The special people of 2011
With Christmas over and the New Year beginning, the holiday period allows us to stop and reflect on what has happened in 2011 and to look forward to what the New Year will bring. From the charity perspective, it’s been a successful year with many opportunities to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer taken up across different media – including an appearance on BBC Breakfast and a national radio campaign where we reached over 10 million listeners/viewers. We have received fantastic support from many people and raised enough funds to move forward some of our ambitious projects for 2012 – although there is always more that can be done!
For me personally, the best part of being involved with Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA) is the opportunity I have to meet or correspond with those who have been directly affected by pancreatic cancer. Be it family members who have lost someone, or those who know someone currently with the disease, to patients themselves. I don’t ever put myself up as a support person – I am not remotely qualified for this specialist role. What I can do though is signpost people to where they need to go for help. Often it is enough for some just to chat to someone else who has been through a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer – and I am more than happy to use my experience to help in this way.
I love this personal contact and it is this, especially when things feel tough, that helps drive me to push harder to achieve what we need to. And I love reading the letters, which can be deeply personal but are always touching, some reducing me to tears. Such as the small, hand written note from a 10-year-old girl who had raised £20 by holding a cake sale in memory of her dad whom she had lost to pancreatic cancer only a few months earlier. Some make me angry – the stories of lengthy routes to diagnosis, of being bounced back and forwards from one medical specialist to another with no answers to what is wrong until finally the diagnosis comes – too late.
I have the very great privilege to get to know other pancreatic cancer patients. This can be both the best and the hardest part of what I do. Some I may hear from only once. Others I will be in regular contact with via phone, email and text – joining them in their own pancreatic cancer journey and helping where I can. Their stories never cease to amaze – most are those of courage and all are inspirational. The frustration for me is I can’t help in the way I most want to and that is to change the course of their prognosis. Some, unbeknown to them, help support me by telling of their experiences of longer-term survival – giving me hope that I too can live beyond the statistics.
However, the nature of pancreatic cancer is such that many of the patients I befriend have sadly, very little time to live. And while I am very aware that one day I may not be able to chat to them again, when that time comes it is always difficult to come to terms with. Every time I get the bad news it takes me right back to the reality of me being the patient, reminding me of my own mortality and frankly scares the life out of me. This, I know, cannot possibly be compared to the distress and loss their family and friends feel.
And while I may only have known these people for a short time, my life is richer for it. They have all given something to me be it information about their treatments and experience I can pass on to others or just given me more reason to keep on shouting about pancreatic cancer, to try to ensure that in the future more are diagnosed in time for surgery – so the survival rates for pancreatic cancer can start to rise, to push for greater awareness of pancreatic cancer and to reverse the chronic underfunding this miserable disease gets.
A personality who lost their life to pancreatic cancer in 2011 is of course Steve Jobs and his notoriety has helped raise awareness of the disease across the globe. And while his story is a tragedy in itself there are over 8,000 families in the UK and more beyond who will be missing their own loved ones taken by pancreatic cancer this past year.
So while we reflect on 2011, I personally would like to take time to remember three very special people who came into my life but sadly lost theirs to pancreatic cancer last year. They are Nigel Farrell, Michael Jarzebowski and Will Fetherston.
I miss you guys.
The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.