Maree's Story

Never Give Up


Hi, my name is Maree. My story actually started months before I even knew that I was sick. I was forty-two years old when I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on 15th December 2008.

I had been going to the doctors weekly. I was tired, my skin was so itchy and I would get back pain. My GP put it down to the fact that I had hives and was stressed – I was working too hard and trying to renovate my house. Sometimes I don’t have an off switch – I just can’t stop until the job is done. This had been going on for months. Then I noticed that my eyes were yellow; I realised that I was sick. I went straight to Saint Andrews hospital in Ipswich and was admitted at midnight. The doctor told me it was probably gallstones, and that I needed a CT scan, which was done the next morning. I didn’t get the results straight away that day. Later that evening a nurse came in and told me that the doctor would see me sometime during the night. I told her that I could wait until the morning. I knew that something was really wrong from the look on the nurse’s face. Very early the next morning the doctor came in to see me and told me that I had pancreatic cancer. He told me that the disease is extremely rare and the worst cancer you can get; they would be sending me to the Wesley hospital in Brisbane to have surgery. The first thing that come out of my month was, “pancreas – what’s that?” and, “do I need it?” That was Friday. I spent the weekend at Main Beach with my boyfriend, who very romantically proposed to me the next night on the beach. I knew that I was going to die, but that I was going to do whatever it took to prolong my life. I had two children, and my first Grandchild was about to be born. I made a promise to my best friend Lynnie and sister-in-law, Aroha, that I was not going anywhere. I also asked Lynnie to be the Nana and to tell my Grandchild about me if anything were to go wrong.

On Monday, I went to see the surgeon. He explained the Whipple procedure that I was going to have on the Wednesday. He also explained that the tumour may not be operable, but that he wouldn’t know until the time of the surgery. Days later, very drugged, the doctor told me that they had removed the tumour at the head of my pancreas. He said that it had been one millimetre off being inoperable, but that they had found and removed the tumours from my liver. He explained that they didn’t know if there were any more, and that I would need to have chemotherapy.

On the 27th of January I had a Portacath implanted; one week later I started chemo treatment. The following weekend I got married. I took each day as it came, accepting that I was very ill. I had trouble eating and drinking – most days my biggest challenge was getting out of bed and dealing with the pain. As the weeks turned to months, I was looking forward to the chemotherapy being over. Patrick Swayze was also diagnosed around the same time and his words on chemotherapy sum it all up - you have to use a monster to kill a monster, and it’s true – that when faced with death you will do whatever it takes to survive.

I was having trouble with my right lung, as it kept filling with fluid and needing to be drained. I then had surgery to basically have my lung glued to stop the fluid – this set me back. I stayed positive; I would take my dogs for a walk each day, sit in the park and spend lots of time at the beach. I was looking forward to going back to my job of 24 years – I missed the normality of working. I went back to work for three months before I got sick again.

All was good for a few months, even though I was tired all the time. I went in for a scheduled scan in June 2010, where they found five-by-thirty millimetre tumours in my liver that where inoperable. I felt that I was fighting a battle I couldn’t win. It was all so surreal, with every one step forward, came ten steps backwards. I missed being healthy and having my independence. My oncologist explained to me that there was a treatment available and booked me in for S.I.R.T.S treatment. It is not a cure, he explained, however it will prolong your life. I remember thinking, what am I going to tell my husband and family and friends? It was so hard to tell the people I love that the cancer was back.

I had the treatment. I didn’t have any pain at first, then a few weeks later I started having trouble urinating and I was bloated. The pain was horrific. They would drain the fluid, then a few days later I would bloat again. It was painful to move; I would vomit constantly. There was nothing but pain day after day. This went on for months, I asked my husband one night to help me as I couldn’t bear it any longer, I wasn’t thinking very clearly he took me to the hospital they did tests and told me that my liver function was decreasing. I wasn’t thinking very clearly; he took me to the hospital where they did tests. They told me that my liver function was decreasing. I kept thinking that I just needed more time – I am not done yet. I was so scared. I just needed to get through this and I would be all right. I needed time to heal emotionally and physically. I was scared to die.

I recovered, and was well enough to travel. I decided that it was time to go and visit my wonderful Uncle Joe and Aunty Jan on their cattle farm. I needed to recuperate and stop feeling sorry for myself. I came to the realisation that I would never be able to live my life the way that I had, as long as I was wallowing in self-pity. I needed a kick from my Uncle Joe, who said, “there is nothing you can’t do; you can do anything if you try. Pain is a state of mind”. His words helped me adjust my attitude and I started living again. I had lost myself for a few months and with that, my positive attitude. It had been a big fight and I was fighting for my life.

It has been six years since I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and four years secondary liver cancer. I have no signs of the disease, thanks to my wonderful doctors that have given me the best care, and have prolonged my life. I am grateful for every day that I have with my beautiful husband and children, my two granddaughters, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law, my uncles and auntie’s, and my dearest friend Lynnie, who have all supported me through this journey.

There is hope even when the odds are stacks against you. Never give up.