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Maggie and Alan's story

Alan and Maggie had already known each other for many years when they fell in love, but the joy they found in this unexpected turn to their relationship was cut cruelly short.

Not long after they first admitted their feelings for each other, Alan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given just six to nine months to live. The forecast proved accurate and Alan died at the end of May 2003, just three months after he and Maggie were married.

No warning signs

As is common with pancreatic cancer, Alan had very few early symptoms. The first signs were indigestion, discomfort and nausea. His GP initially prescribed drugs to treat an ulcer, but as these had no effect, he was referred for an endoscopy. However, the test couldn't be carried out because there was a blockage in Alan's gut, just below his stomach, caused by a tumour in the pancreas.

A computerised tomography (CT) scan and ultrasound test confirmed the diagnosis. The cancer had spread to Alan's lungs, so it was too late for surgery, though an operation to bypass the blockage caused by the tumour relieved some of his discomfort. 

Alan was given a new anti-cancer treatment, called gemcitabine (Gemzar), and for a while, the cancer was held in check.

"Alan was always courageous and upbeat," says Maggie. "We never gave up hope. What had happened, had happened and we just got on with it. Neither of us wanted to waste what precious time might be left."

After six months on Gemzar, Alan developed kidney problems, one of the possible side effects of the drug and the treatment was halted. It was at this point that Maggie and Alan decided to get married.

It was a quiet, small and very emotional wedding and not long after, the cancer returned with a vengeance. Chemotherapy wasn't able to stop the tumour growing and so Alan was put under palliative care. He was losing a lot of weight but thankfully, wasn't in severe pain. Although both Maggie and Alan wanted him to be able to remain at home, Alan's condition suddenly deteriorated and he was admitted to hospital where he died an hour later.

Looking for answers

"After Alan’s death, I wanted to do something to help find a cure. I was shocked and outraged when I discovered how little research was being done on pancreatic cancer, particularly given the poor survival rates,” says Maggie.

“I wanted to understand why this was the case, so I talked to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI), the umbrella body representing the major cancer research funders from the Government and charity sectors and to researchers working on pancreatic cancer. It seemed to me that there were two major factors influencing the research funding for pancreatic cancer. Firstly, pancreatic cancer is harder to work on than other cancers and secondly, the disease has a low profile and so attracts comparatively fewer public donations."

It was to tackle these two factors that Maggie decided to set up Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. The first piece of publicity about Maggie and Alan - an article in the Telegraph - brought a flood of letters, support and the first year's income. Since then, the charity has gone from strength to strength.