By NIPANC President, Tom Diamond
As NIPANC celebrates its fifth year, we can hardly believe it’s November again.
Today we launch our third campaign during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month #PCAM 2023 to raise public and medical professional awareness in NI and beyond about the symptoms of the disease and the urgent need for early diagnosis and treatment.
Although new treatments and technologies are on the horizon, still the best way of surviving pancreatic cancer is catching it early. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.
Pancreatic cancer remains notoriously difficult to diagnose because its symptoms often masquerade as many different and often less life-threatening conditions.
A NIPANC-funded audit into pancreatic cancer this year, carried out in partnership with the NI Cancer Registry (NICR), Queen’s University Belfast in partnership with HPB clinical staff in the Belfast Trust revealed some worrying statistics.
There has been an 86% increase in confirmed cases, rising from 152 in 2001 to 283 in 2020 since a previous audit was carried out in 2001.
Its findings prompted my former colleague and fellow NIPANC Trustee, Mark Taylor, Consultant Hepatobiliary and Cancer Surgeon to call for a strengthening of local pancreatic cancer services as ‘incidences are likely to continue to rise due to multifactorial reasons such as increasing age, obesity and diabetes.’
The audit also showed most patients are symptomatic at diagnosis (94%). The most common route to diagnosis is still through emergency admission with the majority being diagnosed at an advanced stage (53%).
This key finding highlights the need for increased awareness of symptoms among the public and GPs to support early diagnosis.
NIPANC’s public awareness work responds to that need and our campaigns are building in strength and impact year-on-year.
We leave no stone unturned when it comes to educating, informing, and persuading people to take life-saving action by understanding symptoms better and being persistent in seeking early diagnosis and treatment.
In 2021, we told the personal stories of our Board Members; most of whom have lost a partner to pancreatic cancer. That’s how #TimeMatters came about. Powerful narratives of loss and survival recalled and photographed beside many of NI’s most iconic clocks; the Albert Clock, the QUB Quadrangle Clock, the Belfast Telegraph Clock among others assisting us to deliver a strong pictorial message.
Last year, we explored the symptoms and impact of pancreatic cancer through the eyes of young people who had lost a parent to the disease. Media coverage of their intensely emotional lived experience reached mass audiences on TV, Radio, Social Media, and Digital Platforms.
Storytelling in this way supports our efforts to reach and educate as broad an audience as possible about pancreatic cancer and our ambition for 2023 is the same.
Our gratitude goes to every person who has participated so far in helping us speak up about the disease. That also includes pupils from Dominican College in Portstewart who, last year stood in solidarity with the young people to take part in our 2022 #TimeMatters campaign.
They helped us create a huge #TimeMatters sand art installation on Downhill Strand on the North Coast to drum our key campaign message home that time really does matter when it comes to a diagnosis of this illness.
For 2023, we have kept up the creative momentum and will have some big reveals for #TimeMatters in the days and weeks ahead.
This year our focus is on ‘Survivor Stories’; the one percent who have survived a diagnosis past ten years. The 5% who have survived past five years. Although the stories are rare, we have found them.
Across #PCAM month we will be looking at some critical factors why these individuals survived, their symptoms and pathways to treatment.
We will be hearing from some of the medical practitioners who cared for and fast-tracked them through primary and secondary care systems with life-saving expediency.
Our focus and our #TimeMatters clock will shine a light on symptoms and best practice in the timely referral, diagnosis, and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
We’ll also be running a Master Class for GPs in pancreatic cancer diagnosis led by myself, Tom Diamond and my former colleague and surgeon, Mr Mark Taylor.
Most of all, we’ll be delivering a message of hope.
#TimeMatters 2023 will show people can and do survive pancreatic cancer.
It will look at new research, technologies and treatment coming down the track and forecast to better days ahead for pancreatic cancer patients thanks to the work of incredible researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses, and fundraisers.
It will also celebrate the growing network of people in NI whose families have faced a diagnosis of this deadly disease and their determination to support each other and our work.
In that respect and in just five years, NIPANC is becoming a meeting place, a safe space for people to come together, connect, share, support each other and know they are not alone.
Before we launch full steam ahead into #TimeMatters 2023, let’s take a look back at just some of the rest of the year’s highlights to witness that community in action.
We unfortunately can’t acknowledge each individual incredible fundraising activity from marathon running, to cake sales, coffee mornings, dinners, mountain hikes, cricket matches and cold-water swimming but we do appreciate all your efforts and every single penny raised.
What we do want to show across #PCAM is
How good can and does come out of the worst personal circumstances and deep human tragedy
How kind and determined people who have already endured death and grief beyond reason, endured even further for the greater good
How they went the extra mile or beat the drum to raise funds and awareness for NIPANC so other families in NI, yet to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, don’t have to suffer what they have