Maureen Jennings was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after living with Type II diabetes for several years. After coming through the other side of surgery and treatment, before her passing in August 2021, Maureen reflected on how the loving support of family and never admitting defeat, gave her hope and allowed her to make the most of her time.
I had been a Type II diabetic for a number of years, controlled through diet and medication. In late 2017, I started to notice a rise in my blood glucose levels. Despite increasing my medication in consultation with my GP and later an endocrinologist, my blood glucose levels continued to rise to the point that I was placed on insulin injections. Still, my levels continued to rise until my endocrinologist decided to do a pancreatic scan to see if there were any other underlying issues. Two tumours were discovered – one of my pancreas, the other in the duodenum. An endoscopic biopsy confirmed the tumour in the pancreas was malignant. I had no other symptoms of pancreatic cancer except for the raised blood glucose levels.
Fortunately, I was eligible for surgery and in May 2018 I had a large part of my pancreas, spleen, lower bowel and 18 lymph nodes removed. My spleen and lower bowel were removed as a precautionary, however cancer cells were found in one of the lymph nodes. The surgery was followed by six months of chemotherapy, once a fortnight with three infusions each time.
My family, especially by husband Phil and two adult children, have been my greatest support. Phil has attended every medical appointment. He is my moral support, my strength when everything got too tough – a completely loving and positive presence. My two children, Rachel and Andrew have provided constant practical and emotional support. Rachel together with her husband, Steve, visited every week to cook the evening meal and spend time with us. She even became my personal Christmas gift shopper when I was too sick to get to the shops! Despite all of my siblings, my son and his wife, Kim, living interstate, our family philosophy is that we are in this fight together, and together we will beat pancreatic cancer – despite the odds. Andrew and Kim travelled from Brisbane on several occasions and my siblings have anxiously waiting for each phone call as my treatment unfolded.
We are fortunate to have an incredible extended network of friends and colleagues who have supported not only me, but Phil too during my journey. Our wonderful church community has provided emotional support and meals on a regular basis throughout my treatment in addition to outings and visits.
Likewise, I have a very supportive employer and friends from work visited on occasions. One special colleague drove me to a photoshoot to capture my portrait before I lost all my hair. The photo was taken by a special friend who is a professional photographer, but he did the photo for me “as an act of love”. I wanted a memory of what I looked like before the hair loss, and before I changed too much. I think the cancer has changed me forever, perhaps not outwardly, but certainly inwardly.
My treatment for pancreatic cancer concluded in December last year. At the moment, I am travelling really well. Recent scans have come back clear and my tumour markers are within the normal range. Despite finishing treatment, I still have many years ahead of monitoring and scanning – this disease is insidious. However, my focus is to gradually return to work as a Chaplin in an aged care facility. I am determined to live life to the full.
Pancare Foundation has been a great support to me during my journey. Phil and I attend the Patient Support Groups in Adelaide and find wonderful support and care from other patients and carers who attend. Now that I’m on the other side of treatment, I attend knowing that I can help and support others, providing hope as someone who has come through their journey.
For others living with pancreatic cancer, my message is simple – remain positive, determine to make the most of each day, life is precious. Never, ever admit defeat, fight with every fibre of your being to beat the cancer, and live life to the full while you are able.