When Noel Irvine fell ill with pancreatic cancer, he and wife Kerry renewed their wedding vows. The Omagh woman tells Stephanie Bell how she’s now fighting to save others.
The tragic loss of her husband last year has driven an Omagh woman to campaign to create awareness of the little known yet deadly cancer that robbed her of her soul mate.
As the first anniversary this Sunday of the death from pancreatic cancer of her beloved Noel approaches, Kerry Irvine is battling to ensure that others are spared the terrible grief that now overshadows her life.
Kerry wants to make Pancreatic Awareness Month this November as massive as the now firmly established Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.
“I want to turn November purple for pancreatic cancer just as October is turned pink for breast cancer awareness,” she says.
“Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates of almost every cancer, with just 4% surviving the disease for five years or more — a figure that has not changed in 40 years.
“It is also the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK yet receives only 1% of the total research spend which is shocking. People don’t know this and I want to try and change that.”
Kerry (39) has also marked the month with a special fundraising night in Omagh Rugby Club in Noel’s memory.
She started thinking up ways to raise cash before her husband passed away and has continued to put the spotlight on the disease ever since.
Noel (54), who Kerry describes as “the love of my life”, lived for just seven months after his diagnosis.
The couple had shared so much in their 10 years together, coming through the trauma of an ectopic pregnancy, five miscarriages and IVF to finally have their two children Ellie (6) and Nathan (9).
Noel also had three children from a previous marriage.
After his devastating diagnosis in April of last year, they were determined to make every one of Noel’s last days count.
And they did. In the short time they had left the couple renewed their wedding vows with a full- blown second wedding and reception, took their children on a dream holiday to Euro Disney and even celebrated Christmas in September.
Noel had been receiving treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome for 18 months before his diagnosis.
He was experiencing severe pain in his abdomen as well as itching and night sweats.
Eventually, after seeing three different doctors, having blood tests, an ultrasound and a CT scan he was told he had terminal pancreatic cancer.
The devastating news came after Kerry and Noel had booked a family holiday to America where they planned to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in August by renewing their vows and then taking their children to Disneyland in California.
It was a dream trip that had to be cancelled because they could not get travel insurance and instead on July 2, they took their children to Euro Disney for what would be the last family holiday they would ever have. Kerry then arranged for them to renew their wedding vows at home with a full bridal party and reception, surrounded by family and friends on August 18 — exactly 10 years to the day they married.
Kerry says: “Noel was so sick and he fought so hard.
“He was released from hospital on August 17 and just 24 hours later we walked down the aisle and pledged our love all over again, till death do us part. It was very emotional and there weren’t too many dry eyes in the church. People wanted to buy us gifts but we didn’t want that and we asked that instead they make a donation to Pancreatic Cancer UK.”
The couple were able to send £1,200 to the charity and this started the ball rolling for fundraising which Kerry has kept going ever since, raising over £10,000 to date. Heartbroken Kerry has found some solace in campaigning to raise awareness of the disease, even writing to the Government asking that more funding be made available for research.
She still struggles to come to terms with her enormous loss: “When someone you love is diagnosed as terminal and you don’t know how long they have got you start grieving as soon as you find out,” explains Kerry.
“I have gone on for the sake of the kids. It’s a case of having to put one foot in front of the other and some days it’s only half a step and other days it is one step back. Noel was my soul mate, he was my everything.
“I’m very lucky that I had that love for so long as I know some people never get to experience that in their lives.
“We were more in love on the day he died than ever.
“I try to focus on the kids and fundraising has helped me to make some sense of what has happened to our family.
“It’s just crazy how little funding there is for research, considering that pancreatic cancer is such a death sentence.
“More than 8,000 people a year die from it. I want to change that. I want people to sit up and take notice and be aware of how awful the statistics are.”
And Kerry adds: “It won’t bring Noel back but knowing that hopefully it might make a difference to even one family will mean he won’t have died in vain.
“Without the love and support of friends and families we wouldn’t have been able to make so many memories or fundraise so successfully.”
Where the cash goes to ...
- During Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month this month the national charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK is appealing to the public to get involved in its ‘Raise for Research’ campaign.
- The campaign supports the charity’s aims to increase pancreatic cancer survival rates by increased investment in and focus on pancreatic cancer research.
- Raise for Research is not just about raising funds; the charity is keen to encourage people to raise their voice and awareness too.
- Pancreatic Cancer UK is the only national charity fighting pancreatic cancer on all fronts: support, information, campaigning and research.
- For more information go to www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk