My pancreatic cancer story: Kerry

Updated: Jan 17

Kerry Irvine lost her husband Noel to pancreatic cancer in November 2011. He was only 54. In this short blog and accompanying video, Kerry – a founding member of NIPANC - tells her pancreatic cancer story and the impact it had on her family.

It's almost 10 years, which is 120 months, 522 weeks, 3652 days, 87600 hours, 5258880 minutes 315567360 seconds since Noel took his last breath.


Was he old? No, he was a young 54-year-old man. Did he have an accident? No, he had pancreatic cancer. That's the cancer there is no treatment for, isn't it? No, if diagnosed early enough for surgery the chance of survival increases tenfold. Sadly, Noel wasn't diagnosed in time for surgery.


Noel 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 3 treated him for IBS. It wasn’t until he said he couldn't cope with the pain that he wanted to harm himself that they decided to send him for an ultrasound.


April 22nd, 2011 was Good Friday, a day that I will never forget, a day our lives changed forever. Why? That was the day we were told that he had pancreatic cancer with metastasis on the liver.

A GP we had no history with sat and told my husband he had pancreatic cancer, told me that my love, our children's daddy had a disease that is the 5th biggest cancer killer and within a few years will become the 4th. A disease that kills on average 240 people a year in Northern Ireland and on average 260 people are diagnosed per year in Northern Ireland. Noel grabbed my hand as I started crying and told me ‘It’ll be ok’


After we were given the news, we were sent home, and the only piece of information given to us was that Noel would receive a red flag appointment either at Belfast or Londonderry within two weeks. No leaflets, no source of support, nothing else at all.


When the appointment came it was actually to our local hospital in Enniskillen with a surgeon.

I remember Noel's renewed hope and being upbeat because he was seeing a surgeon they must be operating and removing the cancer, right? No, Noel was seen by the only person that was available. Surgery was never an option and like so many patients his cancer was too far advanced by the time it was diagnosed.


I remember the day we saw the doctor in The Mater, he told us there was nothing he could do and the only option for Noel was palliative chemotherapy. I can still feel Noel squeezing my hand as he cleared his throat and asked ‘How long?’ The doctor's reply still rings in my ears ‘Four to six months at best'. He had to be wrong, my love wasn’t going to die, he couldn't leave me I needed him, our kids needed him. I remember calling my best friend later that day screeching at her ‘He’s going to die; he’s really going to die’ We crammed a lot into the next couple of months with our children.


On July 12th Noel started his first course of chemotherapy, his liver functions were low so he had a reduced dose. He tolerated it well and wasn't concerned about the next course three weeks later. We were renewing our wedding vows on our 10th wedding anniversary, not where we’d planned but it was important to us both, California was out, so planning a local service went into action. The second round did not go smoothly, it completely floored him. He was rushed back into hospital and I was told to prepare for the worst. Little did they know I was married to an amazing man that was so determined to walk down the aisle with me again he point-blank refused to let me talk about renewing our vows in the hospital.


The night before we were due to renew our vows he was discharged from hospital and he walked me down the aisle.


Just three months later my handsome funny strong loving husband passed away lying in my arms. I was 38 and a mummy to children of 5 & 8 years old.


Since losing the love of my life, I have lost many others to this hideous disease.


I've seen other families devastated, but I’ve also seen the joy when families are given that hope of survival because they were diagnosed early enough for surgery that is what spurs me on to trying to change other people's outcomes of pancreatic cancer, that's why I am one of the founding members of NIPANC.


- Kerry Irvine

 

Kerry is currently undertaking a challenge to help hammer home the important message that early detection saves lives.



Kerry explains:

"I have decided my challenge will incorporate my cold water swimming hobby using stats connected with pancreatic cancer:


  • 24 swims x 10 years - 240 deaths approximately per year

  • 5 swims in new places - 5th biggest cancer killer

  • 3 swims wearing no gloves or boots - 3 out of 5 patients that could have had surgery to cure their cancer but their diagnosis made too late "

To support Kerry and make a donation click here: https://justgiving.com/fundraising/Kerrywildswim


 

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

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