Christine Constantinou remembers the day she felt a faint pain down the side of her torso, a pain she never expected would warrant a visit to the doctor. But is was when she started losing weight rapidly despite her high-calorie diet that she intuitively knew something wasn’t right.
“I really didn’t have many symptoms − that’s the problem with this illness. I started to lose weight and it was inexplicable. I was eating chips and things like that before bed and waking up a kilo lighter,” Christine told Neos Kosmos. With a starting weight of 120kg, she dropped to 80kg, initially attributing it to running after her four grandchildren.
But scans and blood tests would soon reveal it was in fact a five centimetre tumour in her pancreas that was the cause.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at 57, Christine says it was a surreal experience she found hard to comprehend given there was no known family history of the illness. “I didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer; I didn’t know it was as lethal as it was – I just had no idea about it, really,” she says.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates about 2,600 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, with the incidence rate increasing with age and the average age of diagnosis being 72.
The real concern, however, is that early stages rarely cause symptoms, which only surface once the cancer is large enough to affect nearby organs, which is why life expectancy is so low, Only seven per cent of suffers survive at least five years.
Christine would become all too familiar with these facts in the weeks to follow, with frequent trips to the specialist and undergoing a 14-and-a-half hour surgery. But nothing could prepare her for the physical and emotional toll it would take.
“They would show me these pictures of how they were going to ‘replumb’ my insides. It freaked me out,” Christine says, breaking into tears at the recollection.
“When I went to have the surgery that day it was like I was saying goodbye to my husband and my kids … it was just horrible.”
Following the surgery, she spent a week in the intensive care unit, followed by another two weeks in hospital before returning home for further recovery.
“My husband was really, really good. When we came home he really looked after me, and he used to say ‘oh, let’s go for a walk’ and we’d go walk like two steps and back again,” she says, the memory evoking a mixture of laughter and tears.
“But you know what I really remember … when I came home and had a shower and I couldn’t lift the towel to wipe myself.”
To follow, Christine underwent six months of chemotherapy, and now, three years on, looks to be beating the odds, proving to be an inspiration to her family, friends and oncologist. “My oncologist thinks I’m amazing that I’ve got this far,” she says. “But he actually said to me ‘when you first came in here with your daughter, I didn’t think you’d get through six months of chemo’ and I did.”
It hasn’t been smooth sailing however. Despite following her treatment schedule and making various lifestyle changes, she says she had a couple of scares, one of which saw a lesion appear on her liver 18 months on − a common occurrence for pancreatic cancer sufferers. While she recalls feeling as though she were on “a cancer roundabout”, thankfully all additional tests have since confirmed she is cancer-free.
Now Christine is looking to give back to Pancare, with a fundraising dinner dance to help raise much-need funds for research into a cure.
Based in Melbourne, along with supporting research into pancreatic cancer, the organisation provides support for both sufferers and their families with free events, and contributes $500 towards patient’s treatment, which, while not a large sum, really does help, assures Christine.
“My husband has leukaemia, so we’ve been struggling a bit, and Pancare have always been there and really helpful. I just want to get something happening because people get pancreatic cancer and within six to nine months they’re dead − I don’t know why I’m still here. Only one per cent make it to 10 years, I mean what is that? And there’s no cure and there’s nothing that can sustain your life longer − it’s horrible. And it’s always diagnosed too late because there are barely any symptoms.” But Christine isn’t about to give up hope.
The event will be moderated by former journalist George Donikian, along with a host of entertainment including Greek, Cypriot and English music and some great raffle and silent auction prizes.
The fundraiser will be held on Saturday 20 May at Ultima Function Centre from 6.00 pm. Cost of attendance is $80 per adult and $40 per child (under 12) and includes a three-course meal and drinks. To make a booking contact Christine Constantinou on 0438 779 989 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
RSVP by 21 April. To donate, visit https://give.everydayhero.com/au/hope-for-a-cure-pancreatic-cancer-2