Damien Woodruff was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2015 after a rapid onset of symptoms.
His wife Kerri shares Damien’s journey with us.
Damien and I were in the prime of our lives. Like many, our life was busy but full of wonderful experiences shared with a loving and caring family. Damien worked as an executive at a major bank and I was retired. We spent our time going to the football with our adult sons, Jonathan and David, and adored our time spent with our two grandchildren. We had travelled the world, enjoyed the thrills of owning a successful racehorse and loved entertaining – Damien was always in his element as the life of the party singing and dancing into the early hours of the morning.
Damien’s initial symptoms of pancreatic cancer were indigestion, itchy skin followed by jaundice (yellowing of the eyes) which rapidly appeared over the course of a weekend. On reflection now, Damien had been complaining about indigestion and itchy skin for around six months, but at the time we thought nothing of it. Looking back, I now can see that these were the first warning signs.
Our GP initially thought Damien may have been suffering from gallstones due to the symptoms he presented with. We were fortunate that through further investigation he received a correct diagnosis of pancreatic cancer quickly.
It was because of this relatively early diagnosis, together with the location of the tumour, that Damien was eligible for surgery. While we were processing the initial shock, plans were being made for Damien to undergo surgery the following week. The Whipple surgery was Damien’s best chance to beat the disease, despite being a complex procedure.
The surgery was long – over eight and a half hours with a significant period of recovery in hospital. Recovery continued at home and was channelling. It took Damien three months to find a ‘new normal’. Following his recovery, Damien then underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation over the years to afford him more time to live.
Damien was one of the lucky ones, who, in between surgery, treatment or infections, lived the best life possible and enjoyed quality time with our family. While Damien was the one living with pancreatic cancer, as a family we all walked the journey with him. We were a team committed to fighting this together.
Despite the challenges that we knew lay before us, Damien wanted something to hold onto in the face of adversity. He would always say ‘onwards and upwards’ to shift his mindset and move past the hurdles that confronted us. The definition of the phrase is ‘towards a better condition’ – and that was the hope that we focused on.
Damien’s journey with pancreatic cancer sadly ended almost four years to the day of diagnosis in January this year. He desperately wanted to defy the odds to become a five-year survivor but that wasn’t to be. He has left a gaping whole in our family and we miss him dearly.
For our family, and Damien’s legacy, early detection is the most important breakthrough we need when it comes to making progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer. In addition to more Australians being aware of the symptoms of the disease, Damien would be hoping that through research that an early detection test would be available to everyone.
It’s one of the ways we can improve the survival rate for future generations.