Remarkable woman of 27 who takes 20 tablets a day after pancreatic cancer starts classy pill case venture and tries to smash “invisible disability” taboos

·8-min read

A remarkable woman who refuses to be beaten by pancreatic cancer and has launched a business producing classy pill cases inspired by her own needs is now determined to break taboos surrounding “invisible” disabilities.

When Lucy Rout, 27, had a check-up in December 2019 after suffering with abdominal discomfort for a week, her doctor suspected appendicitis and was as shocked as she was when a subsequent scan and biopsy revealed she had pancreatic cancer.

At the end of January 2020, Lucy, of Tooting, south west London, had a major operation known as a Whipple procedure, or pacreaticoduodenectomy, which took around eight hours to remove the head of the pancreas where her 2cm tumour was located, together with the first section of her small intestine, her gallbladder and the bile duct.

As part of her growing acceptance of what she had been through, Lucy was eager to find a cool case to keep her pills in. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)
As part of her growing acceptance of what she had been through, Lucy was eager to find a cool case to keep her pills in. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)

Her remaining organs were then reconnected, so she can digest food normally, although she has to take 20 tablets of a medicine called Creon every day – a form of enzyme replacement therapy, essential as her pancreas can no longer make the enzymes needed to digest meals.

Lucy, who broke the news of her illness to friends in a poem, calling her tumour “the b******,” said: “I got through it all by keeping myself as busy as possible and then when it came to hospital appointments and the surgery, I just treated it as a project that I needed to manage.

“I did every I could to stay positive, making jokes to stay upbeat.”

Lucy’s road to recovery was a long and challenging one. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Lucy’s road to recovery was a long and challenging one. (Collect/PA Real Life)

But Lucy will be on her current medication for the rest of her life, which even she does not find a joking matter.

It is crucial that she takes her pills at the right time and they have to be taken with food.

This made it hard for her to “hide” what she was doing from friends, but she found repeatedly explaining why she needed the tablets daunting.

She said: “I had absolutely no idea what to say to anyone and I got tired of always going off to the toilet just before a meal, or apologising, or taking my tablets out and having to answer lots of questions.”

Previously a sustainability and social impact manager for a major global corporation, Lucy is used to dealing with difficult situations with flair.

But she says she spent as much time in hospital worrying about what and how to tell her friends as she did about her upcoming procedure.

Lucy has now launched her own brand of pill cases, Tabuu. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Lucy has now launched her own brand of pill cases, Tabuu. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I’m a very sociable person, so my phone was pinging with all the normal invitations, because nobody knew I was in hospital.

“I didn’t know how to respond, so I just switched the phone off. I’d never had any complicated health issues before and, at first, I didn’t talk to anyone or tell anyone what was happening.

“I felt I had to hide from the world a bit.”

Lucy’s new start-up company Tabuu produces colourful stainless steel pill cases, costing £18 each. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)
Lucy’s new start-up company Tabuu produces colourful stainless steel pill cases, costing £18 each. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)

She added: “I would lie awake at night in hospital worrying about finding the right words to use to tell people.

“I know it sounds silly, but I worried I’d be making everything about me by saying anything.”

So, when Lucy hit on the genius idea of writing a heartfelt poem about her illness and sharing it on social media, she knew she had found a one-hit way of breaking the news that she had pancreatic cancer.

“That bought me some breathing space,” she said.

“I know lots of patients will have had the same experience, where it can feel overwhelming to have to explain what is happening 55 times to 55 different people.”

Lucy’s poetic newsflash was certainly memorable.

Lucy says she is now proud of her scar. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Lucy says she is now proud of her scar. (Collect/PA Real Life)

As well as telling people what was wrong, she wrote: “The b****** hasn’t yet spread.”

And with her unique humour, she declared: “This f***er won’t be beating us,

“No thanks hun, not today.”

The 27-year-old takes 20 pills a day. (Collect/PA Real Life)
The 27-year-old takes 20 pills a day. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Despite her commendable courage, Lucy admits that the night before surgery she recalls standing in front of the mirror, looking at her stomach and thinking it would never look the same again.

She said: “That was an eye-opening moment, but also one where I realised we waste so much time worrying about silly things that don’t matter at all, so in a way it was a wake-up call for me, too.”

Lucy’s road to recovery was a long and challenging one, which was not made any easier by the fact that soon after leaving hospital to recuperate with her family, the UK went into its first lockdown.

After a couple of weeks this meant that Lucy could no longer have visitors and had to shield.

She said: “The emotional impact and the isolation then really hit me.

“I started talking to a therapist on Zoom twice a week and they diagnosed me with PTSD.”

Lucy says she struggled to break the news of her diagnosis to friends. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Lucy says she struggled to break the news of her diagnosis to friends. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I had been in hospital and now had a large abdominal scar and various other changes to my body. I’d lost a lot of weight and since I was a size 8/10 before surgery, it wasn’t weight I had to lose.

“I am a big champion of body positivity, but this really hit me hard and it took a long time to get to used to it.”

Luckily, Lucy has come a long way since then and now not only accepts her scar, but is not afraid to show it.

Not knowing how to tell her friends she was in hospital, Lucy switched her phone off. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Not knowing how to tell her friends she was in hospital, Lucy switched her phone off. (Collect/PA Real Life)

In a promotional photograph for her website – wearetabuu.com – she wears a cropped top, with her scar clearly visible.

She said: “When I was recovering, I spent a long time looking for someone like me who represented what I’d gone through, but I couldn’t find anyone.

“I know one day there will be other Lucys, so I decided to embrace what has happened to me.”

As part of her growing acceptance of what she had been through, Lucy was eager to find a cool case to keep her pills in.

“I looked everywhere for something beautiful but there was nothing,” she said.

“I’d left hospital with one of those plastic pill cases and had been carrying my tablets around in tin foil and sandwich bags.”

Lucy wrote a poem about her illness and shared it on social media. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Lucy wrote a poem about her illness and shared it on social media. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I wanted something I could comfortably leave on the dinner table, but there was nothing.

“In a world where you can buy everything you can think of, it made me feel so forgotten.”

Refusing to be beaten, as she recovered and returned to her flat and social life, Lucy decided to design her own stylish pill case.

Lucy now not only accepts her scar, but is not afraid to show it. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)
Lucy now not only accepts her scar, but is not afraid to show it. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)

And in September 2021, after investing her own savings in the project, her new start-up company Tabuu was launched, producing colourful stainless steel pill cases, costing £18 each, from which 10 per cent of profits will go to cancer charities.

“My cases are confident and stylish, which really does make a difference, because people don’t then feel they have to hide their medication,” she said.

“The brand mission is to remove the stigma around medication by opening up the conversation.”

She added: “I know of one woman who had her case out and it triggered a discussion about menopause, while at the other end of the age range, I know of a teenage girl who was invited to talk about her illness and medication after her teacher spotted her pink case at school.”

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers, according to Pancreatic Cancer UK. Five year survival rates are less than seven per cent.

But Lucy is now cancer-free and she is grateful that the tumour was caught early enough for treatment to be a success.

Lucy says the brand mission is to remove the stigma around medication by opening up the conversation. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)
Lucy says the brand mission is to remove the stigma around medication by opening up the conversation. (Veega Photography/PA Real Life)

As a result, she is anxious to encourage others not to ignore any symptoms.

She said: “When I first had my symptoms, it was December, so I was really busy working hard and socialising.

“I put off going to the doctor, but my mum encouraged me to make an appointment, so we caught it early enough.”

Describing herself now as someone with an “invisible disability,” she still suffers from fatigue.

And, after launching the Tabuu pill case, she wants to carry on raising awareness of the challenges faced by people like her, who may think they have to hide chronic sickness and take their medicine furtively, to stop other people from feeling uncomfortable.

She said: “Cancer has changed me and my perspective.”

She added: “It opened my eyes to a hidden world that I had not had anything to do with before and it has made me grateful for my body and for every day of my life.”

*Tabuu pill cases come in a range of stylish colours including pink or grey and cost £18. For more information go to www.wearetabuu.com

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