FORMER top banker Ivan McMinn is no stranger to dealing with numbers but one statistic stands out for him.
The 59-year-old Belfast man will reach his 10-year milestone as a pancreatic cancer survivor in November — and he’s one of only 1% of those diagnosed that survive a decade.
But Ivan says he’s living proof the ‘silent killer’ is survivable but early recognition of the symptoms is vital.
Ivan is now chairman of the local pancreatic cancer charity NIPANC which is launching the #TimeMatters campaign to mark World Pancreatic Cancer month.
Iconic clocks across Northern Ireland including the Albert Clock, the Titanic staircase clock and Belfast Telegraph clock will all feature in the campaign.
Civic buildings across Northern Ireland will also be lit up in purple, and to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer a new brochure is to be distributed to the public.
“Approximately 250 people are diagnosed with the condition in Northern Ireland each year,” said Ivan who lives in east Belfast.
“The death rate is unacceptably high. We have one of the worst survival rates in the world — ranking 32nd out of 36 countries. Three out of five patients could have surgery to cure their pancreatic cancer but were diagnosed too late.
“I am living proof there is hope.”
Married to Judith, and father to two grown up children Nicholas and Saskia, he says he thanks God for his survival each and every day.
He was aged 49, fit and training for the 2021 London Marathon —“ironically to raise money for Cancer Focus NI” he recalls — when he was diagnosed with the disease which is often dubbed by medical experts as a “silent killer” because it often isn’t diagnosed until it is too late for it to be successfully treated.
“My family life, career and everything else was right on track. Then bang. In 2011, I started feeling a bit off, had stomach pain which was extending into my back,” he recalls.
“At first the doctor diagnosed me has having an acidic tummy and gave me a prescription.
“Then in 2011, I developed a horrible internal itch and on returning to the doctor, I noticed I was jaundiced and sent immediately to the Royal Victoria Hospital.”
He received the devastating news that he had pancreatic cancer and a tumour at the head of the organ. The retired Danske bank boss then underwent a procedure and eight months of chemotherapy. The prognosis was good and Ivan then completed the London Marathon both in 2013 and 2014 — raising an impressive £204,000 for cancer causes.
A devastating setback came three years later when he took a phone call in Lithuania where he was participating in a half marathon: the results from some blood tests were not good and surgery was not an option this time round.
“I had a 10% chance that chemo would slow down what had been found. Eight months later the tumours were not visible,” he explains.
“Since then, I have ongoing check-ups every three months and thankfully all good so far. I’m forever thankful but never complacent.”
Starting on Monday, Ivan and other NIPANC members will begin a one million steps challenge to represent the one million people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer world-wide in the past two years.
Ivan is appealing to the public to be more aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, stressing “time matters” when it comes to early diagnosis.
“In the coming weeks we will be calling for necessary priority to be given to early diagnosis, for more research into the development of new and innovative treatments and improved support for patients and families affected by the disease,” he says.
“Time matters if you are experiencing the following symptoms. Low mood or depression, yellowing of the skin or eyes, pain on eating/fullness, fatigue, upper abdominal pain, mid-back pain can radiate to stomach, indigestion, not responding to prescribed medicine, pale and smelly stools that don’t flush easily, diabetes, new onset not associated with weight gain, unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.”
Urging anyone with symptoms to contact their GP, Ivan said the fact that he is still here gives others a reason to be positive — even in the midst of a diagnosis.
“At a time when I was having what could only be described as ‘frank’ discussions with my consultants, if anyone had suggested that in 10 years’ time from then I’d still be around and playing off a single handicap at golf, I would have asked them from what planet had they just arrived from,” he insists.
“But I’m here and campaigning to give people hope. Time really does matter.”
Mark Taylor, Consultant Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgeon and Northern Ireland Director, The Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “ Pancreatic Cancer is often termed the ‘silent killer’ as it often presents at a stage in which curative surgery is not possible. The more conversations and attention drawn to it the better both in terms of early symptom recognition and sharing of best practice.
“The #TimeMatters campaign is a great way to get people talking and to encourage an improved understanding of pancreatic cancer.
“As Ivan approaches his 10-year anniversary, I want this to be a message of hope that cure is possible but requires early symptom recognition, timely surgical and oncological interventions and every effort to continue to fund essential research into this silent killer.”
For further information please visit: https://www.nipanc.org