‘Pancreatic cancer changed our lives in eight weeks’ says NI civil servant who lost his wife to disease

A senior civil servant from Northern Ireland has told of the devastating impact of losing his wife to cancer just two days after she got diagnosed.

Monday, 29th November 2021, 4:43 pm
Beside the famous Ormeau Road Bakery clock is senior NI civil servant Brian Grzymek who lost his wife Caroline to pancreatic cancer

Brian Grzymek shared his story as an emerging pancreatic cancer charity – NIPANC – launched a #TimeMatters campaign using iconic NI clock images to reinforce the need for better understanding of symptoms, early diagnosis, treatment and research.

Of his wife’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Brian said: “It came out of the blue. This is often how pancreatic cancer hits you. One day you are enjoying family life, planning for holidays and the future, the next day you are in an uncertain world of inexplicable symptoms and your loved one’s life is suddenly hanging in the balance.

“My story is no different from that of many others. 11 years ago my wife, Caroline, who drank little alcohol, never smoked and was something of a power walker suddenly felt very unwell. She lost weight, had serious back pains and was off her food.

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“As a recently retired ward sister, Caroline knew her way around the health service but that didn’t help.

“She went repeatedly to our GP, who she felt wasn’t taking her condition seriously, and attended the Ulster Hospital A&E a number of times to no avail – they didn’t identify her problem and booked her in for a gastro-scope in three months.

“After several weeks of this, Caroline suddenly became seriously ill and was admitted to the Ulster Hospital with suspected kidney stones. Her kidneys were stabilised and a subsequent CT scan revealed shadows around her pancreas. A biopsy was taken and the diagnosis of an inoperable pancreatic cancer tumour confirmed a week later. In all Caroline was unwell for eight weeks, spent 16 days in hospital and died, two days after we finally got a diagnosis. Such a timeline is sadly all too familiar to many families who have lost loved ones to the disease.”

Mark A Taylor, the NI director of The Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “I fully support NIPANC’s campaign to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer not only among the public but also among medical profession. That is in terms of symptoms, research, treatments and support available.

“If we are to radically improve the survival rate of this silent killer then time really does matter – early diagnosis, timely surgical and chemotherapy treatments and a much greater understanding of this cancer with robust research to understand its biology and the most effective treatments.”

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