A Ramsgate woman living with the deadliest common cancer has taken to social media as the Pancreatic Puma in a bid to raise awareness and help charity Pancreatic Cancer UK fund research.
Jane Travers, 65, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2021 and has already undergone 10 rounds of chemotherapy to try and shrink her tumour. Then she received six weeks of daily radiography and chemo combined. Just 7 per cent of people with the disease live for five years after diagnosis, a survival rate that has barely improved since the 1970s.
Jane hopes and believes she can be one of these seven percenters, despite daunting odds, but has slammed the “miserly 3% of all cancer funding’ used to combat the disease.”
She adds: “The medical professionals who have got me to this point have been wonderful, inspirational, and I thank them all. However, the jewel in our crown, the NHS, is crumbling before my very eyes, due to a total lack of funding and recruitment with the added layer of covid on top.”
Before her diagnosis Jane, a former English teacher and examiner who has lived, worked and explored in many countries, began to feel increasingly tired but initially put this down to working too hard. However, she then noticed changes to her urine and her faeces, so visited her GP who saw that she was also experiencing jaundice – a yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Jane said: “I got up one morning and my poo was really pale and my wee was like Lucozade. I went right back to the doctorand he did some blood tests and felt my tummy and that’s when he said, “How long has your tummy been yellow? Don’t you look at your tummy in the shower? I told him no woman over 50 looks at her belly in the shower!
“Immediately he said he could feel a mass. He got on the phone and I heard him say, ‘I have a lady here who needs an ultrasound yesterday, can you squeeze her in?’ He is a wonderful GP and has been amazing throughout this awful roller coaster of a journey.
“He sent the scan to the hospital and two hours later they called me to come into Gastro Enterology at QEQM Margate. It took a horrendous 15 hours in A&E before I was admitted. I then sailed through two MRI’s and a CT scan.
Three days later the consultant told me there was a suspicious mass. ‘A suspicious mass? You doctors and your euphemisms, you mean the Big C don’t you?’ I said. The consultant was very kind and empathetic and funny and laughed at my jokes. That’s when I got my pancreatic cancer diagnosis.”
Diagnosing pancreatic cancer is a huge challenge for doctors. Its vague symptoms – including back or tummy pain, indigestion, unexpected weight-loss and changes to faeces – are also common to many less serious health conditions, and no screening programmes or simple tests currently exist for the disease, meaning it is typically diagnosed late.
Tragically, 80% of people with pancreatic cancer are not diagnosed until the disease is at an advanced stage when it is no longer possible for them to receive the only potentially curative treatment, surgery to remove the tumour.
Jane will find out at the end of November at the earliest, whether her tumour -or ‘Prawn’ as she has dubbed it – is small enough and far enough from a major artery for her to have the potentially lifesaving operation.
She says she is worried about the increasingly long waiting lists for both scans and the reports on scans as these delays will mean resulting growth of her cancer, adding: “It’s ridiculous and unacceptable that more than half of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within 3 months. Survival rates have improved enormously for most cancers, yet for pancreatic cancer, this is not the case.”
Inspired by Dame Deborah James who did so much to raise the profile of bowel cancer before her death earlier this year, Jane has taken to social media as the ‘Pancreatic Puma’ to raise awareness, fundraise, and acknowledge the support she has received from family, friends and businesses. She is posting an illustration every day with a caption or story from her cancer diary.
She has raised more than £5,500 for Pancreatic Cancer UK in just a few weeks. She is determined to help the charity fund more desperately needed research and to ensure that the Pancreatic Cancer UK Support Line, a free service staffed by specialist nurses which Jane has used, remains available for everyone affected by the disease.
Jane said: “I’ve had the news that my tumour is shrinking, which is fantastic, but, and there is always a but, in this journey,, the problem is the tumour is by a major renal artery and therefore at the moment, although the tumour is shrinking, surgery is still not possible.
“The impact my diagnosis has had on my small family has been enormous, especially on my sister, Sara. Our mother died of vascular dementia about nine years ago and Sarah was her main carer. We all cared for our mum, but Sara gave up her job and saw my mother every day because we wanted to keep her at home. The last thing I wanted for Sara was to care for me. For her to have to do that twice in her life.
“However, really that is the silver lining of it all, my friends and family. They’ve just been amazing. So, it’s not all bad, you certainly realise how much you are loved.”
Jane has been travelling in Valencia Province in Spain, where she used to live, for a month, visiting all the places and all the people she loves there. She believes that travelling, sun, time away from UK politics and the Spanish culture will help her stay positive and heal during this time of total uncertainty. She has eaten, drunk, laughed and danced her way across the province from the mountain to the sea, in the best of company.
Abbey Harnwell, Senior Community Fundraising Officer, at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We are incredibly grateful to Jane for everything she is doing to support our work. While hugely welcome progress has been made for many other cancers, pancreatic cancer has been left behind.
“Tragically, more than half of people with the disease die within three months of diagnosis – an appalling statistic that has barely improved in 50 years. To change that we desperately need to not only fund more research, but also to break through the silence that has surrounded the deadliest common cancer for so long.”