It was in January 2015 that Victorian mother-of-three and school teacher Natalie Dunne began having back pain after eating or drinking milk products.
‘It was especially bad at night,’ recalls Mrs Dunne.
‘This was similar to pain that I had previously experienced in my early 30s that was treated as a possible stomach ulcer and since that time I had not had a reoccurrence.’
Mother-of-three Natalie Dunne (pictured) was informed that she had pancreatitis before finding out she actually had pancreatic cancer
After visiting a GP and having blood tests, Mrs Dunne, now 45, was sent for an ultrasound.
‘The ultrasound took a long time they had me moving around in various positions even planking to try and obviously clearly see the area where they were focusing.
‘I then noted that they wrote ”urgent” across the envelope but I was not given any other feedback or indication of what was going on.’
Mrs Dunne (pictured with her husband Dominic) was sent for blood tests and an ultrasound to find out the cause of her severe pain
Mrs Dunne’s blood tests had also come back with raised levels and she was informed that she had pancreatitis.
‘They assumed that this was caused by a gallstone and I was to be admitted to hospital straight away,’ she tells FEMAIL.
‘I looked healthy, happy and definitely did not have any physical symptoms. I had ran a half marathon three months previous to this,’ she adds.
Mrs Dunne said she began suffering from back pain in January 2015
In pain, Mrs Dunne was forced to wait a week to be admitted to hospital for surgery, which found something unusual.
‘It was not until after the first procedure that the symptoms of pancreatitis started to show and with frustration two operations didn’t find gallstones. In the second one a biopsy was taken and a stint was put in my bile duct,’ she says.
‘At no time to this point had cancer been mentioned.
‘My surgeon in Ballarat virtually just told us without any small talk that my biopsy had come back and that I had pancreatic cancer and that at this stage they were not sure if it was operable or not.
The teacher and mother (pictured with her husband, Dominic, and children, Joshua, 25, Amelia, 17, and Giulia, 14,) is coming up to the third anniversary of her diagnosis – she says she feels very fortunate to still be alive
‘We knew nothing about pancreatic cancer we were left feeling shocked, scared and lacking in information.’
‘Initially, we went home and googled pancreatic cancer to be horrified by what we read there was only scary statistics and sad stories to be found in Australia,’ she adds.
According to Pancare, it’s estimated that 3,271 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year – and it has one of the lowest survival rates of all major cancers.
Mrs Dunne spent nine days in hospital following a Whipple procedure to remove the cancer from the head of the pancreas.
Survival statistics for pancreatic cancer remain low, but Mrs Dunne says she is living a life of happiness since her operation
‘Luckily the cancer had not spread although it had travelled to my lymph nodes,’ she says.
‘It was suggested that since pancreatic cancer is so aggressive with such high statistics for reoccurrence that a bout of chemotherapy would be most advised to possible kill off any lingering cancer cells.’
The teacher finished her treatment in September 2015 and has since undergone scans and blood test every three months.
‘I feel so very fortunate each and every day of my life just to be here and alive,’ she says about coming up to the three-year mark since her diagnosis.
‘At times I can feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of the terrible statistics but I live a rich and healthy life that is filled with a lot of happiness and joy.’
November 16 is World Pancreatic Cancer Day.