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The impact of pancreatic cancer: every day is a new challenge

Martin is a positive and strong person with pancreatic cancer whose attitude towards his condition has kept him battling on for over two years, having been given just 3-5 months to live at his initial diagnosis.

Martin is a successful property developer who lives with his wife in Guildford. He has spent his life working hard, securing a future for his wife and 41 year old son, managing private investment for his company. Martin was also the Chairman of Brentford Football Club, a position he was proud to have held for 20 years.

Martin’s diagnosis came after suffering periods of unexplained indigestion, he was referred to a consultant who performed an endoscopy but was told there was nothing wrong. At the time Martin had no idea what these symptoms meant or what he was about to find out, he just knew that something wasn’t quite right. After his symptoms persisted and still with no answers he exaggerated having pain in his abdomen and was given a CT scan. On December 22nd 2012, Martin was finally provided with an answer: he had pancreatic cancer and was estimated to have 3-5 months to live.

When visiting the oncologist for the first time, Martin was adamant that he wasn’t going to give in to his prognosis, telling him he had at least another 5 years of life he wanted to live. Seeing his determination, Martin’s oncologist started him on a strong course of chemotherapy, believing that despite the cancer, Martin was fit and healthy enough to deal with this treatment. At the end of this course of treatment Martin describes his sense of achievement for getting through it despite the side effects, it worked very well and following a positive CT scan he was able to have four months of ‘normal’ life, and even the opportunity to go on holiday with his wife.

In June/July 2013 Martin had a relapse in his symptoms and it was found that the growths had spread to his liver. Not about to give up, his oncologist prescribed a different type of therapy already available in the US – Abraxane in combination with gemcitabine. Having investigated the clinical trial information for Abraxane, Martin wasn’t convinced of the advantages this treatment, but looking back he realises how beneficial it really was. Over a period of a few months it was able to reduce the growths on his liver to such an extent that they were almost non-existent. Although Martin realises this is not a cure for his condition, he feels like the treatment has held him at a maintenance level and allows him to get on with his life.

Martin says he is now ticking along quite nicely, but what he finds to be most difficult is the lack of consistency in his energy levels. He explains how he can have drastic loss of energy and then like a switch has been turned on, is up and running again. A keen tennis player, Martin describes being able to play four sets of tennis on one day, but on another only being able to play one; there are some days when he finds it hard to play at all. However he admits that he realises how incredibly lucky he is; his oncologist describing him as being in the “long tail” of the survival curve.

Looking to the future: learning to live with Albert

Martin has a hugely positive and resilient attitude towards his cancer and is an inspiration for others going through a similar experience. Martin describes how he and his family refer to the cancer growths as ‘Albert’ to help manage the taboo of the word ‘cancer’ and battle against the negativity that surrounds the condition. In the beginning he used to think about what the end would be like, but not anymore. He no longer feels like he is different from anyone else, he doesn’t worry about what is waiting just around the corner and he is determined to get on with life and live it as best he can. Still working on a part time basis, he finds this as a welcome escape to take him away from his condition, even for just a day or two a week.

Martin’s advice to anyone about to go through a similar situation is to stop and think, “It doesn’t have to be as bad as you think”, you need to battle on and not let the cancer change or define who you are.

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