Hayley Sparkes was a healthy, vibrant young mum when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of just 34.
Her husband, Alex, shares their journey.
The first indication that something was wrong was when Hayley appeared to have injured her back. Crippled by a sharp and extremely painful sensation in her lower back, she was in so much pain that she was unable to move from the floor. Thinking that she had suffered an acute back injury, I called an ambulance which took her to hospital for tests.
In hospital, the cause of her back pain was investigated. Doctors discovered that the cause of the pain was from fractured vertebrae, due to her bones being weakened by cancer in the area, not an acute back injury as we had initially thought. Further tests revealed the source of cancer was pancreatic cancer, stage four.
Hayley was just 34 and pregnant with our second child.
It’s unlikely that Hayley would have noticed the more obvious signs of pancreatic cancer as they were similar to the early stages of her pregnancy. The path to diagnosis was further complicated by Hayley’s pregnancy. Many of the tests and medications that would normally be used in this situation were not available to us. After thorough consultation with oncologists, pediatricians and other specialists about Hayley’s condition, we felt that to give Hayley the best chance to fight the cancer we would heartbreakingly need to discontinue the pregnancy.
Unable to have surgery to remove the tumour, Hayley was treated weekly with chemotherapy. Due to the initial fractures in her spine, which were a continued source of pain, she also received localised radiation therapy. Initial treatment showed promise and the radiation administered to her back greatly reduced the pain.
Unfortunately, Hayley’s cancer continued to progress, this time to her brain. Her treatment plan was changed and included radiation to her brain, however left her with terrible headaches. It was during this time that again, the cancer continued to progress, and we were told she would need major surgery. In no physical state to withstand the pressures that surgery would place on her body, we made the heartbreaking decision to abandon treatment and make her as comfortable as possible.
During Hayley’s final weeks of life, she spent time slipping in and out of consciousness. When present, we were able to enjoy each other’s company and talk. Always determined, she held on for an amazing ten days after doctors announced she could go at any time. Hayley passed away just one week before what would have been our fourth wedding anniversary.
Hayley’s death has touched the hearts of many people and it goes without saying that their lives have been impacted. She was the faithful cornerstone and constant source of support for many of our family friends and her loss is felt deeply amongst them.
Hayley is never far from our thoughts and lives within our hearts. She is lovingly remembered at special events. For our daughter Maisy, it’s important that she grows with a firm understanding, curiosity and connection to who her mother was. We celebrate Hayley’s birthday, Mother’s Day and other occasions that we had celebrated together. Photos of her are throughout our home and we speak of her, and to her, often. All Hayley ever wanted was to become a mum, and I’m so glad she got to fulfil this dream. She truly was an amazing mother.
Maisy and I stride confidently towards the challenges that lay before us by embracing the strength that Hayley displayed throughout her treatment and readily instilled within us. We are well supported by our extended families and our focus is on giving Maisy a happy and normal childhood despite losing her mum. It’s been a juggle returning to work full time, but we make the most of our time together and enjoy getting out and about, holidays, projects and spending time with family and friends.
I would never have thought that Hayley would be diagnosed with a disease like this, especially at such a young age. We were both healthy, conscious of warning signs of other diseases but unaware of the symptoms and aggressive nature of pancreatic cancer. I wish we had known what to look for. Due to their subtle nature, I would say most people simply put up with symptoms not knowing there could be something more serious at work.
It’s important that we advance awareness and progress in research for early detection and new treatments. I’d like to see significant advancements made in understanding the nature of the disease, especially the cause. We need to work towards a future where there is a dramatic reduction in the mortality rate.
It’s our hope that through progress, we can reach a more hopeful prognosis and one day, a cure.