Ray and Joanne
In December 2003, on the NSW Central Coast, the patriarch of our family, my grandfather Ray, was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. After dramatic weight loss and chronic nausea and vomiting, this once strong and robust gentle giant was reduced to a weak, frail man fighting against what we would soon come to learn was the cancer that no-one wanted to talk about. For those that knew anything about Pancreatic cancer, the first reaction upon finding out the diagnosis was ‘I’m so sorry to hear that!’ and ‘Do you know how long?’ We learnt it was the ‘bad one’, and unfortunately is the cancer where all hope is lost.
The family rallied together and Ray had surgery to by-pass the tumour which alleviated some of his symptoms, allowed him to eat and was sent home to live his last days as comfortably as possible. Chemo was not offered but he was determined to fight hard, he wasn’t ready to go yet . Ray was cared for by the family, in particular his daughter and my Mum, Joanne, and finally lost his battle on 27 July 2004. He was 68 years young and left a wife, 4 children and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In February 2009, my Mum Joanne went to the doctors experiencing what were suspected to be gall bladder issues. After a routine ultrasound, and less than 5 years since the death of her father, we received the gut wrenching, earth shattering news again….Pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, detection was early and at 49 years old, the medical team were aggressive. A 12 hour partial whipple surgery attempted to (unsuccessfully) remove the tumour followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy and in March 2010, the word that we had been waiting for, remission!! While we knew it may be short lived, the champagne flowed and I held on to the notion that I may have my Mum for the foreseeable future. This is something that not many ‘Pancreatic Cancer Families’ get to look forward to.
After a routine blood and CT scan in March 2011 the CT images, tumour markers and PET scan confirmed it was back and the prognosis was grim. Notwithstanding this, Mum surged forward the only way she knew how to. She had two beautiful granddaughters to live for and her fierce determination saw her endure rounds of chemotherapy over a 12 month period. Head in a bucket and unable to get out of bed most days this incredibly brave lady did not once complain, she got on with the job, she wanted to be a “Five year survivor.” In December 2011 it appeared that the cancer had broken through the chemo and she was offered an experimental drug that was not on the PBS for Pancreatic cancer sufferers. By this stage Mum was deteriorating and while unspoken, we knew that it was to be her last Christmas. We celebrated Christmas and in May 2012 she moved to Canberra to spend her last days with me, her only child, my husband and two daughters 7 and 6.
I took extended leave from work and became her full time carer and spent what was the most special and memorable time with her. She was no longer having chemo, her symptoms were being managed and she had accepted her fate. The wonderful medical and palliative care team in Canberra assisted in ensuring that this insidious disease did not rob us of making memories right until the end. She was 52 and had fought for 3 ½ years but her journey was coming to an end. On 24th July 2012, holding her hand, I kissed her goodbye.