A West Belfast woman is urging people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer after losing her brother to the disease just a month after his diagnosis.
Richard Millar, 42, from the Shankill Road passed away on September 11, 2020, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
His sister Nicola Millar says his condition deteriorated very quickly in the weeks following his diagnosis on August 12, to the point where his family almost couldn’t recognise their “good looking” brother.
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Nicola said: “My beautiful brave big brother Richard was the oldest of five siblings, he was always healthy, never complained, and was a fit young man for 42.
“But, 18 months before diagnosis, he had gone back and forth to A&E, which was odd as Richard never complained. Each time he attended A&E, he was told it was gastro or muscular.
“But, as time went on my parents and I seemed to notice Richard was not getting any better and he was losing lots of weight very quickly and we also noticed the spark in his big brown eyes had gone.
“Just before Richard got the news we never imagined we would hear, he had been to A&E again.
“This time I went over to see what was going on to be told he was fine, only to find out less than two weeks later he was dying from pancreatic cancer and there was no option for any treatment other than end-of-life care.”
Shortly after that, Richard’s condition deteriorated very quickly and he went to hospice care for 12 days before returning back home for his final days. He died on 11th September 2020, just four short weeks after being diagnosed.
Nicola added: “He was very brave, looked this disease in the eye, and proudly planned and paid for his funeral from his hospice bed. He was always a proud man.”
Nicola has shared her brother’s story to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month this November.
UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Action has launched its new campaign #MISSED to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer and improve future missed diagnosis statistics.
Every year in the UK, there are around 10,500 new pancreatic cancer cases, yet only 10% of patients are diagnosed in time for life-saving surgery.
Despite being known as the deadliest of all common cancers, with a five year survival rate of less than 8%, patients will visit their GP an average of four times before being diagnosed, with one patient visiting their GP at least 23 times before a correct diagnosis.
Studies show that 43% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when admitted to A&E, but by this point, it is too late for any curative treatment.
Since Richard’s passing just over three years ago, his family have done a lot of fundraising for pancreatic cancer.
“I’ve had Belfast City Hall and Titanic Belfast lit up in purple for the past two years to mark World Pancreatic Cancer Day; something I’m very proud of as it’s never been done before.
”I hope to continue to secure these buildings every year I can, and more buildings along the way! I’ve also had some of my local MLA join and support me for the online push for PERT drug trials to try to help people survive the disease.“
According to the NHS, pancreatic cancer may not have any symptoms, or they might be hard to spot.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:
- the whites of your eyes or your skin turn yellow (jaundice), and you may also have itchy skin, darker pee and paler poo than usual
- loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
- feeling tired or having no energy
- a high temperature, or feeling hot or shivery
Other symptoms can affect your digestion, such as:
- feeling or being sick
- diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes in your poo
- pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you’re eating or lying down and better when you lean forward
- symptoms of indigestion, such as feeling bloated
Nicola says people need to be constantly aware of the symptoms: “Before he died, I told Richard that I will always tell his story and share awareness – if it only saves one person, then I’ll have done him proud and I will continue to do that.
“I just wish as a family we had known more about the disease and the symptoms, maybe, just maybe he could have had some treatment and extra time.
“My advice from having lost my brother, is to never be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you feel something is not right; you know your body, always listen to it.“
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Joe Kirwin, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action said: ”Our PCAM campaign #MISSED was developed to raise awareness of all the missed pancreatic cancer diagnoses that have had huge, irrevocable impacts on people’s lives.
”Symptoms were missed, and now thousands of families are missing their loved ones. If detected earlier, many pancreatic cancer sufferers could survive – but it all starts with education.
”Over 7,000 GPs in the UK have completed our e-learning – but this simply isn’t enough – we need every GP in the UK to have completed our training (there are over 45,000 GPs nationally) if we have any hope of improving the bleak statistics of pancreatic cancer survival and life beyond pancreatic cancer.”
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