Bereaved Story

“Sarah was aware of pancreatic cancer because she had lost her dad to the disease. The problem was more with convincing her GP that she was seriously ill. GPs need to be more aware. They need to wake up, be more alert and listen to people.”

Sue Nicholls’ daughter Sarah died of pancreatic cancer in February 2024 at the age of 49. Sue reflects on Sarah’s symptoms and how they were missed by doctors, as well as finding strength through fundraising for Pancreatic Cancer Action.

“Sarah was in a lot of pain. She had seen her dad suffer with the same thing as he passed away from pancreatic cancer eight years ago. She had previously asked doctors about genetic testing but was told that she had to have two close relatives to be eligible for it. Sarah had a healthy lifestyle. She wasn’t a smoker, wasn’t a drinker, and she was very careful with her diet.

Because of her dad, pancreatic cancer was something she was aware of. She had been fundraising for Pancreatic Cancer Action after he died and tried to raise awareness of the disease. It saddens me that she never got treated properly herself. 

In the beginning, Sarah thought the pain was something that was going to pass. When it persisted, she contacted her GP, and it took her a while to get an appointment. When she finally got an appointment, she told the doctor that her dad had died of pancreatic cancer, and it was her fear that she had it too. The doctor told her that she definitely didn’t have pancreatic cancer.

In summer 2023, Sarah was given different types of painkillers because the pain became excruciating. Finally, the pain was so bad that she dropped her child off at school one day and went straight to A&E. They admitted her and while in hospital, she turned yellow and her and her stools were pale. She was fitted with an emergency stent, had a scan and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She underwent the Whipple procedure in August 2023. The surgeons took away 36 lymph nodes, and only six of them showed cancer. They said she had a good margin, and they were happy with the outcome of the surgery. 

Sarah went home and we thought things were good, but the pain returned. She received another scan, and it showed that the cancer had spread to her liver. It was terminal and she was really afraid. She had four rounds of chemotherapy in the hope that it would give her more time. 

She decided to marry her partner – they had been together for a long time – and she spent all the time she had left getting everything ready for us. She even planned her own funeral and paid for everything, so the family didn’t have to worry. Sarah has two children – a 29-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter – and they are now having to adjust to life without their Mum. 

Time is of the essence with pancreatic cancer. It was really rampant with Sarah so maybe she still wouldn’t have survived if she was diagnosed earlier, but healthcare professionals need to listen to people. The reason I have chosen to work with and fundraise for Pancreatic Cancer Action is because of the charity’s focus on early diagnosis. I put envelopes out at Sarah’s funeral in the church to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer Action and the funeral director did a collection too. 

I got involved with Pancreatic Cancer Action’s ’60 Miles in April’ challenge after a friend suggested it to me. It helped me to ‘walk off’ my emotions. I was doing five or six miles a day and it helped me mentally as well as physically. It was keeping me going, giving me something to concentrate on, and it helped with my grief.”