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Nyree's Story

Every year 720 New Zealanders are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and over 600 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.

After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017, Gut Cancer Foundation ambassador, Nyree Smith has been on a mission to raise awareness and vital funding so others don't have to go through what she has.

Nyree was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2017 after switching GPs (and realising that some of her case history was missing following to move to a new GP). A full physical assessment showed her liver function was not 100%, and despite having no symptoms other than a bit of stomach pain, Nyree did the tests her GP asked her to.

An endoscopy at a specialist in Hamilton confirmed she had pancreatic cancer. When the doctors tried to operate, they were able to remove the spleen however, the pancreatic cancer was wrapped around her aorta. Three months of chemotherapy helped shrink the tumour enough to have a pancreatectomy – a procedure that removed all but an inch of her pancreas.

After another three months of chemotherapy, Nyree was told she was cancer-free in 2018.

She and her husband utilised some of her life insurance to help them visit their daughter in Canada and then travelled through Canada and the US for 7 ½ months, coming back regularly for check-ups.

Then in late 2019, the cancer came back. Nyree, now diabetic as a result of the cancer and treatment, undergoes maintenance chemo in an effort to keep the cancer at bay for as long as possible.

Change will come through awareness. We need to get the symptoms out there and empower people to be able to ask questions in their 15 minute GP appointment. That way they can get the tests done and catch it early.

Her message to other New Zealanders is simple: if you have aches and stomach issues that can’t be explained, go get checked and have all the tests done.

Nyree explains that the journey was a lonely and hard one, calling herself “the forgotten patient” due to the lack of information available about pancreatic cancer. She started a blog and website (BeeStrong) to help support others going through pancreatic cancer:

But she wasn’t done! Understanding the vital need for more research and awareness, Nyree brought together a group of talented individuals to form the PanCan Gala & Fundraising Committee. Their vision - to create New Zealand's first fundraising event dedicated to improving outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients.

Nyree says she's been humbled by the support of what started as a small cocktail function and is now a full-blown gala.  The gala will be held Under the Dome at Auckland's War Memorial Museum on 18 November and all funds raised will go through Gut Cancer Foundation for pancreatic cancer specific research and public awareness of signs and symptoms to aid earlier detection.

Watch Nyree's story in her own words as she and her oncologist, Dr Ben Lawrence discuss her journey and the latest in research and treatment for pancreatic cancer patients.

PanCan Gala

Originally planned for November 19, the inaugural PanCan gala is a cocktail-style, formal evening and the centerpiece of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The vision of Nyree Smith and a dedicated committee of pancreatic cancer advocates, it is the only gala event in New Zealand dedicated to improving outcomes for New Zealanders with pancreatic cancer.

Guided by your host and MC, actor Mark Hadlow, guests will enjoy an elegant evening of food, drink, and entertainment from supremely talented New Zealand musicians, Nathan Haines & Phil Madsen.

With silent and live auctions throughout the evening, all proceeds from the PanCan Gala will support the Gut Cancer Foundation’s efforts to fund research, clinical trials, and awareness campaigns for pancreatic cancer.

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