Grieving nurse tells of losing dad to pancreatic cancer at start of lockdown

A grieving Scottish nurse who lost her father to pancreatic cancer in the first week of lockdown just nine weeks after he was diagnosed is spearheading a leading charity's new campaign urging NHS decision makers to prioritise the illness which kills half of patients in the first three months.

Nurse Carole and her father Robert on holiday together.

Carole Hughes a mental health nurse, lost her dad Robert 70 a former labourer, in March.

He had previously complained of indigestion and back pain - but she suspected pancreatic cancer.

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The 45-year-old from Hamilton, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years was speaking on the back of Pancreatic Cancer UK launching their new campaign - ‘No Time to Wait’.

The charity are urging NHS decision makers to prioritise pancreatic cancer patients in recovery plans.

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Hughes started to suspect pancreatic cancer when her father suddenly developed diabetes and she knew how long the survival statistics are for people with the disease.

She said: In November, he was diagnosed with diabetes and it was at that point that I started to join the dots. I remember turning to my friend and saying ‘I think he has pancreatic cancer’.

“My dad’s GP was, very kind very caring but I feel that the diabetes should have been a real red flag. That was the moment when I realised what it was.

“My dad wasn’t overweight and once he started mentioning indigestion and the pains in his back, somebody should have started making the connection.

“I just knew that it was going to be the last Christmas with him.

“My mum and dad had their 50-year anniversary coming up the February and I remember just wanting him to be around for that.”

Hughes said that her father was diagnosed on the 14 January and ‘accepted his fate’ while remaining upbeat.

She added: “My mum took him to go to the hospital for an ERCP [procedure that uses an endoscope and X-rays to look at your bile duct and your pancreatic duct] and mum was given the discharge letter and was shocked to see it mention palliative chemo.

“She came to me and asked “is he dying?” and I had to say yes.

“But at this point, we hadn’t seen an oncologist and nobody had actually said he was dying or that he had such little time.”

Hughes said that in February with her father’s condition deteriorating a junior doctor had to talk to him and the family about a ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR).

She added: “It was horrific to watch this poor young guy have to do this and I couldn’t

tolerate how much it was distressing him so I had to stop him and tell him that I would have the conversation with them.

“At this point, my dad had accepted it but my mum and sister were there and it was a shock to them.”

Hughes said the family managed to get their father home just as the hospital had their first patient with Covid-19 and two days later they stopped letting in visitors.

Diana Jupp, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We’ve all felt the impact of the pandemic but people with the quickest killing cancer are now facing the cruel reality that delays to their treatment and diagnosis could cost them their life.

“Too many people, like Robert, are diagnosed too late to have lifesaving surgery or treatment to give them more time with their loved ones.

“People in the UK face some of the lowest odds of survival in Europe and we must not let the pandemic make it even worse.

“The NHS must not ignore less-survivable cancers in this next phase of recovery.

“We must ensure that the pancreatic cancer backlog is cleared so that people can get the treatment they desperately need to survive.

“People with pancreatic cancer simply don’t have time to wait.”

Around 780 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year in Scotland and half will die within three months.

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