rich emollient used in the management of eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions.


Losing weight, diarrhoea and loss of appetite are symptoms associated with a number of common health issues, and may not cause alarm for many but did for me when I suddenly started experiencing them in the summer of 2007. After several visits to the GP, I was told that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome – but that diagnosis wasn’t good enough for me.

I pestered my GP to refer me to a specialist after I was prescribed painkillers that didn’t ease the mid-back pain that I was experiencing. But when the pain shifted round to my ribcage, I fast-tracked myself, with the help of a locum GP and my husband’s private medical insurance, to a specialist who arranged for me to have a scan.

This saved my life. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which was absolutely devastating, but I was very lucky to be diagnosed early enough to have surgery that would increase my chances of surviving the disease. Life-saving treatment may not have been an option if my scan was delayed to the following week but here I am, 10 years on.

Pancreatic cancer is so aggressive that early diagnosis and treatment are essential. Yet very few people are aware of the signs and risks so early detection is extremely uncommon. I was stunned to hear that for nearly my entire lifetime, treatment options and diagnostic tools have remained relatively unchanged.

More than 90% of the population knows little to nothing about pancreatic cancer and its symptoms. I was one of those people. I hadn’t even heard about it until the consultant surgeon sat me down on August 30, 2007 to tell me I had a tumour in the body of my pancreas, and that I needed surgery as soon as possible. It seemed impossible to all of us. I was 41 and otherwise healthy. I didn’t smoke. I drank in moderation. I was not a candidate for pancreatic cancer and the diagnosis wasn’t even considered by any general practitioner I saw.

It wasn’t until after the surgery – which removed my spleen, part of my pancreas and affected lymph nodes – that I understood that only one in 10 patients with this diagnosis can be operated on at all. Even fewer survive the first five years.

A slow diagnosis delays patient’ referrals to the right specialists, which is crucial. I would advise anyone with symptoms not normal for them to be persistent. The speed of my diagnosis meant it was still possible to remove the tumour followed by chemotherapy.

I have made it my mission to help others survive. I founded Pancreatic Cancer Action to ensure more are diagnosed sooner by raising awareness of the disease, funding research into early diagnosis, and pushing for greater investment into research, to discover more treatment options for those who are diagnosed.

Ali Stunt, founder and CEO, Pancreatic Cancer Action


Pancreatic Cancer Action

Pancreatic Cancer Action is a UK charity focussed on improving early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which is the UK’s fifth biggest cancer killer with the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. Founded by a pancreatic cancer survivor who proves that there is hope, early diagnosis is achievable and survival is possible, our focus is on ensuring that patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at a stage that gives them the best chance of survival.

2 Responses to Persistence saved my life, it could save yours too

  1. Ali, I’m so glad you survived and are taking action! I lost my Mum and two dear friends to pancreatic cancer: my Mum was first to go in 2003, age 71; having won the battle against bladder cancer (although not without losing her bladder and a kidney) she was then told that the pancreatic cancer was something entirely new and unrelated. Some years later my Dad found a new love in his life and a few years on she died of pancreatic cancer too. I remember Dad telling me that he felt absolutely certain he knew what was wrong with her, having witnessed it firsthand with my Mum, but he said “of course you can’t tell these doctors anything”. Then last year a dear friend met the same fate; he had been diagnosed with diabetes about a year previously which I thought was odd because he had a very healthy lifestyle and was not at all overweight… I still wonder if the diabetes could have been caused by the cancer (at that point undiagnosed) or vice versa…. It does seem that survival of this devastating cancer is extremely rare and it’s scary to think that it can strike anyone so young as you were at the time.

  2. Caz

    To hear that only 1 in 10 can be operated on and that many don’t survive five years is truly shocking and heartbreaking. You are quite the warrior – you are doing a brilliant thing giving support and raising awareness and should be incredibly proud of yourself! Thank you for writing this as it’s not one I knew all that much about in comparison perhaps to other cancers.

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