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Man, 52, told he has ‘inoperable’ cancer after finding it ‘hard’ to sit at his desk

Ash was 52 when he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He received his fateful diagnosis during the pandemic. Speaking to Pancreatic Cancer UK, Ash recalled the moment he first became aware something wasn’t right. “I became ill in January 2021, and eventually found out I have stage 4 inoperable pancreatic cancer,” he told the charity.

Ash continued: “When I first became ill, I thought I just had a bad back. I have colitis, so I am on immunosuppressants and I was working from home and shielding anyway. But I began to find it hard to sit at my desk.

“I have regular blood tests because of my colitis, and my liver function results were starting to go crazy. One day my doctor called me and told me I needed to go to hospital ‘now!’ By the time I was sent home I was black and blue from so many blood tests. They wanted to book an ultrasound scan too.”

The professionals had lots of theories about what was going on, related to Ash’s colitis and possibly his liver. But cancer hadn’t been mentioned at this point.

Eventually, his Gastro consultant said he wanted to do a CT scan, because the results of my tests were inconclusive.

“It took weeks to get a scan. When we finally got the results, I asked him what was wrong with me. He said he could be wrong, as it was not his area of expertise, but he thought he could see a shadow on my pancreas that could be cancer. So the next step was to refer me to the HPB team [doctors and nurses that specialise in treating pancreatic diseases].”

READ MORE: ‘Unbearable’: Asthenia named most common sign of terminal cancer – seen in 57% of cases

The 52-year-old still had no formal diagnosis when he got a massive blood clot.

“I told the nurse at the DVT clinic about the pancreatic shadow my consultant had seen, and she said that DVT was also a symptom of pancreatic cancer. I was quite upset, and she was a wonderful support.”

Because of Covid, Ash’s consultation with the HPB consultant was on the phone. “I had my brother with me as I didn’t want to be alone.”

Ash went on: “I asked the consultant to be blunt with me as I didn’t know what was going on. He said that they thought I had pancreatic cancer. He said there were at least two masses, and maybe a third, and that they thought it had already spread to my liver. The cancer was stage four and inoperable.

“I asked what that meant for me, and he said my only option was palliative chemotherapy.

“The whole conversation was 12 minutes. I felt I had been handed a death sentence.”

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Made of sterner stuff

Ash’s first biopsy failed – they didn’t manage to get any useful results. At the second biopsy they managed to get enough tissue to confirm that he had adenocarcinoma in the head of the pancreas.

Ash then underwent chemotherapy, which resulted in him getting a serious infection and was hospitalised for a week.

“I must be made of tough stuff, because further scans have showed that over one year since I first saw my oncologist, despite all the delays and problems, there is still no growth in my cancer.”

What does he credit his resilience too? “I just don’t know. I don’t think they do either. She was telling me that this is not going to last forever, and I know that. But I intend to keep going and keep seeing people while I’m fit enough to do that,” he told Pancreatic Cancer UK.

READ MORE: ‘There is no cure’: Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor reveals tragic stage 4 cancer diagnosis

Ash’s prognosis has not stopped him from living life to the fullest: “I had the holiday of a lifetime in Scotland before my chemotherapy. We went all round the Highlands and even got halfway up Ben Nevis! I have wanted to do that for years.

“I cashed in my pensions and took my sister, her husband and my niece with me. We had a great time! I’ve got tickets to an air show in a few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to that. It’s just important to do the things I’ve always wanted to do.”

He continued: “I’ve arranged my funeral and my wake, and sorted out all my affairs so everything will be easy for my family. I’m keeping a few surprises for people! The funeral will be lots of fun. It should make everyone laugh! That’s how I want it to be. It means I can enjoy myself without focusing on the death side of things.

“I feel lucky to have had this time to live. I wanted to share my story because, yes, it has been stressful and upsetting but I feel I can’t let that stop me from living my life. If there’s anything I want people to take away from my story, it isn’t all the problems. It’s that you can live a fulfilling life after a terminal diagnosis. I don’t know how long I have, so I want to make the most of it!”

Ash is already “defying expectations by being here almost 18 months on. I have a bit of discomfort sometimes, and I need a little support, but given what’s happened I feel pretty good. My sister helps me with the shopping and looking after the house. I take a pragmatic approach, and I know I’m lucky to have a big social network. If I want to talk about it, I can”.

The message everyone needs to hear

Ash said: “That’s another thing that I want to come out of my experience. I want people to talk about their health more. One of my friends discovered that she had stage 3 breast cancer from me urging her to get it checked. If she had left it longer, she could’ve died, but now she is expected to make a full recovery. People need to talk about these things.”

Pancreatic cancer – the signs to spot

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.

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