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Nurse’s ‘minion’ yellow skin turned out to be a sign of pancreatic cancer

Becki Buggs only discovered she had cancer after her husband joked she 'looked like a minion' due to her yellow-tinged skin, pictured with children Jacob and Georgie. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)
Becki Buggs only discovered she had cancer after her husband joked she 'looked like a minion' due to her yellow-tinged skin, pictured with children Jacob and Georgie. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)

A nurse only discovered she had cancer after her husband joked she “looked like a Minion” when she came out of the shower with yellow-tinged skin.

While it may have been a joke, as a nurse, Becki Buggs, 43, from Colchester, Essex, knew that jaundice in adults could be a sign of a serious underlying condition and sought immediate medical help.

She was "completely devastated" to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the tenth most common cancer in the UK.

“Everything was adding up to the fact that it was not going to be a good diagnosis," the mum-of-two explains.

Breaking the news to people was difficult and not made any more straight forward by her job.

"It didn’t make it any easier," she explains. “In fact, it made it harder for me to tell people because I’m the person that they normally look to, to reassure them that everything’s going to be okay.

“I couldn’t do that this time because I was completely devastated myself.”

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Buggs with her children, Jacob and Georgie, and husband Walter. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)
Buggs with her children, Jacob and Georgie, and husband Walter. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)

Following her diagnosis Buggs went on to have an operation to remove the cancer, similar to the procedure she prepares patients for in her role as an NHS theatre nurse.

But while she considers herself very lucky to have been quickly referred for blood tests, scans, and surgery, Buggs fears patients this winter will miss out on the chance of having the same operation – the only potentially curative treatment for the disease.

The quickest killing cancer, more than half of people with pancreatic cancer die within three months of diagnosis.

According to Pancreatic Cancer UK almost 60% of people who have the disease are diagnosed in A&E, which means for most people, it is tragically too late for them to receive treatment.

“I’m worried for other pancreatic cancer patients," Buggs continues.

"It scares me that there are people out there who will think, ‘Oh, I just feel a bit off and I don't really feel well but it's fine, I can't get a GP appointment, so I'll just ride it out.’

"Then they become so ill and jaundiced that they get admitted to A&E and by then it's too late."

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Buggs said she was 'completely devastated' when she was diagnosed, pictured with her children on Christmas Day. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)
Buggs said she was 'completely devastated' when she was diagnosed, pictured with her children on Christmas Day. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)

Buggs is now backing Pancreatic Cancer UK's No Time To Wait campaign, which coincides with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, and is calling for the UK government to make a commitment with the charity.

They want the government to promise that everyone with the disease is diagnosed within 21 days of their referral and offered fast access to treatment.

Pancreatic Cancer UK also want all pancreatic cancer patients to be immediately given access to support from a specialist nurse.

Diana Jupp, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, says: “The message from health professionals is frighteningly clear: the pandemic, staff shortages and underfunding have all pushed the NHS to breaking point.

"Pancreatic cancer is the quickest killing cancer, and any delays to diagnosis and treatment could cost people their chance of survival.

"There is no time to wait."

Watch: Video uses voices of celebrities who died of pancreatic cancer to raise awareness

Pancreatic cancer: the facts

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of the disease, with just 5% of patients surviving for ten or more years after their diagnosis, according to Cancer Research UK.

Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer with 10,449 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK in 2018.

Pancreatic cancer is the 5th biggest cancer killer in the UK with 9,000 deaths every year. It has the lowest survival of all common cancers, with five-year survival less than 7%.

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Image of Becki Buggs who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)
She is now hoping to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer symptoms. (Pancreatic Cancer UK/SWNS)

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer often does not cause any symptoms in its early stages, which also makes it hard to diagnose, Pancreatic Cancer UK reports.

And any warning signs that do develop tend to be vague, and come and go.

They could also be confused for more common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

This can make pancreatic cancer hard to diagnose.

Some of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

- indigestion,

- back or tummy pain

- changes to your poo

- unexpected weight-loss or loss of appetite

- jaundice (yellow skin or eyes and itchy skin).

There are also some less common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. These include a fever, shivering, and generally feeling unwell or not quite right.

Pancreatic Cancer UK says some people also feel like they can’t swallow their food properly.

People experiencing any of these symptoms without knowing why they have them should contact their GP or call NHS 111.

Anyone with jaundice should go to their GP or A&E straight away.

Read more: Young woman diagnosed with breast cancer at 26 urges others to check their boobs

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Once diagnosed, treatment depends on the size and type of pancreatic cancer a patient has, where it is, if it has spread and the patient's general health.

According to the NHS your treatment will depend on if the cancer can be removed or not.

If pancreatic cancer is found early and it has not spread, you may be able to have surgery to remove it, however, if the cancer cannot be removed, you may have surgery to help control some symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to help shrink the cancer or after to stop it coming back.

If the patient cannot go under the knife, chemotherapy may shrink the tumour to minimise symptoms and extend their life.

Radiotherapy can also help halt cancer growth and ease any pain.

Additional reporting SWNS.