Rosie Strutt is 20-years-old. It was on her 16th birthday when her dad first went to hospital with symptoms of pancreatic cancer. She was 18 when he died.
Rosie is one of a number of children and young people taking part in NIPANC’s #TimeMatters campaign for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, who have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer. They are sharing their stories, so other families don’t have to face the trauma they have.
My Dad’s name is John Strutt. He was 47 when he died on October 26th, 2020. My mum is Lisa Strutt, she’s 50, my brother, James Strutt is 18 and my sister is Holly Strutt 17.
I am a 3rd-year university student studying Business Management, entrepreneurship and digital innovation in London.
I had been in London for just a month before my dad started to deteriorate rapidly. Covid meant I could study online, so I returned to Belfast for two months and continued my degree online.
It all started at The Killers gig at the SSE arena in Belfast on Friday 17th November 2017. It was the first gig all five of us could attend. The Killers is a band we all agree on, partly because one of their CDs was stuck in our car CD player for over a year.
We still laugh about that and say, “The Killers nearly killed Dad.” We have a dark sense of humour and definitely got that from him.
During the gig, my dad started to feel unwell. A few days later, on Tuesday 21st November, my 16th birthday he went to see the GP.
The GP said he wasn’t a good colour (he was jaundiced) and sent him straight to Antrim Hospital, where in an all-white room, we first noticed he was a luminous yellow colour, like Homer Simpson, a name we called him a lot after, maybe to help us find some humour in the situation.
The professionals thought he had a blockage somewhere. As it was my birthday, we were due to go out for dinner to Deane’s Meat Locker in Belfast.
I didn’t expect my dad would be unable to come. I thought a few days in hospital would sort him out. It never occurred to me he could have cancer. He was healthy and rarely sick.
Ten days later on 1st December 2017, at 44 years old my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I felt silly for not noticing any symptoms because I spent a lot of time with him.
In January he had Whipples’ Procedure, a surgery taking over seven hours, at the Mater Hospital, Belfast, followed by seven months of oral chemotherapy. There was a break of about six months when we started to put cancer behind us.
In April 2019, a CT scan revealed his cancer had returned and it was incurable. A period of IV and oral chemotherapy followed before he was referred to palliative care.
Our parents promised us from the start; as soon as they found out information, we would be the first to be told. Their communication kept our family strong.
When the CT scan came back the second time, I was in the middle of my first year A-Levels. My parents kept it a secret so I could stay focused, then told us all together on the day I finished.
During the final days, he was admitted to the Northern Ireland Hospice. I was at Uni in London by then so came home for what I thought would be two to three days.
He stayed for over a week, so did I and mum. We took turns sitting up with him but every day his body weakened. He died late at night after a long fight.
I had never heard of pancreatic cancer before. It’s not a diagnosis many people were familiar with. My brother is an avid reader and when he found out about the diagnosis, researched it. I learnt from him and eventually looked into it myself.
I was shocked at the low the survival rate often due to misdiagnosis and late diagnosis. Jaundice is one of the main characteristics. I kicked myself for not noticing it earlier.
We also thought he had an upset stomach because certain food disagreed with him. Pain on eating is another common symptom. I’m now well-educated on the symptoms, but had I known back then, there would have been a better chance of survival.
I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. Sometimes just sitting with him or making him cups of tea or coffee. Making tea always reminds me of dad. He liked it a specific way with two digestive biscuits squished together with loads of butter.
About six months before he died, he told mum he’d really love another dog. My mum is not a dog lover. I’ll always remember when she said “John, if that’s what would make you happy, we can look for one.”
It was all part of my dad’s master plan. Little Frank, the staffy arrived in July 2020 and he is Mum’s bestie.
Grief is a funny thing. One day I cry at everything, pictures, songs, things that remind me of him. On other days I laugh about the good times and the memories and the traits we share.
When I first found out that my dad’s cancer was terminal, I was fuming. Why us after everything? Why my dad? But death doesn’t work like that, it doesn’t discriminate. I learnt to channel my emotions into things that would make him proud.
I worked hard to get into my first-choice university in London. I got a job and did my first-year exams eight weeks after he died. I want to make him proud.
I’m taking part in this #TimeMatters campaign for NIPANC because I believe it is important, if even one person understands the symptoms and gravity of pancreatic cancer it could save a life.
Knowing the symptoms could mean a wider range of treatment and a better chance of survival. If I had known even a few of the most common symptoms, maybe my dad would still be here or maybe he would have had just a little bit longer.
Read more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer HERE