‘I’ve survived pancreatic cancer rollercoaster and I’m so grateful’

Published on: 28 Mar 2016

DURING her fight against pancreatic cancer, she went through some of the darkest moments of her life.
But against all odds, Downend resident Julia Lee has been given the all clear and has gone on to support others battling the disease.
“The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is between three and five per cent so I know I was really lucky,” 72-year-old Julia said.
It was during a visit to her son’s house in Berkshire in 2013 that Julia was first aware something was wrong.
“I had the most horrific pain and couldn’t get rid of it so my husband Vernon and I came home. The pain still didn’t go so Vernon called the doctor and the paramedics were sent out. I think they thought I was having a heart attack as they gave me three ECGs in the ambulance.
“Doctors did tests and said they couldn’t find anything so they thought it could be gall stones. They did a scan and saw I had a mass of tumours on my pancreas.”
Julia was indeed lucky, as well as getting an early diagnosis, she had taken care of her health in the past, even running various marathons.
“I was very fit and healthy and they said because of this, it saved my life.
Julia, who has three children, including the former Chelsea defender David Lee, and five grandchildren, was treated at the BRI and was then a regular visitor to the oncology centre for the next six months.
“I had just under a 12-hour operation which was horrendous. Then after that everything went wrong including having a blood clot. I was meant to have been in hospital for 10 days but I was in for five weeks. It came at a really bad time as during the same period my husband had bladder cancer.
“It was a roller-coaster for five weeks but I’m here to tell the tale. I couldn’t fault the treatment I received at both the BRI and the oncology centre. It was excellent.
“It took me a long time to recover but when I got home I decided I’d like to fundraise to help other people with pancreatic cancer.”
Julia turned to her church - St Augustine of Canterbury in Boscombe Crescent - which fundraises every year for different causes. The priest, Father Frank, and congregation were happy to adopt her cause and Julia set about organising a string of events to raise money.
“It meant we could use all the facilities there so there were no overheads and whatever we raised could go directly to charity,” said Julia.
Her first event, a barn dance, was a great success, raising £2,000 and Julia, with the help of her friends at the church, went on to organise many more functions including cream teas, a charity lunch, table top sale, Christmas carol service and concerts.
Even Julia’s golden wedding celebrations were used as a chance to make more money.
“Vernon and I decided we didn’t want any presents so we asked for donations instead and raised another £2,000.”
By the end of the year’s fundraising, Julia had collected the grand total of £10,408.80. The money has now been given to the Above and Beyond charity which supports hospitals in and around Bristol’s city centre.
Via the charity the money will be funnelled directly to Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre, specifically supporting people with pancreatic cancer.
“I’ve now been given the all clear and so has my husband. I know I was extremely lucky because so many people die of pancreatic cancer.”
Anyone would think Julia might be putting her feet up after her epic year of fundraising but it appears she has absolutely no intention of doing that.
As well as being an active member of the Downend-based Not So Young Club, Julia plays skittles, enjoys walking and regularly visits her family in Saltford, Berkshire and Scotland. She will embark on a 14-mile walk to Bath later this month to support an overseas charity and then plans to do something rather adventurous.
“I’m thinking of doing a charity skydive for pancreatic cancer,” she said.
“I’m a bit of a fidget and can’t keep still. I’ve done five marathons and the New York marathon in the past. I feel really well at the moment so providing I’m still well and my doctor says I can do it, I will probably do the skydive in September.
“My husband thinks I’m crackers but there we go!”

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