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“I’m lucky to have been given a second chance” – Michael’s story


Michael Parry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 59. Fortunately, his disease was detected early – and after surgery and chemotherapy, he is now planning for the years ahead with his family. Here he tells his story and explains why more research into hard-to-treat cancers is so vital.

Posted on 13 June, 2024 by Michael Parry

Michael stands smiling with his two dogs against the backdrop of the Northumberland countryside with hills in the distance

Image: Michael with his dogs. Credit: ICR/John Angerson

When I retired, I was looking forward to a happy and stress-free life. I’d worked for many years at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire and moved back to Northumberland, where my wife and I are from. I like to be active and busy, and hoped to be spending time with Sharon and our three children, walking the dogs and enjoying life.

In February 2023, I noticed a stitch in my side that didn’t go away, so I went to my GP. She did some blood tests and the results suggested that something wasn’t quite right with my pancreas.

A CT scan in April showed I had pancreatic cancer. My GP broke the news to me during my appointment at the doctors surgery. Somehow I managed to drive the six miles home. My wife Sharon was waiting for me in the kitchen and I had to tell her the news.

She then made the phone calls to tell our children. My son, Dan, wanted to come home straight away, but he was too upset to drive. I got my phone out and started to look up pancreatic cancer. It was terrifying.

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Michael's wife Sharon leans up to him, holding one of their dogs as they sit in front of the fireplace

Image: Michael and his wife Sharon. Credit: ICR/John Angerson

“The cancer was progressing rapidly”

I was quickly referred to the oncology team, but I made a conscious decision that if I was going to die, I would do everything I could to look after my family while I still could. I was busy, I got to work on the house and one afternoon I cut up a year’s supply of wood, so they wouldn’t have to do it if I wasn’t there.

On 4 May I met with my surgeon. He said to me, “If I can’t save your life then I won’t operate.” I was delighted when he told me surgery was possible, and it was booked for 1 June.

In the meantime, I could tell that the cancer was progressing rapidly. My pain levels increased and I went from just needing paracetamol at first to manage the pain, to needing morphine by the time I was due to have my operation.

Michael and his wife and three children pose for the camera in their garden with their dogs

Image: Michael and his family. Credit: ICR

“The operation was successful”

Saying goodbye to my wife before I went down for surgery was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

But the operation was successful. My spleen was removed, some lymph nodes and 40 per cent of my pancreas.

Afterwards, my surgeon had good news for me. He rang me up early in the morning to tell me that the margins were ‘fantastic’, and that the cancer was classed as stage 2b, which meant it hadn’t spread far. I then had 12 rounds of chemo in a seven-month period. The chemo was horrible, but it was a necessary evil. I had a very rough month during the treatment, and I was told I’d become diabetic. But at the end of it, my oncology doctor was very pleased with how it had gone and said he’d given me a maximum dose chemo because I was so strong after the operation.

When I was originally diagnosed with cancer, my son Dan quit his job and moved in to help look after me. He worried that if he stayed down south he might not get to see me many more times if I was not going to make it. He became my very own personal fitness coach who got me ready for chemo. A lot of my recovery was down to him. He helped get me walking again after the operation – at first just 20 yards shuffling along the lane, which we increased day by day.

Michael stands next to his jukebox with his family in the background

Image: Michael with his jukebox. Credit: ICR/John Angerson

“Life is for living”

When I finished the chemo in February 2024 my oncologist said although he couldn’t say definitely, they thought they’d got the cancer, and he told me to ‘make plans for the future’. And that’s what I’m doing, with a bucket list as long as my arm. Life is for living – I’ve been given a second chance. My last scan was clear. I know I’m one of the lucky few and I’m making the most of it.

It shouldn’t be down to luck though. It was a ‘sliding doors’ moment for me. I’m so thankful that my GP was aware of the potential signs of cancer and decided to investigate - those blood tests saved my life. Had the cancer not been diagnosed early it may have been too late.

Research for pancreatic cancer is desperately needed. The mortality rate has not changed in 50 years and I know that The Institute of Cancer Research is leading the way to change that. I feel incredibly lucky to be alive, but I know that many others are not so fortunate. We need to better understand this disease so that all people diagnosed with cancer – even those that are hard to treat – can have a hopeful future. 

It is only by addressing all types of cancer, that we can hope to defeat this disease. Your support for our work into hard-to-treat cancers will help us continue to make more discoveries, find more cures, and save more lives.

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