Fighting the world’s toughest cancer

Photo: Melinda Jane
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Glenmore Park’s Cathie Kirk feels blessed with the time she has.

After a visit to a specialist in February 2015, Ms Kirk was originally misdiagnosed by a specialist with pancreatitis, but following the persistence of her GP she discovered five weeks later that she actually had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

She hopes to prevent the same thing happening to anyone else.

“There are no survivors in pancreatic cancer, it’s terminal,” she said.

Following seven months of gruelling chemotherapy, Ms Kirk underwent Whipple surgery, removing her gallbladder and duodenum along with parts of her pancreas, liver and lymph nodes.

After days in ICU, weeks in the hospital and months recuperating at home, today she consumes upwards of 50 tablets a day and monitors her health closely with monthly blood tests and regular scans as she continues to fight her diagnosis.

“I was one of the lucky ones to have surgery but, for a lot of others with pancreatic cancer, it’s too late,” she said.

“I’ve just celebrated two years since the surgery, and it will be three years in February since I was diagnosed, which is amazing because a Stage 4 prognosis is 2.4 months.

“Had I not responded well to chemo, I wouldn’t have been able to have that surgery.”

Alongside her three daughters, she is encouraging people to be proactive in their own diagnosis as she faces an 80 per cent chance of her cancer returning.

“You do not have to tick all the boxes to have pancreatic cancer. I did not have one risk factor, and almost no symptoms,” she said.

“I wish I knew more before it happened to me, I wish someone had said to me that if you had an inflamed and enlarged pancreas, that could mean you might have pancreatic cancer.”

It is estimated that 3,721 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year, with only 7.7 per cent of patients reaching the five-year survival mark.

While World Pancreatic Cancer Day is observed today (Thursday, November 16), Ms Kirk is spending every day raising awareness about what is labelled the world’s toughest cancer.

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