Kerry Doherty is 18 and lives in Aghalee. She has just passed her A-levels and is studying Law with Criminology at the University of Ulster.
Her dad, Gerald Doherty was 44 when he died of pancreatic cancer. She was just 11 years old and starting first year.
Kerry, is one among a number of young people who has lost a parent to pancreatic cancer taking part in this year’s #TimeMatters campaign for NIPANC.
She is sharing her story, so other families don’t have to go through what hers has and is urging the public to know the symptoms of the illness and be persistent in seeking early diagnosis and treatment.
Kerry said: “My dad was my best friend, we did everything together. For my 11th birthday I asked for no presents but for money instead to go towards Pancreatic Cancer, I raised £350. When I was 17, I completed the Belfast marathon walk for NIPANC and raised just over £1000. I am very pleased to add my voice and story to its campaign this year in the hope it might save lives.
“My dad was told he had pancreatic cancer on the 1st of November 2014. It was a shock. I was 10 when he was diagnosed, mature for my age but didn’t really understand what cancer meant, especially pancreatic cancer. None of us had ever heard of it before.
We hadn’t a clue how bad it can get in such a short time. My parents told me on the way up to Portrush where we have a caravan. I remember breaking down in the back of the car squeezing my dad’s hand as mum was driving.
I was in P7 when my aunty used to pick me up from school every day around 1:30pm and take me to the hospital so I got to visit him every afternoon and evening.
It had such an extreme impact on my entire family, not just me. Our lives changed completely, and we had to create a ‘new’ normal.
His symptoms included jaundice, itchy skin severe lower back and abdominal pain. He attended Craigavon Hospital at first and was there for about four weeks before moving to the Mater where he remained for about eight months.
He came home for Christmas in 2014 but back in for the New Year. The nurses in the Mater were kind enough to allow me, my mum and two of dad’s friends in to spend New Year’s Eve with him.
My dad had multiple operations but the biggest was the Whipples procedure. It took place on the day of my entrance exam to my new school.
It was also our last hope but unfortunately the cancer had spread too much. The operation was meant to last 9-10 hours but took just four. Unfortunately, my dad never made it to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the cancer was just progressing at an unbelievable speed.
I was pulled out of first year just two weeks in which was tough because that’s when you make friends. I remember dad coming home from the Mater for the last time, understanding how serious it was, but I would still ask mum “is dad going to die?” I was in denial.
I hardly slept a wink when he came home, petrified of something happening. The noises he made when trying to breathe. I think it’s known as the death rattle. We knew then he didn’t have long. He passed a matter of days after that.
I returned to school in January 2016. I knew absolutely nothing about pancreatic cancer. Since then, I have learnt an immense amount. One of the first visible symptoms is jaundice and normally when that is visible, it’s too late indicating Stage 4 cancer.
It is one of the quickest progressing cancers with the lowest survival rates. I remember how almost overnight, it had spread all over my dad, into his lungs his kidneys and internal organs.
I can’t emphasise enough how important time is. If my dad hadn’t spent a month in Craigavon getting the wrong tests, there is a chance he could still be here today. Time matters.
I coped with my dad’s death very differently to all my other family members. I bottled up my emotions as I felt I had to stay strong for everyone, especially my mum because all we have is each other.
I tried to get along with my “new” life but I was struggling as dad was my best friend. My grief turned into anger. Why my dad? I struggled for four years until I couldn’t cope and at 14 went to counselling.
You never get over a death like that, you just learn to live with it. My dad’s death wasn’t “peaceful”, he was in excruciating pain. For an 11-year-old it was horrific to watch.
It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept, as everyone should have a dad to watch them grow up and witness the key events in life. My dad has missed so much, me succeeding in my GCSE’s, A Levels and getting into my dream university course.
He’s missed me passive my driving test and getting lots of new dogs which I know he would’ve loved. Every girl should have their dad there on their wedding day to walk them down the aisle, while I know mine will be looking down on me. I know he would be so unbelievably proud.
I was such a daddy’s girl. He was the friendliest, kindest person and meant the absolute world to me.
Advice I would give? Know the symptoms of this cancer and if you have any, even one, get tested! I can’t stress enough how much time matters.
Time matters the most with this cancer as the first visible physical symptom is jaundice. That’s usually Stage 4 when it’s too late.
Look out for earlier symptoms such as upper back pain, abdominal pain, darker urine and sudden weight loss.
This could very well save your life. www.nipanc.org/symptoms