A mum-of-three fighting an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer is hoping to raise the funds for overseas treatment which could help her see her three-year-old daughter grow up.
Emma Ellis was told she had just six months to live when she was given the devastating diagnosis last September – but the 45-year-old has defied the odds and is now aiming to find the cash needed to pay for specialist care.
Former caterer Emma’s nightmare began in March 2018 when she first saw her GP complaining of stomach pain.
“I started experiencing abdominal pain,” she said. “I wasn’t overly concerned and thought maybe it was my gall bladder.
“The ultrasound came back fine so they thought it must be a stomach ulcer and I was given medication for that.
“It was getting worse and worse and I was seeing different doctors and ended up in A&E.
“In the August I was referred for an endoscopy and the appointment was for November and by then I just knew it was too serious to wait for that.
“I ended up being taken into hospital and had a CT scan and was told it wasn’t good news.
“I had to have MRI scans to see what type of tumour it was. It’s wrapped around a main artery which put me at stage 4 and meant it was inoperable.
“Our world was completely shattered.”
Emma was taken straight into hospital, where she had a stent fitted.
“I wasn’t expected to pull through,” she said. “Everything happened so fast,” she said. “My original prognosis was six months, and I didn’t know if I was coming or going.
“It was really frightening. You just can’t imagine it happening to you, it’s very surreal.
“All I could think about was my little girl.
“That was the most heartbreaking part of it. I was determined to last longer.”
Emma underwent six sessions of chemotherapy which halved the size of the tumour from 6cm to 3cm.
However, a scan later showed the tumour had grown again so Emma is now having another course of chemo.
“I know the chemo won’t work forever,” she said. “It might be futile but I can’t give up.”
Emma’s tumour is attached to one of her main blood vessels, which means specialists at both the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Christie’s Hospital in Manchester are unable to operate.
The tumour is also deeply embedded near major organs, meaning she is unable to have radiotherapy for risk of damaging the organs.
However, thanks to social media, Emma has been in contact with a woman in Australia who has had specialist Whipple treatment, which is also available in the United States.
The Whipple procedure is used to treat tumours and other disorders of the pancreas, intestine and bile duct.
It is the most often used surgery to treat pancreatic cancer that’s confined to the head of the pancreas.
There is also hope in the form of a relatively new treatment, Proton Beam Therapy.
However, the treatment is only available to around 750 patients each year in Britain, and so Emma can only access this in the United States, at a huge cost of around £120,000.
Friends and family have now set up a crowdfunding page in a bid to get Emma the treatment available in either Australia, the US or Germany.
Over the next few months friends and family will be starting fundraising efforts including races, tough mudders and zip lines.
A young woman named Rebecca Parsons, who organises a charity fun run each year, has also decided to use the funds from her next run for Emma’s campaign and the Stroke Association North West in memory of her grandfather.
The 5k fun run will be taking place on September 29 at noon from the Royal Hotel in Heysham village.
Following the run there will be a cake sale, raffle and auction at the Royal Hotel.
Friend Fran Dobson said: “Emma has shown such strength during this awful time and has a determination of steel for her chance to fight this disease and live to see her youngest daughter grow up.
“Without fundraising for her treatment she knows she is terminally ill and her chemotherapy treatment is just purely maintaining her in the short term.
“Emma is a much-loved wife, sister, daughter, mum, sister-in-law and friend, and she needs all of our help.”
Emma’s chemo ends in September and she then hopes to be able to take part in the fun run.
She also has plans for events on her bucket list including the Mount Snowdon zipwire and the Morecambe to Bridlington walk.
“As long as I can keep strong and healthy, then if I get another six months’ stability it gives me a chance to try to get something done,” she said.
“I am literally taking things day by day, but I am living with cancer, not dying by it.
“I will do whatever I have to do.
“I like to think I am pragmatic about it but there are times when I am completely broken.”
Emma, who grew up in Morecambe and went to Poulton-le-Sands Primary School and then Morecambe High, added her thanks to the oncology staff at the RLI, who she said are “fabulous”.
They also cared for her mum after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and this week the pair received treatment at the unit on the same day.
After her diagnosis, Emma married her long-term partner, Andrew, 37.
The couple have a three-year-old daughter, Harri, and Emma also has two older daughters – Elle, 23, and Drew, 20.
“We have been together for 15 years, and we kept meaning to get married but just never did it, but after my diagnosis we just went ahead with it,” she said.
The couple were married on November 5 at Lancaster Register Office with a celebration afterwards at The Morecambe Hotel.
Emma’s fundraising page can be found online here
Pancreatic cancer – the facts
Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas, a large gland that’s part of the digestive system.
Around half of all new cases are diagnosed in people aged 75 or over. It’s uncommon in people under 40 years of age.
In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas does not usually cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.
The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often:
*Pain in the back or stomach area – which may come and go at first and is often worse when lying down or after eating
*Unexpected weight loss
*Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice) – it also may cause dark yellow or orange pee, pale-coloured poo and itchy skin
Other possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
*Feeling sick and being sick
*Changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation)
*Fever and shivering
It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions and are not usually the result of cancer, but you should contact a GP if you’re concerned or these symptoms start suddenly.
You may also develop symptoms of diabetes if you have pancreatic cancer. This is because the tumour can stop the pancreas producing insulin as it normally would.