Doncaster widower backs campaign to fund test for pancreatic cancer in memory of his wife

Doncaster man, Len South is backing Pancreatic Cancer UK’s new campaign to fund the first-ever simple test for pancreatic cancer in memory of his wife of 41 years, who died from the disease in April this year.

By Stephanie Bateman
Tuesday, 04 June, 2019, 10:11

Len believes that if Linda’s cancer had been detected earlier it may have been possible to save her life. Now Len is urging the public to support the charity’s campaign to help doctors diagnose the quickest killing cancer early enough to save lives.

One in four pancreatic cancer patients die within a month of diagnosis. Vague symptoms - such as back pain, indigestion and weight-loss - mean pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until after it has spread, leaving patients ineligible for the only potential cure - surgery to remove their tumour.

Len and Linda

Recent polling by ComRes on behalf of the charity revealed that just one in ten GPs (11 per cent) say they have the tools they need to detect pancreatic cancer - the deadliest common cancer - early enough for treatment to be possible.

No screening or early detection tests exist for the disease and Len is now supporting the charity’s new campaign ‘Unite- Diagnose-Save-Lives’ to develop the first-ever simple test for pancreatic cancer by 2024.

More than 19,500 people have already pledged their support to the campaign.

Linda (65) first went to her GP in March 2017 because she was experiencing stomach problems. Her doctors suspected that it was diverticulitis, a common and easily managed digestive condition, and gave her dietary advice and medication.

A month later, she fainted in the GP’s surgery and following a blood test was admitted to hospital for an urgent CT scan, which found a tumour on her pancreas. Initially her doctors thought that she would be able to have surgery – the only potential cure for the disease. When the surgeon began the operation he discovered that it was too late and the cancer had spread.

She went on to have an initial 12 cycles of chemotherapy that seemed to be controlling the cancer but following a break from treatment Linda had another additional two cycles of a planned 12 but Linda’s condition deteriorated and in April (2019) the doctors said there was nothing more they could do and she passed away shortly after.

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Len (65) said: “I am totally devastated. I have lost my soul mate after 41 years of happy marriage and my two daughters are as well as we all loved her so much. All my plans for retirement with Linda have been left in tatters.

“I know that the doctors did their best for Linda with the resources and treatments available to them but it is clear to me that the government needs to step up to the plate with adequate funding. We urgently need to a test to achieve early diagnosis so that patients can get treatment as soon as possible so that others do not have to suffer the pain, suffering and devastation of losing a loved one to this dreadful disease.”

Around 300 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in South Yorkshire every year. GPs who suspect the disease can refer patients for ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans. However nearly half of all pancreatic cancer patients are currently diagnosed via an emergency route (such as through visiting A&E) (1). The impact is significant: one-year survival for patients diagnosed through a GP referral is three times higher (2).                  

Pancreatic Cancer UK has brought together over 40 researchers from across the UK for a new research project to develop the first-ever simple test for the disease by 2024. As ‘Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Early Diagnosis Research Alliance’ researchers will combine their expertise to: enhance the sensitivity and accuracy of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer, collect a new biobank of samples from patients with vague symptoms, and test new tools in a clinical trial to consider how a dedicated diagnosis pathway for pancreatic cancer could be implemented in the NHS.

The charity is investing an initial £750,000 in the research and is asking for the public’s support to help ensure a desperately needed breakthrough in diagnosis can be made. 

Diana Jupp, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “For too long pancreatic cancer has been able to silently go undetected, devastating families like the Souths. Thousands of patients a year, still reeling from hearing the word cancer, are told it’s too late, that nothing can be done for them. That has to stop. We have to give doctors the tools they need to detect the warning signs earlier, so they can ensure those who need it, receive treatment as soon as possible.  

“Previous approaches to research funding have been too small, too infrequent and too isolated to speed up the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. So we’ve united the brightest scientists from across the country to make the progress that’s been so badly needed for decades. We are delighted to be making our largest ever investment in early diagnosis research, but it’s an enormous challenge. We need the public to stand with us and support our campaign if we are to discover the diagnostic test we desperately need to save lives.” 

Pancreatic Cancer UK are urging the public to pledge their support for more research into early diagnosis at: www.UniteDiagnoseSaveLives.org.uk