For five years, Elaine visited the doctors regularly for back pain. The pain was unbearable at times and it meant she had to take time off work.
Doctors thought it might have been her gallbladder but later booked her in for an MRI scan. They eventually broke the heartbreaking news to her kids that she had pancreatic cancer.
It was 2018 when she was diagnosed with the cancer and she was told that she may live for six months with chemotherapy.
Sadly, she died at home, just five months after her diagnosis.
Her son, Stephen Hill-Clement, and daughter Megan became her full time carers for the five months that she was at home.
Stephen said: “The pain was really bad and her moods were quite up and down. She kept getting told that it might have been depression or that she was fine.
“After she was diagnosed we learnt that her pains were actually symptoms of pancreatic cancer. She must’ve had cancer for quite a few years before she was actually diagnosed.
“It was very challenging and upsetting but my mentality was to just get through it and get by every day. It was a bit of a whirlwind and now it’s a blur.”
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers, with five-year survival less than 7%.
The siblings visited their mum in hospital while she was in A&E still not knowing what was wrong with her. Doctors initially gave her an ultrasound scan but told the family they shouldn’t be concerned.
The next day though, after an MRI scan, was when she was finally diagnosed with the cancer. A second MRI scan showed that the disease had spread to her bones.
Stephen said: “A week before she told the doctors that she really wasn’t feeling well. I was living with my mum so it was hard for me to tell how ill she actually was.
“When my sister came down, she said my mum looked awful and her skin turned yellow. Living with her day and night I didn’t really notice.
“Throughout the tests, there was no mention of cancer so we never considered it. When they did break the news, it was such a shock. The doctor was as white as a ghost. He was uncomfortable and sad because he knew what he was going to say would change our lives forever.
“He told us they found tumours on the pancreas and it was horrendous. Mum knew she was going to die, but she wanted to be strong and held it all together.”
The shocking news left the family shocked and devastated. They said it was one of those feelings that you can’t describe.
Megan said: “One day she was feeling so well and then she declined quickly, almost overnight. She turned into a skeleton overnight in front of our eyes, that’s the worst thing.
“She wasn’t able to eat because of the pancreatic cancer and in the end she had to use a wheelchair. It’s hard to think that her life was robbed of something she didn’t know she had for so many years.”
Elaine, who worked as a carer and lived in Rumney, Cardiff, went through two rounds of chemotherapy but it ended up making her more ill. She ended up losing her hair and the family took a joint decision to stop the chemo.
Elaine wanted to enjoy the last few months of her life and her last wish was to travel across Scotland to visit the highlands. They travelled the whole of Scotland by train and Elaine even managed to climb up some of the castles that didn’t have wheelchair access.
Elaine then went into a hospice for two weeks to get her pain under control and then decided that she wanted to die at home.
Stephen, 23, said: “That was a really heartbreaking moment, when you see other families and people in the same position. It makes you realise that we’re lucky to be alive. It was a real eye opener and while she was at home, it never entered my mind that she was going to die. It felt quite normal even when she was in a wheelchair. But that was when it hit me that mum wasn’t in a good way.”
Stephen decided to call family and friends to inform them of Elaine’s condition. He told them to come and say their goodbyes if they wanted as her condition was deteriorating quickly.
Megan said: “The days before my mum passed away were horrific, it wasn’t peaceful. We had the district nurses coming in and out all the time, but it’s not like a hospice where you have them there 24/7.”
During her last few months, Elaine raised awareness for pancreatic cancer and helped generate more than £8,000 for charity.
Stephen and Megan are telling their story to raise awareness.
“We miss her, she was funny, kind and an incredible person. The whole point of this is to help other families.
“We want to save lives because it can take you by surprise. It’s scary and we want to do as much as we can to raise awareness on pancreatic cancer.”
Megan added: “our mum Elaine was the best. She was so glamorous and wore red lipstick and big sunglasses all the time. She was always complaining about her weight but she was never ever fat, she was always slim.”
You can get free, confidential support for pancreatic cancer patients and their loved ones from specialist nurses through the Pancreatic Cancer UK Support Line.
To speak to a nurse call: 0808 801 0707 or email [email protected]
Cancer symptoms to look out for:
Diana Jupp, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “During the pandemic we know that people are increasingly reluctant to contact their doctor, whether it’s because they don’t want to bother their doctor or that they’re wary of Covid-19.
“But pancreatic cancer has not stopped because of the pandemic. Unlike with other cancers, there has been an appalling lack of progress – survival for this devastating disease has barely improved in 40 years.
“That’s why it’s so important that people know the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and, if they experience them persistently, that they urgently use the NHS. With pancreatic cancer there is simply no time to wait.”