Bereaved Story

“Pancreatic cancer feels like the forgotten cancer. My Dad died in pain. No-one should have to go through that suffering.”

Scottish football legend Frank McGarvey died of pancreatic cancer in January 2023. Frank would have turned 68 on the 17th of March this year. To mark the anniversary of his birthday, Frank’s daughter Jenny Kane talks to us about her dad’s battle with pancreatic cancer and how his symptoms were missed by medical professionals.

“He went to the doctors five or six times over the next few months and was misdiagnosed. One night he phoned 999 as he was experiencing chest pain. I was repeatedly calling and emailing his GP surgery to try and get some answers. 

“In September 2022, Dad was sent for a chest x-ray, but nothing was found. Dad was losing a lot of weight, and our family was very concerned. Dad never saw the same doctor consistently throughout this period. He saw locums and part-time GPs, so no-one was tracking how ill he was getting. As a former footballer, Dad had a high pain threshold, but he was in agony. The doctors were giving him painkillers and indigestion medication which weren’t helping. It felt like no one was looking at the bigger picture and tracking how much weight he was losing. 

“Our family was considering paying privately for a scan, but we finally received a letter with an NHS scan appointment around this time. I had never heard of pancreatic cancer before, but I knew deep down there was something that wasn’t right. I wish I had seen one of the posts that Pancreatic Cancer Action do on social media listing the symptoms. I think I would then have made the connection and thought of pancreatic cancer. 

“Once Dad had a scan and a scope, the Doctors knew right away. Dad and my brother Scott went in for an appointment and the Doctors broke the news that Dad had pancreatic cancer. But there were more delays to come – it took six weeks after his diagnosis before the doctors even started talking to him about treatment. Pancreatic cancer feels like the forgotten cancer. My Dad died in pain. No-one should have to go through that suffering. 

“After he got the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he was given a prescription of painkillers, but we received no information of what lay ahead. There was no communication – there wasn’t someone taking the lead. Dad was so excited that he was going to get treatment and try to fight the cancer but then he was told by doctors that things had changed, and he could no longer be offered chemotherapy. This decision seemed so unfair as my dad wanted treatment. He wanted to try everything. He was in so much pain and maybe if he had got further treatment, it might have eased his pain. I feel people like my dad should be able to make that choice themselves about whether they want chemotherapy. It is unfair that he never got to make that decision and it was taken out of his hands. I feel robbed that we weren’t allowed to fight just a wee bit harder. 

“It got harder to manage Dad’s pain at home. We had a rota so we could look after him 24/7 as a family – it was a really tough time that went on for months. Eventually my brothers and I made the difficult decision to admit Dad into a hospice. He passed away on the 1st of January 2023. 

“My Dad has eight Grandchildren who miss him so much every day. My two older daughters, Jessica and Antonia, talk about their Papa all the time. I told them he is up and in heaven and they ask me ‘maybe we can get a lift up there to see him?’. 

“When Dad was diagnosed, he said to me: ‘Jenny, we need to tell people about this’. So, as a family we are working with Pancreatic Cancer Action to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. What we went through is not normal. It is traumatic. We want to make sure no one else has to go through what our family has. 

“On Sunday we are marking Dad’s birthday by having a birthday cake and the kids are going to write messages on balloons and send them up to heaven. We are going to pay tribute to Dad and how much we all miss him.”