A photo Anna Sheehan with her dad before he sadly died of pancreatic cancer

Anna tells the story, in her own words, of the journey that led to her dad’s diagnosis for pancreatic cancer from which he sadly died in March 2001.

“Recently, I’ve seen so many things written and shown about pancreatic cancer and for a long time now I have felt compelled to tell my story, or rather my Dad’s, but never really known how to go about it.

In March 2001, aged 19, my whole world and that of my family was turned upside down and ripped apart.  My Dad died from pancreatic cancer.

I want to tell you the story from my perspective, perhaps it’s not one totally full of the ins and outs of the illness, but I believe it is an insight into hope, fight and survival, at least in some form.

I was 16 when my Dad fell ill.  Knowing that a parent has that c word confuses and terrifies you.  I had no idea how to react or what to do, often, all these years later, I’m still confused and unsure.  I knew nothing about pancreatic cancer but what I was faced with straight away was a united front from my parents, my dad was going to fight this, he was going to live. I believed them, I felt certain it was possible.  The word “inoperable” didn’t seem so significant.

My Dad’s cancer was stable, it wasn’t going anywhere, despite the inoperable status.  However, in determining that it was in fact cancer, a procedure had been performed that in all likelihood spread the cancer cells around his body and this would go on to be what would cause him the pain and suffering.  He later went on to meet and be treated by a cancer specialist at another hospital.  This consultant said that he would never have performed the procedure as he could tell it was cancer without seeing the results.  That’s hard to think about. In fact I can’t think about it too much, I’d drive myself crazy.  It’s impossible to know how much longer it would have given him so we have to accept what happened.  My Dad’s attitude, in as much as I was aware, remained the same.  He was going to fight this.

Maybe in the back of my mind I knew he couldn’t survive it.  I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.  I just knew that my Dad was doing everything possible to live, having every treatment that was offered to him.  Then when I was 17 and about to leave college and sit my A’levels my world flipped again when my head of year called me into her office to read me a letter that my Dad’s Dr had written in support of mitigating circumstances for my exams.  It stated in black and white that people just simply don’t live beyond 6 months.  I’d never heard the statistics before, it was shocking and I remember suddenly my future without my Dad in it flashing before my eyes.  It’s testament to my parents that this didn’t destroy me and my exams.  They showed me that my Dad wasn’t a statistic, he was my Dad.  Just because it was unlikely it needn’t be impossible.  Because of this attitude I was able to live a life, perhaps not like every “normal” teenager but a much better one than it could have been.  Because of them I was able to work abroad when I left college, believing, knowing that my Dad would be there when I got back.  He was.

My Dad researched treatments and did everything he could to help himself and others showed enormous kindness and willingness to help too.  At times like this you really learn who your friends are.

When things got harder my parents found solutions.  When my Dad found it harder to walk, he got a motorised wheelchair, he loved gadgets so it suited him!  He applied for a disabled badge too.

My parents knew that they wanted to do things together and as a family so they planned them and we did them.  People probably thought we’d all gone mad when we went on holiday to Rome.  Not just your average holiday though, we had to travel by train as my Nana came with us and she couldn’t fly so we took 2 wheelchairs and too many suitcases!  It was a holiday, a memory that I’ll never forget, least not because we accidentally arrived in the Vatican City in time for a papal mass and we were ushered to the front because of the wheelchairs!

We were all there, as a family, as my Dad had his last stay in hospital.  We shared memories and stories and my parents did crosswords.  We tried daily to get a bed in the hospital where he had had his treatment.  He, and us all, felt that this would save him.  Perhaps that kept him going, believing.  I was there when he died.  My world stopped.

I know that my Dad fought the disease with all of his might.  I know as a family we fought to live and enjoy our time together.  I believe his belief that he would get better kept him alive for 2 ½ years after diagnosis and that same belief kept us all going.  But it’s unbelievable that after 13 years 2 ½ years is still considered to be a long time to live with this awful disease.”