Survivor Stories

“I’m a changed person. I’m not the same person I was a year ago before I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I don’t know who I am yet, but I am changed forever. Now I want to give something back because I’ve got a second chance at life.”

Michael Parry recently received the all-clear one year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He tells us about his experience over the past year, the significant role his GP played in his prognosis, and the importance of never losing hope.

“I’m over the moon that I’m now clear of pancreatic cancer. I was buzzing when I got the news. The doctor told me: ‘You now get to plan for the next five years’. My feeling is that you’ve only got one life. If I’ve only got five years left, I’m going to have the best five years. If I have 15 years left, I want to have the best 15 years. I want to live my life. 

Before I was diagnosed, I hadn’t heard of pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t have had a clue what to look for. Now I post about the signs and symptoms of the disease on social media to help reach more people. Before having cancer, I was a bit more selfish, thinking about my own life. Now I want to help raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. The survival rates are poor, but we’ve got to give people hope. There needs to be more funding for research as pancreatic cancer only receives 3% of research funds but it is one of the biggest killers.  

If I still worked and hadn’t retired in March 2022, I would be dead now. I wouldn’t have made the time to go to the doctor when I was working full time. When I retired, I moved back home to Northumberland and now I am a patient at a small GP practice, and I receive good care. If I had still been working down south, there’s no question that my cancer wouldn’t have been caught.

It all started in late 2022, when I developed a stitch-like pain in my left-hand side. I was 59 at the time. It cropped up before Christmas but then went away so I didn’t think any more about it. The stitch returned and by February, it was a constant twinge. I went to see my GP in March and she felt something wasn’t right and sent me for blood tests, and they took stool samples and urine samples. The results didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, but the stitch was still there, and I was taking paracetamol to manage the pain. My GP referred me for a scan, which showed I had a lesion on my pancreas. I was then sent for another CT scan. The GP then called me in and told me I had pancreatic cancer. 

Her quick actions are the key thing that have led to me still being alive today. She told me only 20% of pancreatic cancer patients survive beyond the first year after diagnosis. At the time, she said to me ‘But you will make it through. You will be in that 20%’. That helped give me hope. I was with the doctor for an hour after I received the diagnosis and we spoke about the prognosis. When you are told the news that you have pancreatic cancer, your whole world implodes. I felt numb. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I eat a fairly good diet. I am active and walk my dogs several miles every day. So, when you receive a diagnosis like that, you think ‘why me?’. The moment you receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, your life changes. You become a statistic and all you can think about cancer. 

 The hardest thing was having to tell my wife that I had pancreatic cancer. It was heart-breaking. Then we had to tell the kids. We have three kids and having the conversation with them was really hard. With pancreatic cancer, you look on the internet and it is all about death. At that moment I thought ‘that’s it for me because there is no positive outcome’. You don’t hear good stories about pancreatic cancer online – it is always bad news. It is all doom and gloom. It was hard to be positive but I’m a naturally positive person. 

After being diagnosed, I was given an appointment at the hospital for May. When my GP found out, she went berserk and insisted I needed to be seen sooner. She rang the oncology department and said I needed to be seen as soon as possible and managed to arrange an appointment for me the next day. I attended that appointment, and the operation to remove the tumour was booked in for 1st June. The tumour was rapidly growing. I had gone from taking paracetamol to manage the pain to needing to take paracetamol, codeine, oramorph and slow-release morphine every day. I needed to have all four of these drugs to manage the pain. 

 When I attended the appointment, the surgeon said to me: ‘I will only operate if I think I can save your life’. I then had scans over the next few weeks to check that the cancer hadn’t spread. My cancer was in the tail of the pancreas, so I had partial removal surgery. I was under the knife for at least five hours in surgery. They took every organ out and placed them aside to check them over for signs of cancer. My cancer was stage two but was a large tumour. 

I got home from the hospital on the 10th June and by mid-July, I was getting ready for chemotherapy. The plan was to have had six sessions of chemotherapy but then the doctor said I was looking good ‘so we’ll do 12 sessions and I’ll give you the strongest chemotherapy drugs.’ He said that chemotherapy increases your chance of survival by 20%. ‘I think this will give you a 55% chance if I give you this cocktail of drugs.’ I asked him to be honest with me and not sugar-coat it and he said the process would be horrible and that I might have bad side effects. In August, I started doing sessions of chemotherapy every two weeks. The oncology suite was a positive, happy place. I became diabetic halfway through the chemotherapy and was really poorly for about a month. One of the nurses noticed some of the signs and she then tested me sorted it out. 

My youngest son Daniel cared for me. We are extremely close – we are best friends. When I was diagnosed, Daniel quit his job down south that he loved and moved up north to be with me. He was my primary carer as my wife was still working to pay the bills. Having your son do that for you – quit his job and take care of you – helped me when I was at my lowest ebb during the chemo. I had a bad month, and he was there for me every day. Daniel helped get my strength back up after the operation. He didn’t think it was anything special, but it meant the world to me. He said, ‘I’ll get you walking again’. We went walking in the garden and he was walking with his arm out to catch me just in case I fell because I was so weak. 

Having cancer makes you appreciate what you’ve got. In times of adversity, you realise who your friends are. I am so grateful to be in this position to have been given the all-clear a year later. I will continue to be monitored and will have another CT scan in six months’ time. 

I hope my story provides those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer some hope. The key thing I would say to those diagnosed is don’t give up. But also, do not be afraid to speak up. If my GP hadn’t caused a fuss, I wouldn’t have got the hospital appointment in time to save my life. Do not give up. Especially if you are diagnosed early, there’s hope.”