When doctors gave dying Lanarkshire grandpa Pat Dolan a card that would extend his life for six weeks, his loving family totally supported him when he decided to turn it down.
They wanted him to live with terminal pancreatic cancer – and not die by spending an extra few weeks with them.
Pat was 64 years old when he was diagnosed with the deadliest common cancer in Scotland, with tragically low survival rates. He was given between three and six months to live.
Like most pancreatic cancer patients, Pat’s symptoms began with seemingly mundane indigestion and heartburn – a source of mild discomfort he had never experienced before, but nothing, he insisted, to bother the doctor.
Then he crawled into rib pain in his back, which he dropped a year earlier when the family dog had coaxed him into a fight with a cat.
It all seemed to make perfect sense, no cause for concern.
But his youngest daughter, Lorna McGraw, was worried.
Her friend, Fiona Brown, had lost her mother to pancreatic cancer and she was aware of some of the symptoms.
Even before raising her fears with her parents and two sisters, and prior to testing, Lorna called Fiona to voice her concerns.
“My dad had these symptoms for a long time before he even thought about going to the doctor,” said Lorna, 37.
‘I don’t know if it’s generations, but he wouldn’t have said anything about it. My mom and dad were the type to do what they were told by people in the NHS, people of authority.
‘They thought you shouldn’t annoy these people. Dad thought he was going to waste their time on something very small. “
After his primary care physician prescribed indigestion medication, Pat consulted the practice nurse about pain in his ribs – and she suggested complaining of a cough to make sure he got an X-ray.
“I don’t remember my dad ever going to the doctor before, and the nurse realized it,” Lorna said.
My father would never complain about anything. I took him to the doctor and said, “These symptoms are not my father.” The doctor was nice and said she knew how difficult it was, especially for men, to come to the doctor. She felt his stomach and I knew then she knew what I was talking about.
Only after months of heartburn did he get an X-ray of his chest. It showed the effusion on his lungs and they thought he had pneumonia at some point. That was a warning sign to us.
“That was in February or March 2017 – and on July 10 of that year he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. With symptoms so vague – things most people experience at some point – it was a huge shock to all of us. “
The grandparents of nine Pat and his wife Catherine followed the consultant’s advice to continue with their planned vacation, and they flew to Spain the day he was diagnosed.
After being informed that chemotherapy would extend his life expectancy by six weeks, Pat underwent a full four-week round of treatment upon their return. Then he decided it wasn’t for him.
“We have seen the change in my father,” explains Lorna, mother of five-year-old twins Ethan and Chiara.
‘It has been discussed between us and my father asked what we thought.
“For us, we just thought his quality of life was being compromised.
To get those extra six weeks, he’d have to feel miserable for six months. We fully supported my father’s decision to live his life the way he had lived it.
‘We already knew the cancer was everywhere. It was in his lungs, in his liver.
“There was no real progress to be made. It was already quite far away. A remedy was off the table.
“For us, we just wanted my dad to be my dad, to feel like himself, not sick or crumbled, so he could stay here longer.
“The specialist was very nice and said to him, ‘If you were my dad, you felt that way, and I knew how much better you felt before, I would say you are doing the right thing by not taking it [chemo]. ”
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The cheerful family, who love jive, tried to get on with life to the fullest, attending parties and taking every opportunity to get together.
Pat even flattered his youngest daughter – who tried to downplay World Pancreatic Cancer Day just weeks before he died – by not joining him in wearing the awareness purple.
But four months after diagnosis, they noticed a marked decrease in Pat.
The Glasgow City Council street lamp electrician, who loved meeting his friends for a few pints on the weekends, was getting tired all the time and didn’t have the energy to get out and about.
He was always a fit, lean man, struggling to digest food and starting to drop his weight.
His middle daughter, Stacey, 40, flew from her home in the US to share her father’s end-of-life care with sisters Lorna and 42-year-old Deborah, and their mother Catherine.
“My son, who had just turned three, walked in to see him lying on the bed the day he died,” continued Lorna, who had been very open to her twins that their grandfather was sick and would not get better .
Ethan said, “ Is Grandpa okay? ‘and my father said,’ Yes, son, I’m all right. ‘
“Children have a much stronger idea of what’s going on that we would like to believe.”
On the morning of February 12, 2018, after spending a weekend at her parents’ house, Lorna received a call from her sister to say their father had had a bad night.
It was time – and she had to come. Lorna said, “By the time I got there, he was sitting up looking at the nurses setting up.
He was coherent, talking. He asked for a drink. But when we went to get water, he said, “No. I’d like a Morgan’s Spiced. ”
Then Pat died with the people he loved most by his side.
“We still had six months with him, which is quite amazing. It’s a sad fact that we were over the moon to get this long.
“Some people get a few days, a few weeks. We were very lucky, ”continues Lorna, who praises the care her father and family have received from the Beatson. “Anyone you’d talk to would say there was no nicer man than my father.
“The funeral was packed to the brim with more than 200 people. It was the busiest funeral I have ever attended. “
Even before her father passed away, former cruise ship entertainer Lorna was planning an event to raise awareness of the lesser-known cancer that would claim his life.
She hosted the Shine On Ball – a celebration of Pat’s life that brought his family and friends together to raise £ 7,500 for Pancreatic Cancer Action Scotland – the charity of which Lorna’s friend, Fiona Brown, is now development manager.
She acknowledges that she is throwing herself into the organization of the event
was part of her grieving process.
My father had a very calming influence – I could tell him anything and he would never judge.
“I miss having him next to me,” said Lorna, whose Hamilton home is lit purple to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November, highlighting the aggressive cancer and instigating action to combat it.
“He was hardworking, nice, supportive and funny. I don’t think anyone can make me laugh like him.
“As I got older, I started to realize there was something very special about him.
“He was a great grandpa too and I wish he were here to see our kids grow up.
“I’ve never heard anyone talk more lovingly than Pat Dolan. Everyone who came into contact with him loved him.
“Now we share the hope of earlier diagnoses, progress in treatments and eventually a cure, so we are no longer
life’s great people are too fast. ”