Leila Morris shares the story of her father, Phil Morris, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2014 and sadly died in early 2015.
Leila was very close to her father, Phil. When she was younger, she was incredibly shy and it was her father who helped her to come out of her shell. If the family had visitors, he would encourage Leila to converse with them.
When her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, his concern about her shyness arose again and he wasn’t sure she’d be comfortable speaking to those involved with his care. In the end, Leila went to most of his appointments and was the key family contact. Phil came to rely on her during his care.
The diagnosis: the signs were there early on
Phil was diagnosed at the age of 61 with late stage pancreatic cancer in February 2014. Leila believes that there were signs of something wrong some two months before his diagnosis.
One of the first signs was food passing quickly through his body completely undigested, and he was going to the toilet several times a day. He lost almost 3 stone in just one month as a result. Phil was a tall man who didn’t weigh very much at is was so this weight loss took him down to just 8 stone and he was so thin that his spine was clearly visible.
Before this, Phil was never ill and there had not been any reason for him to visit a doctor, but as a result of these ongoing symptoms and worsening pain in his back, he was attending the GP surgery regularly. His GP suggested it was gallstones and then Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Phil was not convinced by either of these diagnoses and at one point exclaimed “look at me!” to highlight to the doctor how weak he looked but the doctor insisted that he was perfectly healthy and there was nothing at all to be concerned about.
Despite receiving medication, the pain in his back continued to get worse along with his rapid weight loss so Phil eventually took himself to Accident and Emergency on 5th February 2014, and as result, the on call doctor arranged for him to have a CT scan the following day, which revealed that Phil had a shadow over his stomach.
It took a week of further tests before Phil heard four life-changing words, ‘you have pancreatic cancer’. Phil, having never heard of this type of cancer, thought this was relatively positive news as he mistakenly thought it offered a better survival rate than other cancers. However, Leila knew that it was one of the worst cancers.
The journey from diagnosis
Two days after his diagnosis, they were told the devastating news that Phil had just six months to live. Leila was distraught, she couldn’t imagine life without her dad and she didn’t want to lose him.
During this initial appointment, Phil was prescribed Loperamide to help control the continued diarrhea which had worsened.
On 4th March, Phil saw his oncologist and agreed with him to take part in a clinical trial, Gemcitibine with the Maestro. To be accepted onto the trial, he had to have a number of tests and his diarrhea needed to be under control.
Leila said his appetite had changed significantly at this point. From three solid meals a day with no unhealthy snacks, he was now having loads of biscuits and ordering takeaway food. Even though he was taking in an increased amount of calories, his weight continued to decrease. In April, Phil was admitted to Weston Park hospital suffering from diarrhoea 30 times a day, and weighing just 9 stone 9lbs. The diarrhea and weight loss was not related to cancer because he was having 10 to 14 creons, which is used to treat people who cannot digest food normally because their pancreas does not make enough enzymes, with every meal.
He was referred to a gastroenterologist who tried a number of treatments to try to constipate him but nothing worked. Leila was desperate for a solution and through research, discovered the possibility that a small bacterial overgrowth could be the reason for his digestion problems. A positive result of a test confirmed Leila’s suspicions.
Antibiotics helped manage the infection for a number of days until it overpowered the drugs. It was then they both discovered the benefit of fillet steak. Every time Phil had a steak, he would be able to sleep through the night without paying a single visit to the toilet. He was concerned about the expense but Leila insisted she would pay for it.
Once his diarrhea and weight loss were under control, he was able to begin the clinical trial which initially had extremely good results. Phil had no sickness and every scan saw the tumours shrinking, and he lived beyond the six months that he was given to live.
Phil’s positive reaction to the chemotherapy trial continued until December 2014 when a scan sadly revealed the cancer was progressing, with five lesions on his liver measuring around 3cm. He was then started on another trial of Folfox, which had the positive effect of minimising the pain but his diarrhea returned.
At this point, Phil began talking to Leila about his death which she found rather difficult to hear. He said to Leila he wanted to be cremated and reminded her she would need to organise a house clearance. He would tearfully tell her how scared he was about his death. Leila stayed strong, and listened with a reassuring ear. She had to stay brave and hold back the tears that she was desperate to shed.
Phil had to stop taking Folfox before he had completed a full cycle as his bloods were far too low. He was also suffering from bad sciatica, which is a severe pain in the leg and was prescribed Pregablin to help this. The sciatica was so bad that he could hardly walk and Leila had to put his socks and shoes on, and it took about 10 minutes for him to stand up, which was incredibly frustrating for a man who was used to being independent. As it progressed, I thought it was the Sciatica getting worse but it turned out to be 3 broken lower lumbar bones
On 10th April 2015, Phil asked to be taken to the hospital suffering from pain throughout his body.
The hospital decided to keep him in to monitor his pain and help him to walk again. He was put under the care of a palliative nurse, who while talking to him witnessed him having a stroke, which resulted in him losing his speech the following day and having no right movement on this right side.
The following days, Phil was nil by mouth, sleeping 95% of the time and given painkillers to manage the pain. Leila stays with in constantly, and when she has to step away from his bedside, she tells him where she’s going and when she will be back.
Leila’s final moments with her dad started with their last ever hug before he became unconscious. Leila spends the time reading the horse racing pages to him, and medical staff giving him treatment for the pain.
Phil passed away on 21st April 2015 at 6.25am with Leila by his side.
Leila said: “He was so incredibly brave. Yes he got upset, very upset, often. I didn’t want him to hide his feelings for fear of upsetting me, and so I encouraged him to let them out
“He would want people to read his story. There are so many complications with this disease, and medical professionals aren’t always helpful. That’s why I did my own research. I wasn’t scared to ring them. I used to ring the oncologist himself. Cut out everyone else. You don’t have to get angry to get answers. I was firm but still polite. He’s my Dad, I wasn’t going to sit around and not help him. He didn’t deserve that.”