Bereaved Story

“I kissed his hand and watched as he slipped away. It was peaceful, but the pain of that moment will never leave me.”

Precious Banks lost her husband Stuart to pancreatic cancer just 20 days after his diagnosis in 2022. This is Precious’ story of how she watched her husband waste away, and how he was misdiagnosed until it was too late.

“In 2019, we relocated to the UK from Swaziland, seeking better healthcare through the NHS. In Swaziland, the nearest hospital was a daunting four-hour drive away in neighbouring South Africa.

“The COVID-19 lockdown had me longing for home, so I travelled back to Swaziland to spend time with my family. During my three-month stay, Stuart and I stayed connected through video calls. Despite experiencing stomach discomfort, Stuart had several tests done by the GP, but nothing conclusive was found. He continued to lose weight despite eating normally. When I returned in January 2022, the change in him was shocking. He looked frail and had lost over ten percent of his body weight, a shadow of the man I once knew. His voice on the phone had masked the severity of his condition.

“Determined to get answers, I went with him to his next medical appointment. I was furious at the lack of urgency from the doctors. No one saw the obvious – my husband was wasting away. After expressing my frustration, a doctor finally reviewed Stuart’s records more carefully. They mentioned cysts on his pancreas from a previous test but had dismissed them as non-threatening. This filled me with anger and disbelief. Why hadn’t they investigated further when he first started losing weight?

“Stuart was booked for more tests, including a CT scan. The results were devastating. The cancer had spread significantly by the time it was diagnosed. Stuart showed none of the classic symptoms like jaundice. He was still eating and trying to maintain a semblance of normality. But after the diagnosis, his health declined rapidly. Within days, he could hardly walk.

“The results confirmed our worst fears: Stuart’s condition was terminal. His deterioration was heart-wrenching. He stopped eating and became increasingly quiet, a stark contrast to his usual self. I tried to make him comfortable, but his decline was relentless.

“One morning, while having breakfast, Stuart asked me a question that shattered my heart: “If I hadn’t woken up today, what would you be doing?”. His fear and anger were palpable. He couldn’t understand why this was happening to him. He had always taken care of himself, lived a healthy life, and yet here he was, facing death while others lived to old age despite unhealthy habits.

“Our frustration with the healthcare system added to our misery. Getting through to specialists was a bureaucratic nightmare. In desperation, I threatened the receptionist on the phone, saying they would see my face if Stuart passed away. This outburst got a response, and a doctor called back, but the systemic issues remained, making us feel abandoned and helpless.

“One doctor advised that Stuart stay home, suggesting that spending his last days in the comfort of his home with me was better than a sterile hospital room. Palliative care was arranged, and district nurses were scheduled to visit. Despite their efforts, the situation remained overwhelming. One evening, a nurse administered morphine without consulting us, causing Stuart unnecessary pain and distress. He became restless, almost frantic, and I had to physically restrain him from leaving the house in his confused state.

“I confronted the nurses the next day, demanding that the senior nurse take charge. I insisted that any medication be cleared with me first. I knew my husband’s needs better than anyone else, having been his primary carer throughout everything.

“Stuart’s family arrived to support us. His brother from Canada and another from London stayed with us. The senior nurse pulled me aside one evening, indicating that Stuart had almost no time left. The weight of those words crushed me. We had known this was coming, but hearing it so bluntly made was unbearable.

“In his final days, Stuart was mostly unresponsive, yet he still managed to smile at me. His brothers and I stayed close, talking to him, hoping he could hear us. On the day he passed, a new nurse came to relieve me for a short while. I told Stuart I would be in the next room and to call me if he needed anything.

“Around midnight, the nurse woke me. Stuart was in his final moments. I rushed to his side, held his hand, and told him I loved him. I kissed his hand and watched as he slipped away. It was peaceful, but the pain of that moment will never leave me. He died just 20 days after finally being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“After Stuart’s passing, I struggled immensely. I would visit the GP, often feeling phantom pains, and I have had mental health issues too. Grief took a heavy toll on my mind and body. My support system was minimal; my family was in Swaziland, and I was alone in London. Stuart had been my rock, and now he was gone.

“Dealing with the aftermath was equally challenging. Obtaining Stuart’s death certificate took far longer than expected, adding to my frustration and sorrow. The UK healthcare system, which we had hoped would be our salvation, had let us down repeatedly.

“Despite these challenges, I tried to find solace in little things. Stuart had asked me to be happy, to live my life fully, even in his absence. But moving on felt impossible. His belongings were still around, triggering waves of grief and memories. Sometimes, looking at his things would make me smile, recalling our good times. Other times, it would bring me to tears, the loss too overwhelming to bear.

“Counselling helped, but only to an extent. It was hard to shake the feeling that I was indulging in self-pity. Yet, the pain was real and profound. Stuart’s death had left a void that no amount of counselling could fill.

“As time passed, I contemplated my future. Living alone in the house we had shared was unbearable. Selling the property and moving seemed like a necessary step, but it was daunting. Stuart’s brother advised against suing the doctors, suggesting it would prolong my grief without bringing Stuart back. He was right, but it still felt unjust to let the negligence go unchallenged.

“Stuart’s illness and death had taught me about the cruel unpredictability of life and the systemic flaws in healthcare. I read about pancreatic cancer, learning how difficult it was to diagnose early. Stuart’s weight loss, which should have been an obvious red flag, was overlooked. I still cannot understand why the doctors had not checked his pancreas sooner.

“Through it all, I clung to the memory of Stuart’s love and his wish for me to find happiness. Moving forward seemed impossible, but I knew I had to try, for both our sakes. The journey of grief was long and arduous, filled with moments of despair and glimpses of hope. Stuart’s life, our love, and the pain of losing him shaped me in ways I never imagined. I carry his memory with me, striving to honour his wish for my happiness while navigating the complexities of life without him.”