A DEVASTATING terminal cancer diagnosis has turned Andrew Park and his family's lives upside down - but they are channelling their turmoil into raising awareness of the disease they have been told is killing him.

On May 1 Mr Park, his wife Mary by his side, was told over a video link by specialists that he had advanced stage four pancreatic cancer.

The couple, who live in Newport, were told that Mr Park, 73, had "three to six months to live". The consultant advised him that he should enjoy the time he has left with family and friends, though if he wished, he could have a consultation with an oncologist.

"We will never forget that day, We just felt helpless," said Mrs Park, 72, who described how her seemingly fit husband - who has taken part in marathons and triathlons, and also counts tennis and badminton among his sporting activities - had begun losing weight towards the end of February.

"We'd been on holiday in the Canary Islands and we'd eaten a lot of salad meals, so put it down to that.

"He made an appointment to see a doctor but because of the coronavirus it was cancelled.

"But he was still losing weight and was complaining of stomach pains."

South Wales Argus:

These were the first indications that Mr Park (above) - who worked as a lawyer, and who still runs regularly - might not be in such good health as he seemed.

But what happened after Ellen Park - one of the couple's two daughters and a GP - insisted he get another appointment and have a blood test, has left the family reeling.

The blood test revealed a tumour marker for pancreatic cancer, with the associated score "very high", she said.

A private appointment for a CT scan was arranged, its findings leading to that awful May 1 consultation.

"He's a very fit guy and people have been absolutely shocked about the diagnosis," said Ms Park.

"As a family we've been devastated. When something like this affects you personally, it is hard to describe."

That devastation has been compounded by the grim statistics surrounding pancreatic cancer - its often late presentation of symptoms, and thus late diagnosis; its prognosis; difficulties around surgical treatment; the small proportion of research funding.


"It's shocking. It is our fifth biggest cancer killer. It has one of the worst prognoses, and it is one of the most poorly funded in terms of research. It receives less than two per cent of total cancer funding," said Ms Park.

"Forty years ago the survival rate was two per cent over five years. Now, it is only seven per cent. There's been so little improvement. Eighty per cent of patients die within a year of diagnosis, less than 10 per cent of patients can have surgery, there's no early test."

The consequent figures make for stark reading. There are around 10,000 pancreatic cancer diagnoses a year in the UK, and 9,000 people a year here die of the disease. Even one-year survival is just one-in-four cases.

For more information on pancreatic cancer, visit pancreaticcancer.org.uk or pcrf.org.uk

Ms Park echoes her mum's feelings, saying the family has felt "helpless and powerless" - but a fightback of sorts is under way.

A second opinion has concluded that Mr Park might be eligible for chemotherapy and surgery, though the former depends on a successful treatment for the obstructive jaundice he has developed, and the latter depends on that chemotherapy shrinking the tumour sufficiently to enable surgery to proceed safely.

Ms Park has also embarked on a quest to raise money to support pancreatic cancer research. A veteran of several marathons herself, she was set to take part in the Boston Marathon in the USA before the lockdown led to its postponement - so she has channelled her energies into a more local but no less challenging effort.

South Wales Argus:

Ellen Park with son Lewis Schmeits and dog Boris

She has run the equivalent of a half-marathon every day this week - on a mixture of road and treadmill - with eight-year-old son Lewis Schmeits and their one-year-old black labrador Boris accompanying her for five of the 13.1 miles each day.

That effort ends this Sunday, May 31, and so far they have managed to raise approaching £2,500 for the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK.

More details of Ellen Park's fundraising challenge, and a donation link, are available here.

It is a fantastic effort, given an initial target of £300, but friends and family have rallied round, and the motivation is crystal clear.

"This is an awful disease. We hate to think of anyone else having to go through this," said Ms Park.

"If research can help, that's fantastic. Annual testing would be brilliant, because that would help pick pancreatic cancer up much earlier.

"Dad had a CT scan last April and that was clear. But now he is faced with this."

Pancreatic cancer - what to look out for

South Wales Argus:

Source: Pancreatic Cancer UK

In its early stages, pancreatic cancer often does not show signs or symptoms, which can make it hard to diagnose quickly. When they do appear, symptoms and their intensity can vary from person to person.