Former Suffolk banker who survived cancer starts role at Macmillan
- Credit: MACMILLAN
A former banker who survived the same cancer that claimed the life of her mother has started a new role with the charity Macmillan.
Pat Kozaryn, 63, was diagnosed with the condition in September 2016 – 30 years after her mother died from the same cancer.
The Bury St Edmunds mum had believed something was wrong while on holiday in Barbados, when she started to suffer from severe stomach pain and excessive belching – which local doctors believed was down to a stomach ulcer.
Returning to the UK, Mrs Kozaryn persisted for further tests after the stomach pain had subsided – and a blood test showed higher levels of the amylase enzyme – which made her fear history was starting to repeat itself.
An ultrasound scan later showed her worst fear.
“I was straight back to the doctor the following day,” Mrs Kozaryn said. “He said it was probably gall bladder-related and referred me to a gastroenterologist and for an ultrasound, which he said he would do as a priority.
“When I heard that news, my world just fell apart. I had a cup of water in my hand and my body just reacted – my hand flew up and the water flew all over the room. It was instant tears; I was beside myself. It was devastating news, especially given my mum had died of it.
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“Telling my son was one of the worst days of my life. I had avoided telling him about the cancer until I knew exactly what treatment I would be going through.
“To me, protecting your child is a responsibility you carry with you and I didn’t want him to hear that devastating news or to be on the rollercoaster until he had to be.”
Thankfully, the tumour was operable – and following further tests – a seven-hour surgery saw part of her pancreas, her entire spleen and 28 lymph nodes removed.
Mrs Kozaryn said she was petrified her cancer would return as she began an exhausting regime of chemotherapy.
“Eating was difficult initially following the operation and mentally I was in a dark place,” she said. “I was terrified the cancer would return, particularly as recurrence can be common for people who’ve had pancreatic cancer.
“I didn’t feel ill, but I didn’t want to do anything. My hair thinned, which made me self-conscious because I didn’t look like myself.
“At the same time, I could see I was making my husband physically ill by talking about cancer so much, so had to hold it in a bit more.”
But everything changed after attending a Macmillan Hope course at West Suffolk Hospital, where people in the same position understood her fears and pain.
She added: “Being with other people in a similar position gave me some relief from the chaos of cancer and introduced me to coping techniques that helped me feel more positive.
“Being able to talk openly about the fears I felt I couldn’t discuss with family and friends was definitely beneficial for me.”
Finishing her treatment in 2017 did not end her encounter with Macmillan though, after twiddling thumbs during retirement inspired her to volunteer – and take on the course that originally worked wonders for her.
Now, she works as a Macmillan survivorship coordinator – providing care to those throughout their cancer journey.
Mrs Kozaryn said: “Working during the pandemic has brought its challenges, but our team has managed to maintain a physical presence that is reassuring for people coming in regularly for cancer treatment. Covid-19 has made them anxious about their care and more physically and emotionally vulnerable, so just being able to come in and have a chat, or give us a call, helps them feel more at ease.
“Patients feel they can open up to me because they know about my background, what I’ve been though. One lady told me ‘you know what I’m feeling, you know what it’s like’ and it’s true.
“That’s one of the things I get out of the job – the knowledge that somebody can benefit from my experience. It’s really rewarding for me.”
Services like the care Mrs Kozaryn provide come thanks to the public’s generosity, with 98% of the charity’s income coming from donations.
The charity is hoping cancer will not become the “forgotten C” during the coronavirus pandemic – and expects an influx of demand while also battling a significant drop in income.
Andrew Yager, a Macmillan GP in Suffolk, said Mrs Kozaryn’s story should serve as a reminder for those to get any problems checked by a doctor. Dr Yager said: “Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, with nearly half of patients ultimately diagnosed as an emergency.
“The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague and varied and may include indigestion, abdominal pain and or back pain, unexplained weight loss, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, new onset diabetes, or a change in existing diabetes and changes in bowel habit. As such it may mimic common conditions and can be easily missed. It is important to remember however, that most people with these symptoms will not have pancreatic cancer.
“While the risk factors for pancreatic cancer are still unclear, there is evidence that increasing age, smoking, being overweight, chronic pancreatitis and diabetes may increase your susceptibility. Certain genetic factors are also linked to a small proportion of pancreatic cancers.
“GP practices remain open across Suffolk, so if you experience any new health issues that persist for longer than three weeks, it is vital that you get them checked. Acting quickly can make all the difference to your chances of surviving or living well after a cancer diagnosis.”
Donations to the charity can be made here.