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Briony's Story

Every year 630 New Zealanders are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and over 540 families lose a loved one to this striking disease.

This Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month we want to Shine a Light on just a few of the stories told by those fighting their personal pancreatic cancer battle, and those who have lost someone dear to them.

Briony O'Farrell is a passionate pancreatic cancer advocate and Gut Cancer Foundation ambassador.

After losing her father to pancreatic cancer, Briony made it her mission to raise awareness of the disease, and make sure anyone going through the same experience is supported.

Kia ora, my name is Briony, and my relationship with Pancreatic Cancer began last year, when my Dad – Colin, who lived in the UK – was diagnosed. As his only child, Dad and I had always been close, despite my parents separating when I was a toddler. Dad was, in a way, my best friend growing up – he was always young at heart, and we went on countless adventures together, just the two of us. And when I moved to New Zealand in my early twenties, Dad had no hesitation in making the long trip over every year, without fail. On one of those trips, we both experienced the tragic Christchurch Earthquakes of February 2011, an event that heavily affected us both, but especially Dad. He never quite got over the trauma of it.

Last year, in August 2018, we lost my Nan, his Mum, at the grand old age of 97, and again, Dad didn’t cope well with this loss. I was lucky enough to be able to travel back to the UK to stand and support my Dad during this time. His health had been on the decline ever since, with the first big blow being him suffering a stroke on Christmas Day 2018. This was such a scary time, being so far away, and so I once again, was fortunate enough to be able to travel back to the UK to support him.

Initially, his recovery was good, but he never got back to 100%, and on 19th June 2019, Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer, with metastases to his liver.

It was a terminal diagnosis of this aggressive cancer, and they said he may have less than two months to live. I had no hesitation in traveling back to the UK again as I knew there was precious little time we had together, and I wanted to make the most of it. You see, Dad lived alone, in a rural area, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him spending his last days on his own.

I arrived in to the UK on 1st July, and was shocked when I first saw him. His weight loss had been dramatic, leaving him gaunt and weak. Over the next three weeks, I spent my time caring for him and trying to relive fond memories, but this was difficult as he spent 20 hours a day or so sleeping.

His decline was very rapid, getting to a point where he could no longer move about the house. He was admitted into palliative care at Salisbury Hospice on 23rd July and passed away a matter of days later, on 2nd August, just 6 weeks after his diagnosis. We held a celebration of his life on 19th August – exactly 2 months to the day from his diagnosis.

I’m still coming to terms with the sudden loss of my first best friend, the first man I ever loved, and my hero. My Dad. I find comfort in knowing that he didn’t suffer for too long, as with many other types of cancer and that he is now pain-free and at peace.

Pancreatic Cancer Aotearoa/ New Zealand - Facebook Support Group

If you have been affected by pancreatic visit: for an online community to support patients, friends, and family affected by pancreatic cancer