At first I hid this post, but now I have opened it.

The phone rang yesterday. It was my sister, Polly.

“I want to come and see you”, she said.

“Of course”, I said.

She came and sat in my kitchen and started to cry. What was this?

She said that she had been suffering from stomach pains and back pains for a while.

“Now they have told me”, she said. “I have cancer of the pancreas.”

She screwed her face up and shut her eyes, trying to force back the tears. “They keep saying cancer is a word not a sentence. I don’t want to hear that ever again.”

I completely froze. “Oh my God,” I eventually said and put my arm around her, something I had seldom done before.

When she was gone I went on to the internet and learned what I could.

It did not make happy reading. Pancreatic cancer is bad, one of the worst.

The typical prognosis is awful. Everything depends on the biopsy, on whether surgery is possible.

The pancreas is a pear-shaped organ, about six inches long, nestling near the liver, with its head in a curve of the intestine. Its tissue is mainly glands that secrete liquid containing enzymes. They feed into a duct running down through the centre of the organ to a valve in the head, which opens into the duodenum, which is part of our intestines. The liquid is joined by bile from the gall bladder, and together they work to break down the sloppy, half digested food mass called the chyme, which has come down from the stomach.

From this mess they extract the proteins, fats and sugars that are carried away to other parts of the body.

The most common kind of pancreatic cancer is a cancer of the glandular tissue that surrounds the duct. This often obstructs the digestive process or cuts off the supply of bile from the gall bladder.

So it plays havoc with your digestive system.

Your shit may turn pale and foul-smelling and fatty and your piss may turn black.

When the cancer gets hold you may experience intense neuropathic pain, surges of pain in which the body feels as if it is on fire. Ketamine and morphine may be needed to control the pain.

You will fall into comatose state, tired and barely conscious. The proximate cause of death will probably be respiratory failure.

I learned all this in a few hours.

I also looked for the names of those who had survived pancreatic cancer. As I said, it all depends on the biopsy, on whether they can operate.

I wished I could have felt more optimistic.

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