Kingsley: ‘I’m ready to face this cruel disease’
- Credit: Archant
Diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, the Herald’s Kingsley Squire tells his story to raise awareness of a ‘silent killer’
Back in May I was swimming four, and sometimes five, early mornings a week in the Sidmouth pool.
Now, I am one of the 8,600 new patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (PC) every year. Mine is inoperable and therefore terminal. Without treatment I may have a six to nine months overall survival, which is extended to over a year with chemotherapy. Really, it was a no-brainer.
Much as my wife, Monica, and family, do not want to see me suffer the side effects, I have gone for chemo because even another month will be so precious.
So why am I telling my story? Quite simply, to support the nationwide charity, Pancreatic Cancer Action, in their mission to save lives through early diagnosis by raising public awareness of the symptoms of a cancer - which the late Hollywood Dirty Dancing film star, Patrick Swayze, who died from it in 2009, called the most lethal of all.
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What alerted me was a call from my GP saying a blood test had shown a raised level of an enzyme called amylase on my pancreas. I looked up the symptoms of PC and two matched mine exactly, a back pain that was worse lying down and fatigue that was making me feel unsteady on my legs.
So when, weeks later, a CT scan and a biopsy revealed terminal PC the diagnosis, devastating as it was, did not come as a shock because in my heart I had suspected it all along.
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I had my first 30-minute chemo infusion last week fed through a cannula in the back of my hand in Cherrybrook, the treatment unit at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital’s Oncology Centre, recognised as one of the best in the UK for cancer treatment and care.
I am being given Gemcitabine, which is generally well tolerated. It improves quality of life for patients in my situation and can add a short number of months to my overall survival.
Only time will tell. But since my diagnosis I have learned that pancreatic cancer, unlike prostrate, bowel and breast cancer, is not on the public radar. Many have never heard of it. Yet it has the lowest survival rate of any cancer with four patients in every five dying within a year because it is discovered too late for life-saving surgery.
That is why Pancreatic Cancer Action is on a mission to save lives through earlier diagnosis by raising public awareness of the symptoms through the media and by promoting initiatives such as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November.
As of now, I’m feeling positive, ready to face whatever this cruel disease throws at me. It will not be an easy journey. You realise that when all the possible side effects of chemo are explained.
Yet there is a plus side to it all. That is the time I have to make sure everything is in order here at home and that Monica, bless her, knows how to pay the water bill and switch on the boiler! We have been married 53 years and we are in this together until death do us part.
I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to reach out at night and hold her hand.
You realise too, amid the tears, how much loved you are by your children and grandchildren. These are precious, even happy, days and together we are learning to take each one as a gift.
I have been greatly uplifted by the stories of hope my daughter, Alison, has been sending me, one in particular by a church pastor who was diagnosed with stage four PC and given only six months to live. After six months of chemo treatment, and a prayer network set up by his wife, there was no sign of cancer. His doctor called it a miracle.
“You can’t give up,” he writes. “Stay strong and lean on those who love you. That is what I did. Remember, it ain’t over till it’s over. Keep the faith and be encouraged.”
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a miracle out there waiting for me.
So, dear reader, watch this space!
Lowest survival rate of any cancer - but lives can be saved
The statistics make grim reading.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of any cancer and is the fifth deadliest with four in every five patients dying within a year of diagnosis.
It is sometimes called a ‘silent killer’ because the early symptoms are often vague and therefore go unrecognised. Only later, when more specific symptoms arise, do patients and doctors consider PC a possibility - by which time it is terminal, too late for surgery, currently the only potential cure.
Recently, however, it has made headlines with the disclosure that the actor, John Hurt, is battling the disease and that television personality and presenter Nick Hewer has become a patron of Pancreatic Cancer Action, a nationwide charity with a focus on early diagnosis to save lives.
He has lost his sister-in-law, his GP and a friend to PC and is helping another come to terms with it.
“I am aware first hand of the devastating impact of a diagnosis and I know so much more needs to be done to improve survival rates,” he says. “The charity is determined to do this by concentrating on early diagnosis and by making the public and community more aware of the symptoms and risks.”
Pancreatic Cancer Action was founded by Ali Stunt who, aged 41, was one of the few lucky ones to be diagnosed with PC in time for surgery.
She is determined that, through the work of the charity, more will have the same lucky outcome as her.
Go online to www.pancreaticcanceraction.org to read more about its fundraising for research, its symptom awareness campaigns, its support for patients and their families and the personal stories of those who have lost loved ones and some who, with treatment, have survived.