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Saskia's Story

Saskia McMinn is 23-years old and a first-class honours Economics and Finance graduate from Newcastle University. Originally from Belfast, she moved to London in August to start her dream job working for an asset management firm as an Investment Compliance Associate.

She is one of a number of young people sharing their stories about the loss of a parent to pancreatic cancer as part of NIPANC’s #TimeMatters campaign for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. They are participating so other families don’t have to through what they have.

Saskia’s story, however, is very different. Her dad, Ivan McMinn MBE, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November eleven years ago. He is among only one percent of people to survive this devastating illness past ten years. A miracle of sorts.

Hardly surprising he is now the chairperson of local pancreatic cancer charity NIPANC actively campaigning to raise public awareness about the disease, encouraging the public to understand its symptoms and seek early diagnosis and treatment.

Saskia said: “Dad was complaining about having very itchy skin and mum was worried about his yellow eyes, but as a 12-year-old I never registered he was very sick. When he got his diagnosis, I had never even heard of pancreatic cancer or knew its symptoms.

I remember the afternoon dad told me and my brother Nick (25) about his diagnosis sitting in his study. I was so confused and spent the whole afternoon googling the symptoms ending up more knowledgeable than dad was. I was trying to understand dad’s chances but was greeted with some terrifying statistics. Nothing on Google painted a positive outlook.

I know now how dangerous and persistent this cancer is and it is one most likely to repeat itself. Indeed, dad’s cancer returned three years later, this time inoperable, but thankfully chemotherapy dealt with his tumours.

As scary as my dad’s condition is I now know the symptoms and statistics and as much as it’s still terrifying, I am prepared for what may lie ahead should it return again – hopefully not!

That’s why it’s so important people know the symptoms and seek advice from their GP when anything is of concern.

I think because I was quite young when dad was first diagnosed, I always had an image of him as an invincible superman, running marathons, competing in triathlons, in the gym etc which gave me a great deal of hope even when times seemed so scary.

He always taught me and my brother to be as positive as possible and reassured us he was going to fight as much as he could.

It makes me so proud when he told me his goal was to see me through school and into university. Having graduated two years ago, I’ve now started working in London and couldn’t be happier about what we have all managed to get through.

Early diagnosis is the main reason dad is alive today and the amazing specialist doctors he had around him. Dad had also kept himself very fit with golf and running and rarely has a drink which I am sure contributed to him responding so well to surgery and his chemo treatment.

I’m participating in this campaign because among all the other heart-breaking stories, I want to deliver a message of hope. I know so many lives could be saved by just knowing the signs and symptoms to be concerned about.

Dad would not be here today if he hadn’t been proactive in seeing his GP about some concerning symptoms.

This disease is so awful. It is one of the top five cancer killers in the UK. I want to tell people to take it seriously and know that you can save your life by knowing the symptoms and being persistent in seeking early diagnosis and treatment.

It makes me incredibly upset and frustrated that so many people are misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late. It is such a horrible disease and one I know affects so many families and people of all ages as this #TimeMatters campaign has shown.

Since my dad’s recovery, I have completed my A Levels, got into the University of my dreams and graduated from Newcastle University. Dad has been there every step of that journey and to help me move to London and to pursue the career I have always wanted.

He doesn’t know how much I love him and to have him around providing his moral (and financial) support and love everyday even when I am now a phone call away and not in the next room. I am very proud to be his daughter.

“I know his efforts are making such a positive impact on the community in ways he probably doesn’t realise. The conversations he is having with those impacted by the disease and the knowledge he is spreading so others can recognise the symptoms of this devastating disease and survive it, are immeasurable and sometimes life-saving”

Pancreatic cancer survivor, Ivan McMinn said: “My drive and determination was to survive for my children, to be there for them. That was my overwhelming thought. I didn’t think about wanting to get back on the golf course or anything else. It was a time to focus on what really matters!

“Being around for my kids was my sole purpose. They were only 12 and 14 at the time. It was far too soon to say goodbye. The experience of having to tell them about my diagnosis was no walk in the park.

I’m very aware that Saskia is the only one out of all the stories we have shared during our campaign this year who has a parent who has survived and I feel truly blessed that I have been able to see both our “kids” grow up and now move into the world of employment.

“I have been humbled by the contributions made by the seven other young people taking part who have told their stories of deep loss so courageously to spare other families the pain of what they have been through. Their generosity and bravery is remarkable.

“We want to finish our campaign with a message of hope. There are new treatments and technologies on the horizon which will improve the detection and survival rate of this devastating illness.

But for now, Saskia and I are imploring you to know the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and be persistent in getting early diagnosis and treatment.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms include, jaundice, yellowing of the skin and eyes, changes to taste and toilet habits, itchy skin, mid-back pain radiating around to the stomach, abdominal pain, indigestion, floating poo, weight loss, diabetes, depression and low mood.

Read more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer HERE


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