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My pancreatic cancer story: Brian

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Powerful personal testimony from NIPANC Board Member and Senior Civil Servant Brian Grzymek about his wife Caroline’s pancreatic journey. Caroline passed away almost ten years ago. Their story highlights the need for improved understanding of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer among the medical profession as well as members of the public.

Out of the blue

That is how pancreatic cancer hits you! One day you are enjoying family life, planning for holidays and the future, the next day you are in an uncertain world of inexplicable symptoms and your loved one’s life is suddenly hanging in the balance.

My story is no different from that of many others. 11 years ago my wife, Caroline, who drank little alcohol, never smoked, and was something of a power walker suddenly felt very unwell. She lost weight, had serious back pains, and was off her food.

As a recently retired ward sister, Caroline knew her way around the health service but that didn’t help. She went repeatedly to our GP, who she felt wasn’t taking her condition seriously, and attended the Ulster Hospital A&E a number of times to no avail – they didn’t identify her problem and booked her in for a gastro-scope in three months.

After several weeks of this, Caroline suddenly became seriously ill and was admitted to the Ulster Hospital with suspected kidney stones. Her kidneys were stabilised and a subsequent CT scan revealed shadows around her pancreas. A biopsy was taken and the diagnosis of an inoperable pancreatic cancer tumour was confirmed a week later.

In all Caroline was unwell for 8 weeks, spent 16 days in hospital and died, two days after we finally got a diagnosis. Such a timeline is sadly all too familiar to many families who have lost loved ones to Pancreatic Cancer.

Nothing could have been done for Caroline but several of us with similar experiences began to meet at the Mater Hospital to try to bring something positive out of our shared experience of loss and helplessness.

From this initial self-help group, NIPANC emerged as a Northern Ireland charity seeking to promote awareness of pancreatic cancer symptoms, fund research into developing better treatments and outcomes and supporting families.

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the worst cancers in terms of survivability, with little improvement over the past 40 years

We still have a long way to go but early recognition of symptoms can save lives and new treatments are on the horizon. There is hope but still much to do!

- Brian Grzymek


Learn more about the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer by clicking here


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