County Durham man call for action after wife and best friend die from pancreatic cancer

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A DESPERATE battle to combat a deadly disease has been launched with the backing of County Durham widow Peter Kirkman who lost his wife and best friend.

‘Sorry, it’s too late. We can’t save you’ are the devastating words that 80 per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will hear this year, the same words Peter and the majority of patients and their loved ones have been hearing for the last 50 years.

Every year, up to 9,600 people die from pancreatic cancer. Campaigners are appealing for backing to help create a diagnostic test so patients can get earlier intervention and the chance to beat it.

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Mr Kirkman, from Cotherstone in Teesdale, said: “It’s life-changing. You are never the same again.” Pam his wife of 33 years went to her GP in 2015 after experiencing changes in bowel movements, but it was put down to worrying about her dog.

Pancreatic cancer patient Pam Kirkman who died aged 63, diagnosis was too late to save her

“When the dog recovered but she didn’t she was referred for scans. She had an inoperable tumour and died in August 2016 ten months after diagnosis at the age of 63. “Then what do you do? How do you cope with this?” said a heartbroken Peter.

Tragically, he also lost his best friend to the disease a few years later.

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He is now organising a 5k cross-country run and walk for Pancreatic Cancer UK and the Great Northern Air Ambulance in memory of Pam and his friend.

The Northern Echo: Peter Kirkman with his wife Pam who died from pancreatic cancer at 63Peter Kirkman with his wife Pam who died from pancreatic cancer at 63

He is also supporting Pancreatic Cancer UK’s call for early diagnosis research to give doctors the tools they need to tell if people have pancreatic cancer in time to undergo lifesaving treatment.

CT scans are the only way and only 30 per cent of doctors say they have sufficient access to the vital scans. Sadly 80 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer are not being diagnosed until after the disease has spread, almost double the proportion for other cancers.

GPs now fear the COVID-19 backlog may continue to prevent diagnosis in time for potentially lifesaving surgery to remove their tumour.

The major problems are lack of a diagnostic test and the vague symptoms including backache, weight loss and indigestion which are also common to many less serious health conditions.

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Mr Kirkman added: “It’s horrible that survival rates haven’t changed for pancreatic cancer in decades. It’s a killer. There was a lady in Barnard castle who died six days after diagnosis. That’s horrible; not even being able to make a plan or come to terms with it.

“We need to beat it. Research is very underfunded. Aretha Franklin and Patrick Swayze, all these people suffered from it. We need to make people aware.”

Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, added: “Sorry, it’s too late. We can’t save you’ are the devastating words 80 per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will hear this year, the same words the majority of patients have been hearing for the last 50 years. We have hardly made any progress.”

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