passed away some 15 months later.
We had been married for twenty years at this time. I looked after her and cared for her throughout until San was admitted to a wonderful caring local hospice just before she died. We lived every day as if it was our last one. I felt very honoured at being able to care for her and she always wanted me with her. Unfortunately, due to Covid 19 this was sadly not always possible.
Sandra on our wedding day, 21st August 1999, and three months after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2019.
Symptoms had been showing for some time
Before she was diagnosed, my wife Sandra had for months been complaining of chronic fatigue, and the GPs were carrying out regular blood tests looking at the performance of the kidneys. The tests showed nothing to worry about.
A number of years before, a blood test showed Sandra to have slightly raised blood sugar levels and what was termed borderline diabetes. Although she was in her seventies, Sandra looked after herself from a diet point of view. At the age of 73 Sandra was very beautiful and very fit. Sandra like most of us oldies did struggle with her weight from time to time, though nothing major.
The professionals thought it was just diabetes
In July 2018, following a routine HBA1c blood test, her blood sugars suddenly jumped to 71 mmol/mol. That was nearly double what they been for a number of years. Sandra was then given an appointment to see the diabetic practice nurse where she was prescribed Metformin and monthly appointments were made to see the diabetic nurse.
Sandra took her diabetes diagnosis very seriously. She checked her blood sugars on average three times daily and we even kept a record of them. Her blood sugar levels became very erratic and all over the place. All the nurse did was to increase the Metformin dosage and introduce additional tablets. There was not much of a reduction considering all the tablets Sandra was on to try and control it. The doctor’s comment on her notes was “Abnormal but Expected.”
I always attended Sandra’s appointments with her and I said to the nurse on a number of occasions, there is something not quite right here. Pancreatic cancer was something we never even began to imagine in our wildest dreams, probably because it was never openly raised as Pancreatic Cancer UK are now doing.
We finally got a diagnosis
Eventually in December 2018 Sandra was given an ultrasound scan on her abdomen. The radiographer said she was unable to see the pancreas because of gases within the stomach area. Only an MRI or CT scan would show the pancreas in full detail.
We asked for a CT scan but it wasn’t followed up quickly. In February 2019, Sandra was finally referred to hospital to investigate her ongoing stomach and bowel problems. They carried out a CT scan on the 7th March 2019. Following the scan Sandra was asked to attend an urgent appointment on the 21st March 2019 with Gastroenterology, where we were informed that Sandra had a tumour on her pancreas.
On the 28th March 2019 we found out that, unfortunately, the cancer had accessed the blood vessels of the pancreas and nothing more could be done for her.
Starting palliative treatment and care
Sandra started with chemotherapy in May 2019. It only lasted about two weeks and she had a serious reaction to that particular chemotherapy drug so it was stopped. No alternatives were offered, and she didn’t get radiotherapy treatment until September 2019. Sandra took great delight in finally ringing the bell at the end of her radiotherapy treatment.
On the 20th May 2019 Sandra was invited to attend our local hospice on a weekly day visit. Although San was somewhat hesitant at first, she went along and on the first day I stayed with her, they were brilliant. There were probably about a dozen people there who were all terminally ill. It was so sad to see all these terminally ill people and my wife was now one of them.
Sandra always had a wonderful smile on her face and she was the life and soul of any party. Everyone looked forward to her going. Sandra had enthused new life into the day visits at the hospice, from being very mundane and somewhat sad, Sandra had them all laughing and smiling. I was so proud of her, knowing what she was having to deal with at this time.
We struggled to get help managing her symptoms
As time went on, one of Sandra’s major problems was ascites. Her stomach was extremely swollen. She was also continually vomiting. She needed desperately to have the ascites build up drained, she looked obscenely pregnant and was in a lot of pain.
After weeks of back and forth with different hospitals, with Sandra’s pain management getting worse by the day, we were informed that the consultant could not arrange to carry out the drain for a week. At this point we went round to A&E who admitted Sandra immediately.
The ascites drain was carried out that evening. Sandra was so desperate to get out of the ward, she managed to convince the nurse she was okay and she was discharged.
Caring for Sandra at the end of her life
On Monday the 8th June 2020 the district nurses arranged for an ambulance to take Sandra back into hospital. I then spoke to the hospice and they asked the paramedics transport her to the hospice where she was cared for by some wonderful caring staff. They took care of Sandra’s medication needs right through to her final days.
Sandra sadly passed away peacefully in the early hours of Saturday 27th June 2020. Ironically Sandra’s father passed away on the 27th June 1994 some twenty-six years previously, with what was thought to be pancreatic cancer.
This was a horrendous even barbaric time for not only Sandra, but the family as well. During all this time Sandra stayed with me and trusted me implicitly knowing I would do my utmost to care for her during whatever time she had left. It was very emotional for us both, we just got on with it and made the most of every day we spent together.
We need more awareness of the signs of pancreatic cancer
All the signs were there, the GP surgery failed to recognise them. Diabetes is not necessarily down to lifestyle. It could be driven by other issues such as pancreatic cancer.
In fact, in 2015 NICE published some recommendations regarding various cancers. They recommend that a CT scan should be carried out on new onset diabetes on anyone with certain other symptoms within two weeks, particularly those people over sixty years of age.
Knowing what I know now and as a layman, I would be saying without hesitation have a CT scan or MRI carried out as soon as possible, this could be pancreatic cancer. It might just save someone’s life. It is my belief that had Sandra been given a CT scan in the early days, the tumour would have been found and possibly may have been treatable.
Hopefully Sandra’s story may help someone else in the future.
It was extremely sad and heart-breaking for all the family watching Sandra over her final months; however, it was my privilege to have been able to care for her.
Both myself and our family miss Sandra so very much. San was a very loving and caring wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. We all think of her every day.