Ellie Irvine is the daughter of Kerry Irvine one of our founding members. To those of you who may not be familiar with us, we are a charity formed by a group of people all of whom have been affected by pancreatic cancer. At the age of five Ellie and her brother Nathan, then eight lost her dad Noel to the disease. He died in 2011 at just 54 years-old.
A former pupil of Omagh High School, Ellie has recently passed all nine of her GCSE’s and is now going to Tech at Northern Regional College to study Animal Care before taking on Veterinary Nursing. She’s now 16 years-old.
“I was very young. I have memories of nurses being around a lot because he never really came out of bed. I had an idea but I didn’t understand what was happening. I sensed something was wrong and have memories of going to the hospital.
“I didn’t like going to the hospital and still generally dislike hospitals maybe because of that experience when I was younger. Mum tried not to be upset in front of Nathan or me but I realise now how much she had to carry on her back on her own, having to do the school run and everything else a parent has to do.
“The strongest memory I have of my dad was my last birthday. It had a princess and pirates theme and it was held in the community centre. I also remember going out on the quad bike with him but mostly I know him through the stories I hear.
“I also have a memory box which contains some of his clothes and books and things and some things I did when I was in counselling although at the age of five, I didn’t know why I was there for counselling. I have a teddy bear made out of his clothes, his jeans and a T-shirt.
“I remember doing arts and crafts with him. I must have picked that trait up from him because mum is not very artistic.
When asked why time was so important when it came to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the urgent need for diagnosis and treatment Ellie replied: “It matters so much because I don’t want anyone else having to endure the grief our family has been through and the loss of someone so special.
“I help my mum with her campaigning work whenever I can, supporting her at events and helping out NIPANC. I’m very proud of what she has achieved.
“Every bit of this work is so important. I want to tell my story so other people know what to look out for. Telling the story about how my dad died of pancreatic cancer and the symptoms he suffered from, like itchy skin and smelly stools, and stomach pain.
“Talking about this can have an impact and I want to help others and say to them that they should familiarise themselves with the symptoms of pancreatic cancer because it can be very difficult to spot until it’s too late.
It’s hard for GPs to diagnose too.
“The loss of a parent is bad enough but then you come to the milestones. I just got my GCSE results and it is one of the worst things not having one of your parents there. That was very upsetting for me that he wasn’t there. It’s scary to think about what’s ahead like when I get married or have my own children. That’s when you realise how much it goes against the grain to know you have lost out on so much.
“The good thing to come out of this is that we’ve met a lot of people through NIPANC who share the same grief and story as us. I’ve met some really good people. Going through something like this matures you in a way. It gives you a sense of empathy and an appreciation of other people’s loss. It does change you and gives you a different outlook on life. You never know what the next day will bring.
“Pancreatic Cancer isn’t one that is talked about that much but it is also one of the deadliest. The more conversations we have about it the better.
Now I try to live my life and do everything I want to do. I also try to do my best in everything I do to make my dad proud.
“What I’d say to people is to get it looked at as soon as you notice any symptoms. You might have to fight to be heard but be persistent. If your symptoms are not going away make sure you are heard.”
With pancreatic cancer there is a perception there is no hope but if diagnosed early enough for surgery, the chances of survival increase ten-fold. Ellie’s dad wasn’t diagnosed on time. He had been complaining of stomach pain radiating to his back, smelly stools and itching that drove him mad at night.
Three different GPs saw Noel during the 18 months prior to his diagnosis and all three treated him for IBS. It wasn’t until he said he couldn’t cope with the pain they decided to send him for an ultrasound.
April 22nd, 2011 – Good Friday was a day the family would not forget – it was the day Ellie and her family’s life changed forever. Noel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with metastasis in the liver.
Pancreatic Cancer is the 5th biggest cancer killer – a disease that on average kills 260 people a year in NI. Surgery is not an option if it is diagnosed too late. The only option available to Noel was palliative care. He was told he had four to six months to live.
Read more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer HERE