Doctors said it wasn’t cancer. Mum died one month after they admitted their mistake

She developed jaundice and started vomiting up black bile.

Doctors said it wasn’t cancer. Mum died one month after they admitted their mistake
Jayne with her mum Gina
‘We think it is cancer after all,’ doctors said (Picture: Jayne Baldock)

Walking into the consultant’s room, I looked to my mum, Gina, who was staring ahead stoically.

‘What do you know?’ he asked, pulling up a chair.

I told him everything. About Mum’s jaundice. Her vomiting black liquid. The inconclusive endoscopies.

And, of course, the fact that we’d been told it wasn’t cancer.

He sighed and my heart sank.

Mum did have pancreatic cancer after all, he said, and now, it was too late to do anything.

Mum started to feel unwell in October 2020 with what seemed to be normal aches and pains. But when she developed jaundice, her GP suspected something else was going on.

At hospital, an ultrasound discovered a mass in her bile duct. Doctors believed that, based on its placement, it could be a form of pancreatic cancer.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first-time Mum had heard the C-word. Eleven years earlier, she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.

‘I’ve beat it once; I can beat it again,’ she said defiantly.

Her strength amazed me, and though I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer, the one thing I did know was that it is the deadliest common cancer, so she’d need every ounce of that strength if she stood a chance at overcoming it.

Like Mum, Dad – Leslie – believed that she could win this fight too, but knew we had a long road ahead of us. He read up on pancreatic cancer, knew the poor outcomes, but was always hopeful it wasn’t what Mum had.

Jayne's mum Gina wearing a black dress and sunglasses, with short blonde hair, looking into the distance
She started vomiting black liquid (Picture: Jayne Baldock)

In the following weeks Mum had numerous tests, endoscopies, scans, all of which came back inconclusive, then a stent – a small device which helps to keep arteries open – put in to relieve her jaundice. This procedure went on to cause a severe sepsis infection.

These back-and-forth trips were exhausting. I lived a four-hour drive from my parents and Dad doesn’t drive, so I needed to be ready to help whenever needed.

While the lack of diagnosis was frustrating – and it certainly gave my parents a lot of false hope – what was worse was that Mum wasn’t receiving any treatment.

It took a week for sepsis to be flushed from her system but afterwards, her jaundice soon returned and she started vomiting black liquid.

This made no sense to me. She was barely eating anything apart from yoghurt and ice-cream. What was this black stuff? The doctors never explained but I’ve since found out it was most likely gastrointestinal bleeding.

We seemed to be getting nowhere until, in February 2021, we were called into the hospital to meet the top consultant.

‘It’s not cancer,’ he started. ‘However, we don’t know what it is.’

I came out feeling unsettled, wishing he’d been able to give us a more concrete answer but it didn’t stop our elation. We told our wider family, who all rejoiced.

Gina in a stripy shirt
My worst fears were coming true (Picture: Jayne Baldock)

She didn’t have pancreatic cancer.

At least that’s what I thought.

Come March, Mum was throwing up black liquid once again. Then one night, she collapsed on the floor.

Mum was admitted to hospital. A few days later, the Macmillan nurse called and asked that I come in as the doctor was going to talk to Mum.

I’ll never forget walking into that room or the look on his face as he started drawing on a whiteboard a picture of the pancreas, the bile ducts, and then Mum’s mass.

‘We think it is cancer after all,’ he said, explaining it appeared to be stage 2.

It was so much worse having been told weeks before it wasn’t cancer. Mum went into denial and wouldn’t discuss it with me or the Macmillan nurse.

I asked about the treatment options and was told there were none.

The doctor explained there was an operation to remove the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, gallbladder, and the bile duct, but that, due to Mum’s age, it was unlikely she’d survive the procedure.

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I asked about chemo, but again I was told that due to her age, it would make little to no difference.

Essentially, there were no options. My worst fears were coming true. I was going to lose her.

I asked for a prognosis, which the doctor eventually admitted was between three and six months.

I then had to go and tell Dad. It was the first time I saw him tearful; he just didn’t want to believe it.

I was devastated – and furious. Her health was only in such bad shape because they had taken so long to help her.

Mum wanted to come home, so they discharged her with no care plan or pain management in place. The lack of care and support was shocking, and I lost all faith in the NHS.

We put her into bed and called the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) who helped put a district nurse visit and a care plan in place, which included a hospital bed and pain medication.

It was all welcome help, but I couldn’t help but think, why wasn’t this done sooner?

As the weeks went by, Mum deteriorated. She could barely talk and lost so much weight she was practically skeletal. It wasn’t long before she needed morphine regularly to ease the pain.

My worst fears were coming true. I was going to lose my mum

It broke my heart to see her like this. My sister and I stayed with our parents to help when the nurses weren’t there. My dad was 83 and completely distressed seeing his wife in agony every day.

Then, on 23 April 2021, Mum, aged 78, slipped away in her sleep.

While I was devastated and knew that there would forever be a hole in my life, I also felt a sense of relief.

She was no longer in pain.

After her death, I started to think back on how Mum had been treated, or more accurately, hadn’t been.

Were there missed opportunities and signs? If they’d taken her pain more seriously to start with, would Mum have been strong enough for treatment?

All questions I’ll never get answers to.

Instead, I had to watch Mum endure a painful and undignified death that I know, with better care, could have been avoided.

It’s been two years since we lost Mum, but we’re still not over our loss. I don’t think we ever will be. As I write these words, the fury and upset over the way Mum was treated bubbles back to the surface.

I miss her terribly and still chat with her in my head.

That’s why I’m backing Pancreatic Cancer UK’s campaign ‘Don’t Write Me Off’, which is calling on the Government to fund a new, faster and fairer pathway to give patients the best chance of survival and quality of life.

I never want anyone to go through what she did. Whatever I can do to help stop that happening, I’ll do it.

Because if there’s one thing Mum taught me, it’s that you have to keep fighting.

Sign the petition here: https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/dont-write-me-off/

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