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Greater awareness of Pancreatic cancer needed, charity says

Johnny Bugeja

Despite pancreatic cancer being one of the deadliest, its research is one of the worst funded and its symptoms are less well known, local charity Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar said, in a bid to raise much-needed awareness as part of its month-long campaign.

The founder of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar, Louis Baldachino, has spent the past couple of years encouraging those diagnosed to “never lose hope” and raising awareness for one of the rarer and less known cancers.

A survivor himself, Mr Baldachino knows how complex this cancer is and how difficult it can be to diagnose and treat.

This month he has launched the annual Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month campaign and, although the event has been blighted by Covid-19, he continues to strive to ensure that GPs, pharmacists and the general public are aware of the cancer’s symptoms.

As with all illnesses early detection is key, but Mr Baldachino has called recent UK research into the awareness of pancreatic cancer “frightening”.

“In the UK a survey was done and only [around] 8 to 10% of GPs were aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer,” Mr Baldachino said.

“It is frightening because you go to a GP and you’d expect that they are aware of the symptoms.”

“It’s frightening and scary, and it’s one of the deadliest cancers that there are.”

He said two local GPs have congratulated the charity for raising awareness, and his awareness campaign is targeting not just the general public but medical professionals too.

As part of the awareness campaign, the charity will be giving pancreatic cancer information packs to all GPs and also to all pharmacies in Gibraltar, posters will be displayed in pharmacies and shop, informative articles and adverts will also be published in the Chronicle and Mr Baldachino will be appearing in City Pulse on GBC on November 9.

The public is also encouraged to wear purple on November 19 to raise awareness for World Pancreatic Cancer Day.

Mr Baldachino said the charity has been unable to hold any awareness events this year due to Covid-19. He has been unable to host stalls, flag days and even charitable walks, which means he has been unable to fundraise.

The charity has always tried to make an impact in the local community and has dipped into last year’s funds to sponsor a nurse to undergo specialist cancer training.

The training is not specific to pancreatic cancer, meaning the nurse will be able to give the best possible care for all cancer patients.

So far this year eight people have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and Mr Baldachino has assisted five of them through the charity.

“I have personally talked with them, helped them or tried to sort out things and give them advice,” Mr Baldachino said.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the rarer cancers and difficult to detect early on, meaning that people are less likely to survive from the illness.

Just 5% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer make it to five years, with only 1% surviving 10 years. Mr Baldachino is one of these in the 5% after recently reaching the five-year landmark.

“[Pancreatic cancer] is one of the least common and one of the worst that you can get,” Mr Baldachino said.

Mr Baldachino reiterated his mantra “never lose hope”, stating that he started with very little hope that grew as time went by.

He added from the moment he was diagnosed he knew it would be a “long battle” and said people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer need to accept that it will be a “very hard time”.

“They need to accept they have the disease and it is going to be hard and it is going to be long,” Mr Baldachino said.

“I knew that I would have very depressive days or weeks and I psyched myself up for that for when the moment came I knew it was going to happen.”

He said was motivated for his family to battle through the illness.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms include weight loss, sudden onset diabetes, pain in the centre of the back, jaundice, abdominal pain. Those who are diabetic have double the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

He described how research is ongoing globally linking diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

He called this a hidden symptom that isn’t usually connected with pancreatic cancer, as the cancer tends to develop some years later.

Mr Baldachino described how he changed his mattress twice, thinking that was the cause of his back pain before he was diagnosed.

He added early diagnosis is “vital for survival” but that the symptoms can be “confusing” even to doctors.

“The symptoms are there, but it is very confusing as it could be other diseases, and when the cancer [is diagnosed] it’s when it bursts out,” Mr Baldachino said.

“It hides itself, it’s a clever cancer. They call it the silent cancer. When it comes out it’s too late, which is why the survival rate is so low.”

As far as research goes, Mr Baldachino said it is one of the worst funded cancers in the UK and explained this is likely due to it being a rarer cancer.

Donations to Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar can be made via bank transfer to Gibraltar International Bank.

Account name: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Sort code: 60-83-14

Account number: 14302001