Colin Cooke passed away from pancreatic cancer in February 2013, aged 45 leaving behind his wife Susan and two sons, Adam (19) and Aaron just three-years-old.
As part of World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and almost a decade later the brothers are speaking out this November as part of NIPANC’s #TimeMatters campaign.
Their motivation, along with other young people participating who have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer, is to help prevent other families going through the pain and grief they have been through.
Understanding the symptoms of this disease and seeking early diagnosis and treatment, the brothers say, is key to surviving this deadly disease.
Their dad Colin had been experiencing some vague symptoms for over a year like feeling full after a meal, having a bit of upper back pain and losing a bit of weight.
Because he worked in the pharmacy part of Boots in Moira, he didn’t seek diagnosis from his doctor but treated these mild symptoms with over-the-counter medicine.
Devastatingly, he died from the disease just 11-weeks after diagnosis in the middle of a busy A&E department having attended the same unit just two weeks previously complaining of severe abdominal pain.
At first, it was thought to be appendicitis, that something could be wrong with the gall bladder but then came the shattering news, it was pancreatic cancer.
Colin and Susan’s son Aaron Cooke is now 12 and a pupil at Wallace High School in Lisburn. His favourite subject is chemistry.
He said: “I lost my dad Colin to pancreatic cancer when I was just three-years-old. I have only one or two memories of him but the one I remember the most was going to Barry’s at Portrush and getting soaked to the skin on a water ride. It makes me happy to have at least one or two memories and some photos of him.
“I can’t really remember all that much so I don’t really know what it’s like to grow up having a dad but what I do know was that I missed out on growing up with a very nice man in my life. My mum and brother tell me about him particularly his work in the scouts.
“I joined Moira Scouts recently and my dad really developed it into what it is today. I think it’s important I get involved so I can carry on what he started and someday possibly become a leader and train new scouts the way he would have taught them.
Aaron’s mum, Susan Cooke is one of the founding members of NIPANC. Like all the charity’s board members, she is dedicated to raising awareness about the disease and the need for early diagnosis and treatment.
Susan said: “Together we can and will make a difference in education and awareness, research for early diagnosis and better treatment and also in supporting those affected because in life, #TimeMatters.
Her campaigning spirit has passed on to her young son. He is as engaged in the work of NIPANC as his mum, helping her with all the background work that goes into running fundraising events. “At the moment, I help mum get stuff done. I’ll probably join the charity officially when I get older.” he says.
As part of World Pancreatic Cancer Month last year, Aaron wanted to do something to support NIPANC’s #TimeMatters campaign. Using his own initiative, he approached his teachers who helped him produce a video talking about the importance of the campaign to him and explaining some of the typical signs and symptoms of the disease.
“Some of the main symptoms will include unexplained weight loss, fatigue and yellowing of the skin,” before going on to refer viewers to a more comprehensive list here.
His school posted the video on Twitter introducing Year 8 pupil Aaron and why NIPANC is so important to him as a cause.
Aaron says: “This is an important video because my father passed away from pancreatic cancer and because one of mum’s friend’s husband died of the same thing too, so they set up NIPANC. We are the only charity funding a research project at Queen’s in NI. More details to be released this month.
“I just wanted to let you know if you have any symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out early so if it’s diagnosed it can be treated early. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates in the UK of all the cancers.”
Aaron’s big brother Adam (28) works in IT and lives in Lisburn. Unlike Aaron, he has lots of memories to share about his dad.
“When trying to think of a story about him, it was hard to narrow it down to just one, so I decided to talk about one of the common themes of all the stories and that is scouting.
“While he was my dad, he was also my scout leader and Thursday night at Scouts was always one of the highlights of my week, learning life skills, playing games, hanging out with friends and as I got older, he even used it as the chance to teach me how to drive including an incident with a wall which has taught me to always put the clutch on when starting a car.
“Another highlight was camps, from the big Tesco shops and buying the weirdest foods we could find in Makro, to setting up camp in the forest. From Go-Karting to horse riding to late-night games.
“There were always loads of activities organised and Dad went out of his way to make the weekend a good experience for everyone above even himself and this was made clear in our last camp where having been diagnosed and knowing time was running out, he still made sure the weekend was the best it could be, once again putting others before himself, a trait exemplified by the turn out on the day of his funeral.
“There is so much I could say about him but the things that stand out about him was the scouts and photography. I’ve many memories of growing up with him, going into the dark room. He really gave me a love of photography growing up. I still use one of my dad’s old film cameras. I think it’s pretty evident in my life and Aaron’s, scouting played such a big part in my dad’s life.
“He came up through scouts in Lurgan and developed Moira Scouts into what it is today. It’s now run by scouts that came up through my dad.
“The reason why I’m taking part in NIPANC’s #TimeMatters campaign during World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is because it’s so important for me that other families get the chance to make memories.
“I mean it has been ten years since my dad passed and since then I’ve graduated from university, I’ve learnt to drive, I’ve got married and bought my first house so for me, it’s always in my mind that families will miss out if people don’t understand what the symptoms are or get diagnosed early enough to get[ED1] treatment.”
If you do one thing today, don’t look away. Check out the symptoms of pancreatic cancer on our here and please seek early diagnosis and treatment.
It could save your life.