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Michelle'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.

49 year old Michelle considers herself fit, active and leading a healthy lifestyle. So it was a huge shock to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June this year. The initial prognosis was not good – just 6 weeks to 2 months to live. She is very bravely sharing her story to help raise awareness.

“For a few months I noticed my lower back was always just a bit sore, along with later feeling tired and bloated. I can't remember the amount of doctors’ appointments I made to later cancel thinking it's only a sore back - what can they do. I started going to physio, yoga and swimming and received acupuncture, thinking that this will help me loosen up. It got to the stage that I just knew something else was underlying as I was getting very fatigued and emotional and losing weight. I finally followed through with a doctor's appointment.

Many things were discussed, my age re menopause, stress at just losing my mother, too big a workload etc. Cancer was not on the list. My doctor decided to send me for a full blood count, in the meantime I ended up in A&E with severe lower and abdominal pain. Gallstones were suggested and I was discharged with a promise of a follow up of an ultrasound. That was on a Saturday, I had the appointment on the following Monday.

During the ultrasound I remember thinking they were being very thorough, and asked if there were any signs of stones, she said she could not comment until a radiographer had looked at the results. It didn't take them long to get back to me and I was told I would be going in for an immediate CT scan, and did I have a support person with me. Now I was getting worried. I phoned my husband to come and together we received the news that I had terminal metastatic pancreatic cancer to the liver, and had weeks to a few months to live!! I still cannot describe the utter disbelief, shock and horror of that moment for us both. This was at the end of June 2021.
I was referred to an oncologist a few days later, a meeting that most of my family attended, including our 19 year old daughter which was extremely heartbreaking for us. My oncologist offered us a bit more of a life line than weeks and months, but still not long enough! From then it was a whirlwind of appointments from biopsies, stents, portacath and what seemed like endless blood tests. I also developed diabetes as a result of the medication and my pancreas not functioning, which upset me a great deal as it was just another thing to cope with.

I have a close family and extended community of friends, needless to say the news of my cancer rocked everyone. It was hard for our daughter mostly, as you can imagine being told your mum has only a few years to live is a huge thing to digest! Those first few days and weeks were a blur of grief, tears and complete hopelessness.

The first month from diagnosis was hard, I felt very unwell as my meds got sorted and adjusted, I was unable to start chemo straight away as my bilirubin levels were too high and my liver very compromised. We were told a few weeks in that things were not looking good. Thankfully the stent worked and my levels came down enough for me to start chemo.

To all of our surprise I responded well to the chemo and with the diabetes more under control I was able to get myself into a routine and start walking and participating in life a bit more again. I think the exercise helped me a lot, mentally and physically. I am also a very routines-based person, getting up at the same time each day, having my medication under control and understanding what I was taking helps me a lot to get through each day. I am now on my sixth round of chemo and my cancer markers are now readable rather than a number we could not even fathom.

Things are moving the right direction but I know this journey is long from over. From the biopsy it was discovered that I have Lynch syndrome, because of this my oncologist suggested that immunotherapy would be the way forward. We are very lucky (crazy term in all of this) to be able to pursue this treatment, now we are just waiting and see if I respond or not to it. If not, then I guess we look into plan C….?

I still find it hard to see myself as having cancer. When I feel crap, have a bad time and go through chemo it’s another me, I guess it's just my way of coping. I think back over the past couple of years and wonder if I had acted on the bloated tummy, itchy legs and back twinges that things would be a lot different - most probably yes they would have been, but cancer was never in my life plan!”

Pancreatic Cancer Aotearoa/ New Zealand - Facebook Support Group

If you have been affected by pancreatic visit: https://www.facebook.com/PanCan.ANZ. for an online community to support patients, friends, and family affected by pancreatic cancer