Eileen Wilmott was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2015 and sadly passed away just 6 months later.

Eve, Eileen’s daughter, tells the story of her mother’s experience with pancreatic cancer…
Eileen 4 days before she passed away
Eileen 4 days before she passed away

My mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 68 on 13th August 2015. She died 6 months later. She first became unwell in the March of 2015 experiencing a tender upper abdomen and back ache and visited her GP. She returned to the GP in April as the pain was getting worse and had not subsided. The GP put her omeprazole used to treat acid produced by the stomach.

Symptoms and Misdiagnosis…

By the end of April returned to her GP as her symptoms had worsened. The GP did a referral to have an endoscopy. She was not given an appointment to have the endoscopy until 18th June. During the time between 27th April and 18th June she returned to her GP as, again, her symptoms worsened. The GP increased the dose of omeprazole.

The endoscopy detected a hiatus hernia and abrasion in her stomach. Following this diagnosis the GP upped the omeprazole further. My mum did ask the GP if it was something more serious and mentioned pancreatic cancer but the GP dismissed this. Early-mid July the pain got so bad in her abdomen and back she went to A&E. The doctor told her it was a kidney infection and was sent home with antibiotics.

At the beginning of August she returned to the GP as the antibiotics had not done anything for her symptoms and she continued to get worse. Weight loss was clearly evident at this point. The GP arranged an ultrasound which showed nothing.

Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…

On 11th August my mum collapsed at home and started violently vomiting. She was taken to A&E and they carried out a variety of bloody tests and performed a CT scan. The next day we were told she had a tumour in her pancreas and it looked like it was malignant.

Over the 5 months she she first visited her GP, her symptoms of abdominal pain and back ache worsened. She felt sick, struggled eating and had experienced noticeable weight loss.

From the point my mum was diagnosed she was sent home. Her pain was poorly managed using tablet pain killers which she struggled to keep down. It took several weeks before she saw an oncologist. I felt there was poor coordination of her care between the GP and the hospital and very little support in terms of specialist nursing care.

I found this particularly shocking having been diagnosed with breast cancer myself 6 years previously. The care I received from the breast cancer care nurses was faultless. They helped explain my diagnosis and treatment plan. In the early days I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Sadly, my mum had nothing like this support and I soon came to realise this was because of the lack of investment in pancreatic cancer, lack of treatment options and the poor prognosis compared with other cancers like breast cancer.

False hope…

My mum’s first oncologist gave her hope saying he could cure her. Sadly I think it was unrealistic in terms of what her body could cope with. This false hope was something she struggled with mentally as well as physically.

After her first intravenous chemotherapy (which we understood was the highest dose they give and one we as a family were not expecting them to give her) she returned home and was so sick she could not keep the pain relief down. The hospital was phoned but we were told there were no beds so we couldn’t take her in but were told to give her liquid morphine. She couldn’t keep this down either and she collapsed. An ambulance was called and they gave her a morphine injection and admitted her to hospital.

The reality…

Shortly after this she was allocated another oncologist who changed her treatment plan and delivered the blow that her cancer was never to be cured as we were previously led to believe. It was now a case of managing the symptoms and slowing the progression of the cancer.

He quickly got on top of my mums pain and she was prescribed painkiller patches and started on a regime of chemo tablets and radiotherapy. She got very ill on this and we found out about three quarters of the way through the chemo had damaged her bowel and she may have to have it removed. My Mum was in hospital for many weeks being fed only intravenously to manage the bowel damage.

Mum’s goal…

My Mum came out of hospital in October 2015 weighing around 3 stone less than her pre cancer weight (9 stone). My mum had a goal and she told her Oncologist early on that she had a family holiday booked the year before (before she got ill) to Barbados and she wanted to make that holiday. Barbados was a special place for us both. We first went to Barbados shortly after I finished my cancer treatment in 2010. We fell in love with the island and returned every year with all the family.

Eileen in Barbados with her daughter Eve and granddaughter Boo

2016 was to be no exception and the thought that she was not going to be able to make it made my mum very sad. By February 2016 we found out the cancer had spread to her liver but knowing how much she wanted to get to Barbados her consultant Oncologist who she became very fond of gave her the go ahead to travel. She was very weak but we got her to Barbados.

She seems OK for the first few days but soon deteriorated physically and mentally. Her body began to swell, her skin turned yellow, and she became very childlike in personality which I found very hard to see. We all worried about her greatly and feared if she was well enough to make the flight home. I don’t think I, or any of us, realised how close to the end she was.

We landed at Gatwick at 6am on Friday 19 Feb 2016 and she died on the morning of Sunday 21 February. She knew she had to get herself back and she did.

Proud of my mum…

I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of my Mum. She loved life, had many great friends who adored her too.

Eileen at lunch in Barbados at one of her favourite places
Eileen at lunch in Barbados at one of her favourite places

She had reached a stage of her life where she was content and happy. She worked three days a week for a local company where she had met many new friends of all ages. She had an active social life with many weekends away with friends and loved days out in London, taking in the sights and seeing a show. My mum embraced life and took up every opportunity given to her.

I was her only daughter and she had one granddaughter who she adored. She picked Roberta (aka Boo) up from school every week and they enjoyed many a ‘girly sleep over’ at Grandma’s where they stayed up late and painted each other’s nails.

Remembering Eileen…

The 1st Dec 2016 would have been my mum’s 70th birthday. My mum had talked about having a soul disco for her birthday and hoped she would still be here to celebrate it. When my mum knew her illness was progressing she made the very difficult decision to plan her funeral so me and her family would not have to make difficult decisions at such a sad time. It was after she died we found out that her wish was to have a soul disco at her wake. We didn’t feel we could arrange this at this time but committed to arranging a soul disco in her memory at a later date.

Supporting Pancreatic Cancer Action…

Through discussion with her good friends we agreed to hold a charity soul disco in memory and in celebration of her 70th birthday. My mum’s good friend Lorraine has taken on the task of arranging this. All the money raised will go to Pancreatic Cancer Action, a charity who provided me and my mum much needed support in the early days.

Despite her busy schedule and work with the charity, Ali Stunt, took the time to talk to me and my mum and offered valuable support that was just not available to her through the NHS.

The Soul Disco will be an opportunity to celebrate Eileen’s life with her friends and family but we also would like to use it to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer.

Eileen’s memorial page: http://eileen.wilmott.muchloved.com/