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Top Ulster banker remains upbeat as he battles pancreatic cancer

By Lisa Smyth

Published 17/11/2015

Ivan McMinn yesterday
Ivan McMinn yesterday

One of Northern Ireland's most senior bankers has spoken of his fight for survival after a devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Ivan McMinn, head of business acquisition at Danske Bank, has endured radical surgery and 16 months of chemotherapy in a bid to beat the deadly disease.

But with only 5% of people with pancreatic cancer surviving more than five years, the father-of-two from east Belfast is already beating the odds.

It is now four years since he was first told he had pancreatic cancer.

"I had actually gone to my GP about six months prior to my diagnosis complaining of back pain, discomfort in my tummy and generally not feeling well," he explained.

"I was basically sent away with some tablets for acid in my tummy.

"The problem went away but six months later I went back to the GP with what I can only describe as this terrible internal itch."

It was at this stage that alarm bells started to ring with the doctor. She carried out a number of blood tests and told Mr McMinn to go straight to A&E.

"I was diagnosed three days later," he continued. "I already suspected it was something serious, I had asked the GP if she thought there was something seriously wrong and her words to me were 'I don't like the look of this'. "Then, when I was in hospital, I had a lot of conversations with lots of people in those first few days and I asked one of the doctors what he thought it was.

"He said it could be a problem with my gall bladder, or it could be as serious as pancreatic cancer. Still, I hoped for the best, although I was preparing myself for something I probably didn't want to hear."

As it happened, Mr McMinn was remarkably composed when he was told the news - and he has remained stoic throughout his treatment.

The most difficult part of the process was discussing his condition with his two children, aged just 14 and 16 at the time.

"It was very emotional for them. My wife had already told them so when I arrived home we sat down and talked about it for an hour and a half. By that stage they had already been on the internet and probably knew more about pancreatic cancer than I do now.

"I got some kind of strength from within to speak to them in a very measured way and answered all their questions, I told them I would do all in my power to be there for them in the future."

The first step to recovery for Mr McMinn was a gruelling operation, known as a whipple procedure. Only a small percentage of people are suitable for the surgery, which involves removing part of the small intestine, pancreas, stomach and gall bladder.

To this day, Mr McMinn holds the record for the shortest recovery from the operation, walking out of the Mater Hospital in north Belfast just six days later.

As soon as he was back on his feet, he underwent eight months of chemotherapy. "I tried to keep things as normal as possible," he said. "I wasn't able to work through the treatment, however.

"I went out of the office the morning of my diagnosis saying I would be back in a few hours and wasn't back for 10 months."

Tests showed the treatment had been a success and very quickly, Mr McMinn settled back into his old lifestyle - pushing thoughts of the disease to the back of his mind.

However, it was during a trip to Lithuania to take part in a half marathon last year that he was dealt a crushing blow - the cancer was back.

"I got a call from my oncologist to say that a routine blood test had shown a blip. It had returned in three lymph nodes in the abdominal cavity so this time it was inoperable but I went through another eight months of chemo."

The treatment was more successful than Mr McMinn had hoped and tests showed the cancer was all but gone from his body.

"I have a scan at the end of this month and again, I am not complacent about what is going to happen.

"I take one day at a time, if something comes up again, we will deal with it."

Pancreatic Cancer UK provides a freephone Support Line staffed by expert specialist nurses, call 0808 801 0707 or email

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