Valla neighbours brave the razor to fund research into pancreatic cancer

Belinda Williams and Barbara Longman
Belinda Williams and Barbara Longman

It's called the silent killer for a reason.

Pancreatic cancer grows sneakily, usually without detectable symptoms, and successful treatment is almost unheard of.

  • It is estimated that in 2019, 3,599 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in Australia (1,889 men and 1,710 women).
  • Pancreatic cancer is projected to be the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths by 2030.
  • Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality of all major cancers with 9.8 percent of patients reaching the five-year survival mark. Two thirds of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of diagnosis.
  • Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not changed significantly in nearly 40 years.
  • Due to the lack of research into pancreatic cancer, many treatments and surgeries for the disease are still being trialled.

- statistics taken from Pancare Foundation website

For Valla resident Barbara Longman, 2019 has been an absolute bastard of a year.

At Christmas time, her gregarious, larger-than-life husband, Keith, felt a stitch in his side while out fishing with their boys.

At New Year's, the jovial music man - who never failed to work a room between sets - retreated to his car for a post-gig lay down at the Bellbrook Hotel.

"That wasn't normal, he was always the life of the party. He'd be joking around and saying things like 'It's been a pleasure having me, thanks for putting up with Barb'," she recalls fondly.

Two months later he heard the diagnosis he knew was coming, but feared the most.

Exactly seven weeks after that wretched day - on the morning of March 20 - he took his last few laboured breaths, surrounded by his family at home in Valla.

Keith and Barb

Keith and Barb

The speed at which the pancreatic cancer took her husband from her knocked Barb for six.

"It was devastating...sort of surreal. I've still got biscuits in the cupboard that he bought. We were supposed to be away in the caravan right now," she said.

"Too many plans and not enough time."

We take a break because the trauma of it all is still so overwhelming.

Sitting beside her is her neighbour from across the road, Belinda Williams.

Belinda is a stoic sort of woman - it's clear that not much rattles her.

But her eyes glisten as she tells me about her mother, Jacqueline, who after three years fighting the disease, will also eventually be taken by pancreatic cancer.

It sounds wrong to say, but Jacqueline is actually one of the more fortunate patients with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Most don't get years after the doctor confirms the worst.

In fact the only reason she caught the growth early was because it blocked her bile duct, and caused her to turn yellow.

When they operated to put a stent in, the doctors discovered the cancer in her pancreas. That was one week after her 70th birthday.

After undergoing a 'Whipple' procedure (an operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct) she went through a successful round of chemotherapy.

One says 'successful' but the way the body is brutalised by chemo cheapens the idea of 'success'.

At the end of March this year, after two years being cancer-free, the doctors found spots on her stomach and lungs.

She retired from nursing then and said, 'well I'm just going to be fighting this disease for the rest of my life'.

She's now at the point where she has to decide whether she wants more treatment; a choice of quantity versus quality of life, because the cancer will eventually take her too.

She lost most of her hair during the latest round of chemo, so one of her friends took her to the hairdresser to shave the rest off.

When Belinda saw the a photo of her mum's new 'Sinead O'Connor' look, she flippantly said to friends she'd love to be able to do the same.

"And they said, 'why don't you? you could raise some money in the process?'"

It all kind of snowballed from there, and she set up a GoFundMe page.

"I told Barb and she said 'Well if you're doing it, I'm doing it!'"

On Monday, at 6.30pm, Barb and Belinda have a date with a razor at the Golden Sands Tavern.

"We're a bit of moral support for one another," Barb said.

The money they raise from the event will go towards research into a screening process for pancreatic cancer.

"I've been told the research is showing that it could be hereditary," Belinda said.

Her grandmother died from pancreatic cancer too. As did Barb's mother.

Barb is nervous about the shave: "Keith would have hated it, he always hated my hair short."

But with a deafening silence reverberating through her life now that Keith is gone, Barb said she needs to do something.

I just hate this cancer so much that I just want to do something radical, like shave all my hair off.

"And it could help someone else, the bit of money we raise."

Belinda thinks it will be empowering.

"I'm actually looking forward to it. I think it's going to be liberating," she said.

"And why not make some money to help. God, wouldn't we all love to find a cure for cancer."

Even her kids, who once playfully said they wouldn't be seen with her if she ever acted on her impulse to one day shave all her hair off, are being really supportive of this decision.

"The whole community is being supportive. We're really lucky to live where we do," they said.

The pair have raised $2000 apiece so far, but are hoping to double that. If you would like to donate, you can do so via their fundraising pages: click here for Belinda, and click here for Barb.

They'd also love your support in person on Monday where there'll be PanCare Foundation merchandise to purchase.

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