Bereaved Story

“Alison died just three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My hope is that at some point, in the not-too-far future, you, your partner, your Mum, Dad or anybody you know, or love will have a much better prognosis than my beloved Alison did.”

Jeremy Hunt is here today to tell us his wife Alison's tragic story of pancreatic cancer and how he lost her just three weeks after her diagnosis.

Our Story

It was towards the end of August 2022 that my wife, Alison, started to say she was feeling a strange abdominal pain, had lost her appetite, and had started taking antacids for reflux. She was also experiencing some backache pains. She had been volunteering at a local land regeneration project and this involved her clearing old ponds of rubbish, so we assumed this was from some waterborne bug she had picked up. She even wondered if it could be a hernia strain.

Alison went to her GP and had tests to see if she had an infection or a virus. In a few days these all came back negative. Which was both good and bad news. It was clearly something else.

Back in 2015, due to familial links with cancer in her family – her late mother’s breast cancer and several aunts – she went to University College London Hospital (UCLH) to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation. It came back positive. It was a 50/50 chance it would be passed to her. Unfortunately, she had inherited it from her mother.

Having this gene error hugely increased her chances of getting breast cancer, so after meetings with consultants, she took the decision to have a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy.

In late 2016 she had both operations. She coped with all this amazingly well and was grateful to the NHS and hoped she had dodged that bullet.

However, the BRCA gene is implicated in a raised risk of pancreatic cancer.

Alison then volunteered to be on a monitoring study called EUROPAC, in which she would go into hospital every six months or so, and would alternate between a blood test and an MRI scan.

Just before Christmas of 2021, she had an MRI scan. She was given the all-clear.

With continued discomfort and back pain, we needed to investigate further as to what her condition was. She booked herself in for a blood test at UCHL, and we waited a few days. She was back in the field doing some more volunteering when she received the call from the hospital. There was a ‘spike’ on her blood results, and could she come back in for another test in case it was a false positive. Some days later, the results came through again. There was another spike in her blood test results, and could she come in for an MRI scan?

Soon after, Alison was called back to UCHL to see the consultant. She asked whether I could come along, and they said yes.

In that meeting, we were told that the news was bad. The MRI scan revealed that she had a tumour on her pancreas. It was much enlarged, and pressure on the spine and other nerves was probably the reason for the constant back pain. The cancer had metastasised and was also on her liver. It was stage four. Inoperable. A course of chemotherapy would be given, but it would not be a cure.

Despite admission into UCLH two weeks later because the pain control and discomfort at home was becoming too much, Alison was only able to receive one course of chemotherapy. She also developed jaundice and had fluid retention in her legs.

On 19th October 2022, I spent the afternoon with her, but upon returning home in the early evening, I received a phone call at 11pm from the hospital with terrible news. In the few hours since I had been speaking to her, she had developed sepsis and that they were moving to end-of-life care.

I arrived back at the hospital at midnight to have the last few hours with her, she died in the early hours of the morning on 20th October 2022.

From the diagnosis of her pancreatic cancer to her death was just three weeks.

Alison was a slim and fit 61-year-old non-smoker who, only a few months earlier, was swimming a mile most mornings.

Pancreatic cancer treatment progress over the last 40 years has proved both slow and difficult. As many of you reading this will know, it has the lowest 5-year survival rate of the 22 common cancers.

However, I am sure with greater investment, earlier diagnosis and new developments in medicine arriving all the time that, progress can be made with this ‘Cinderella’ cancer.

In Alison’s name, I now try to raise funds and regularly donate to Pancreatic Cancer Action so that at some point, in the not-too-far future, you, your partner, your Mum, Dad or anybody you know, or love will have a much better prognosis than my beloved Alison did.

Jeremy Hunt