I sit at my keyboard tonight writing the most horrific thing I have ever and will ever write. Last night 4th March 2011 at about twelve midnight our darling daughter Juliana died. She was thirty nine. Too young to die, too young to have suffered as she did and undeserving of such a terrible death. Ju was such a stoic and stalwart person and she fought her pancreatic cancer with such ferocity that she turned the months that she was given into more than three years. You may wonder why I would write this, I do it to celebrate her life and her courage and to give courage to those who are walking along the same path that she did. Some people say that you cannot battle against cancer, this may or may not be true but I can only speak from what I witnessed our dear girl manage to do and, damn did she fight it. Pancreatic cancer is one of the hardest cancers to win that battle over as when symptoms begin to appear the cancer has taken such a hold that it is very difficult to contain, add to that the fact that the pancreas is not an easy organ to get to.
Ju noticed a swelling on her right side of abdomen late in 2005 but thought nothing of it until the summer of 2006 and when having it checked out was told that it was a benign serous cyst, the diagnosis was shortly changed to a solid-pseudopapillary tumour, again benign and medical opinion was to leave it alone as the operation to remove it was a major one. However as time passed and Juliana fell pregnant with her third child, Raphael (Raffy) in 2007 she started to have major problems, jaundice, weight loss, pain. She was advised to abort the foetus but that was an impossible thing to ask of our daughter and although she was in extreme pain through blocked vessels leading from the pancreas/spleen/gall bladder, was actually losing weight through the pregnancy and not putting weight on, she went to almost full term until she finally had to have a caesarean as there was risk of both her and the baby dying. Raffy was born safe and sound 14th December 2007 and is the loveliest of grandson. Juliana got worse and finally a decision was made for her to go in for surgery, two months after the caesarean, on St.Valentine’s Day 2008. The procedure is called The Whipple Procedure and took approximately eight hours and entailed removing the benign tumour. However, upon removal, the surgeon discovered a malignant tumour that had been hidden by the cyst (a number of biopsies had been done and all came back as benign) and upon identifying it was distraught to realise that the malignant tumour was also present. He removed as much of it as possible as some of it was around the portal vein, an almost octopus-like vein which carries blood to the liver from the digestive system. It was too delicate and too intricate a place to remove the entire tumour and some had to remain. She also had to have a vein taken from her arm and grafted to where one was too badly damaged. He also removed some lymph glands from the area as a precaution. Then she underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy on the area and the outlook was fairly optimistic. Her children were enthralled with the 44 staples she had across her belly that looked almost like a zipper, but she was sad she couldn’t wear a bikini anymore.
Recovery from the operation was hard as she had already depleted her reserves of energy by the pregnancy and caesarean, also add to that the fact she caught C.difficile whilst in hospital. But the worse news was twelve days later when pro-op biopsies showed there were signs of the cancer in adjoining lymph glands. However she continued with the chemo and radiotherapy and looked into changing her diet, less red meat, no sugar at all (cancer loves sugar) lots of fruit and veg (a lot juiced) tried to change her PH from acid to alkaline as cancer prefers an acidic environment, she also tried to get more oxygen into her system as cancer progresses quicker when oxygen is lacking. She started to put weight back on and feel a lot better and we were all so excited by the prospects of a remission or at least some extra time for her to raise her three children and spend time with her loving husband, Gareth.
But just before going on a holiday to Menorca with the family in May 2010 she had results back from a check-up that showed tumours in the lungs and elsewhere, the news was devastating but she still went and gave the kids a great time but was experiencing the beginnings of the pain that would stalk her until the end. Gradually she began to lose the weight she had fought so hard to win back and was told it was due to ‘cancer cachexia’ which is a wasting disease that end-stage cancer patients tend to suffer from. From what we investigated (we were both trawling the internet in the hope of finding something that would help) we found that it stops the body absorbing the fats and goodness needed to put weight on and actually takes from the fat and muscle stored in the body. We understood that the cancer more or less extracts the glucose from the tissue and leaves a by-product of lactic acid, the liver converts the lactic acid back into glucose and the cancer extracts it again, a vicious circle that cannot be broken, we tried supplements and changed her diet to include foods which would help her with energy reserves but she continued to lose weight and stabilized at 7 stone, however she was now a shadow of herself, bodily but not mentally, she would still thrash me in online games such as Warcraft etc (hi guildies!) and even in her last days beat me to a pulp in Scrabble. But the time came when however hard she fought to contain the disease the disease fought harder. But that did not deter our lovely girl. Even in horrendous pain she booked a holiday to Barbados just this last January 2011 for herself, her husband Gareth, Anna my wife and her Mum, Joseph her eldest son, Summer, her daughter and Raffy her youngest son. I didn’t go because, forgive me Ju, I have an extreme fear of flying and didn’t have the nerve to go. Upon return to the UK Juliana deteriorated and was taken into Ty Olwen Hospice to help with her medication and pain relief. She told me she was frightened that this time she would not be leaving; I said she was being silly, but she was right, as usual, and after two weeks of escalating pain and the subsequent pain relief medication to alleviate it she was sedated to help cope. Last night Anna, Gareth and I sat by her bedside as she slept and held her hands and told her to let go, she had fought long and hard and was continuing to fight with such a determination that I feel ashamed that I can be so scared to go on such a simple thing as a holiday whilst she battled against a foe that is the cruelest imaginable. Finally, in her sleep and without fear she breathed her last and left a void in our lives that all the words that have been written or could ever be written would never fill. Sleep peacefully now our darling Juliana; you deserve it, and much much more.
Love, Dad and Mam
I’d like to thank the staff of Ty Olwen for their love and kindness they showed to our daughter. I’d like to tell anyone that reads this and is a sufferer too that things are not just black and white, there are shades of grey. Research what afflicts you and try making your body an environment that cancer does not enjoy inhabiting. Juliana found out late but what she did to fight it I am sure extended her time and she used that precious time to give her love to her children and husband.
I am no cancer expert, I am no doctor, I am no expert at anything; I’m just a Dad praising his beloved daughter.