Carer Stories

Carer Story: Sandra Francis

Sandra Francis tells the story of her beloved husband Peter, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and later told that his tumour was in fact inoperable.

Peter Grenville Francis (1942 – 2012)

My husband Pete was eventually diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2011 and he lived for one year and 2 days from diagnosis.  A non smoker, had an excellent diet, grew his own vegetables etc., slightly overweight but not much.  Hardly drank but Liked a pint of cider at the weekends.

We had no idea where the pancreas was or had hardly heard of pancreatic cancer.  We were totally unaware of the symptoms.  I am guessing a lot of will have had no idea either.

Pete  had been feeling less energetic than normal and less enthusiastic about going out etc but had put this down to age.  He was nearly 10 years older than me and if I mentioned  anything about his need to sit down more etc he would say wait until you are my age.  He was only 69 at this time.

Late September 2011 he had a funny turn whilst up a ladder cleaning out the guttering and so we made an appointment to go to the doctor.  This resulted in various blood and urine tests and a sugar level test which was off the scale and was so high that the normal testing kit at the GP surgery couldn’t read the results.  So bloods were sent off.  That evening we received a call from the out of hours surgery, who had a blood test result, to tell him to take it easy and to get back to the doctor the next day.

He was given medication for Type 2 Diabetes.  This didn’t work! and within 2 weeks he was using insulin to control his blood sugar levels.  No further tests were made and no investigations even though it is extremely rare for a fit, non smoking, non overweight 69 year old male to suddenly become diabetic.  For a couple of weeks he felt better but then other symptoms appeared which again we knew nothing about.  His stools changed and were light in colour and had a strong odour and his urine was a very strong orange colour.  Back to the doctor.  He then had pain in his chest like indigestion.  More blood tests and more delays.  Eventually an emergency ultra sound which showed “something”.  Referral for a CT scan – by this time I had researched some of his symptoms on the computer and wasn’t liking what I was reading.  Pancreatic Cancer Action’s web site were listing all that was happening to Pete.  I got very concerned – in fact I can clearly remember reading their web site and going cold.   I rang Pancreatic Cancer Action and was amazed when Ali Stunt the founder of the charity answered the phone.  She was calm but concerned and talked to me about the possibility. The symptoms were all there.  I wasn’t prepared to wait for the CT scan so we paid.  Again inconclusive but something could be seen,  and it was decided he should have an endoscopy.  Nothing  – BUT the breakthrough came that day via a Junior nurse who noticed that Pete had yellowish eyes.  She asked if we minded him being seen by the Gastroenterologist Consultant at the Alexander Hospital in Redditch.  Pete went yellower by the day and had intense itching.  We saw the consultant and within days he had performed an ERCP which allows the consultant to see the pancreas.  Sadly that was the day that my fears were confirmed.  He had found a tumour on the head of the pancreas.  Pete was referred to the QE at Birmingham and we had hope, as I had read and researched about the Whipple operation.  So like the story that ran in Coronation Street.  Appointments were made and we saw Mr Bramhall at the QE 3 days before Christmas 2011.  We were told on that day that they thought Pete was a good candidate for the Whipple procedure and that they would remove the cancer.  Unfortunately we had Christmas and New Year to get through and they couldn’t do the operation until 17th January.  It seemed so long to wait.  The surgery date was altered and then put back to the original date which was traumatic, to say the least, and then the day came and just like Hayley in Coronation Street the tumour was wrapped round an artery so Pete’s cancer basically became inoperable.  They did what they could and made Pete more comfortable and the jaundice was cured.  He then started on a series of chemotherapy at Worcester Hospital but the tumour didn’t respond and he chose to stop the chemotherapy and enjoy the time he had without the effects of chemo.  We had a fair Summer with him not feeling too bad but from the September 2012 he went downhill and he passed away on 17th December 2012.

I just wish we had known the symptoms earlier.  Earlier diagnosis is one of the only ways to survive this dreadful and evil cancer.  We need more income for research and more funding from the Government.  Wonderful strides have been made with other cancers which is amazing but statistics for pancreatic cancer have hardly changed in 40 years and yet over 8000 people will be diagnosed with it this year and not many of them will survive a year let alone any longer.

I miss him so much and continue to do all I can to raise awareness and funds for Pancreatic Cancer Action.

Sandra Francis (wife of Peter Francis)