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Cancer diagnosed - her last weeks

12 Nov 2007 - Initial diagnosis

Unfortunately Gillian has been ill in recent months.

After a great deal of neglect from local doctors both in Yass and Canberra, Gillian's great friends from Binalong, Leone and Paris, made sure she went to hospital and got the situation looked at properly.

The doctors at Calvary Hospital in Canberra's north, quickly diagnosed cancer of the pancreas (read about pancreatic cancer).

This is of great worry for both Gillian and her family - son Julian, daughter-in-law Amy and her 7 month granddaughter Lila.

We are waiting for some more tests to be performed on Tuesday 13 November. At the moment, the worst case scenario is that this type of cancer usually gives the patient only 6 months because early diagnosis is rare. Nevertheless, Gillian is in good spirits, considering, and wants to fight it as best she can. Hopefully treatment will be successful and she can live a lot longer. She's lost a lot of weight and is in a bit of pain, but is still quite strong in body & mind.

13 Nov 2007 - Scope procedure successful

Gillian has returned to Calvary. The procedure in Woden went well. Using a scope inserted through the mouth, the doctors straightened her gall bladder and inserted a tube to help drain digestive fluids to make her more comfortable. No more information yet on the main treatment.

Earlier, Leonie Hunter reports that she has taken Gillian to Canberra Hospital in Woden for an exam under anaesthetic. She will be transferred back to Calvary Hospital late afternoon.

Below are a couple of pics of Gillian with her granddaughter Lila last night.

Wed 14 Nov 2007 08:00pm - Some glimmer of hope

It was a busy day for Gillian today. She had many calls and visits from you and this made her feel very special.

Her room in the hospital is very nice. It has a great view south towards Black Mountain (with the monstrous new intersection for the Gungahlin express splitting the gum tree panorama - unfortunately).

Gillian's appetite improved today, although hospital food isn't too inspiring. We've smuggled in some nice fresh fruit and left overs. A request for Amy's Chinese inspired soups will be delivered soon.

Today Gillian had a CT scan to investigate the problem more thoroughly. One of the doctors is also checking for the possibility that Gillian may have lymphoma instead of pancreatic carcinoma. This would be a much better outcome because this is more treatable using radiation/chemotherapy. The CT scan should be able to give a better look at the pancreas and the lymph nodes and check if it has spread or not. According to our research, if it is the pancreas, there is not a great deal that can be done and radiation therapy is not effective, removal could cause more problems. Not sure of the percentages here, so we can only wait and see. Doctors also plan to inject the tumour and take a sample.

We'll post the results as soon as we know. Many fingers crossed.

As for pain, Gillian received a new patch attached to her chest which releases controlled doses of pain relief.

Lastly, thank you all for you kind messages by email, the guestbook and phone call. She has such good friends and she really loves you all.

Thu 15 Nov 2007 11:55am - rest day

Gillian is a bit tired today. She was overwhelmed with all your calls yesterday and is very very grateful that so many people care.

Fri 16 Nov 2007 12:00am - news we didn't want

Sadly the doctors have confirmed the worst. Gillian has pancreatic cancer which is inoperable. The will attempt to 'zap' the area, but this is a measure to relieve symptoms and prolong life. No cure is currently available.

Let me say how proud I am of Gillian. I am possibly in a state of denial because of her external good health and her extremely positive attitude. She is really taking things well and does not want this to get her down.

A palliative care doctor saw her Thursday afternoon to discuss the future. Eating well, taking care and remaining positive can give her the best chance to extend her life.

She was allowed to come home and is staying in Canberra with us. She will return to Binalong on the weekend. She wants to remain independent, with some assistance and will make a Canberra a more permanent residence when the time is right.

She is determined to make it to her granddaughters 1st birthday. And making that, her next goal is Lila's 5th birthday. Nevertheless, I think it would be great if you can see her over the next few months because we just don't know.

Lets keep her strong.

Sun 18 Nov 2007 01:30pm - back in Binalong

Gillian is doing ok. Sometimes in a bit of pain but it can be managed with a special patch. She's eating ok, although in small amounts.

She spent a few good days relaxing in Canberra, taking it easy (good) and spending some time with her granddaughter. She's also become very proficient in text messaging on her new mobile, so send her a msg here and there. When she's in Binalong, it might take a few days to get back to you (until she's in a area with reception).

She has now returned to Binalong and Leonie will keep an eye on her.

Gillian again sends her many thanks to all of you who have contacted her in many ways: calls, emails, texts, guestbook entries, cards, etc.

Gillian should be back in Canberra on Wednesday.

Radiation treatment should begin at the end of November.

Wed 21 Nov 2007 09:00pm - staying in Binalong for now

Gillian would again like to thank you all for messages. When things have settled down and she has more energy, she intends to write to you.

Gillian had a really bad day and night on Sunday, but has been ok since then. She's decided to stay in Binalong where she is more comfortable and can relax and meditate.

Tue 27 Nov 2007 03:30pm - Oncologist consultation

Gillian saw the oncologist team at Canberra Hospital today.

This is the plan, as best I can understand it.

Gillian will start chemotherapy around xmas time. It will go for 6 months, once a week visits to Calvary Hospital. This is to retard growth of the tumour as much as they can, although they can't kill it off, to reduce pain, increase energy levels and appetite, and most importantly, extend her life for 1-2 years.

They also plan to take a biopsy on Thursday to determine which type of pancreatic cancer it is, so they can get the treatment right. They expect it to be the most common type. Results next Tuesday. And they said she won't lose her hair.

So the next month and a bit will be tough. She is experiencing a 3 day cycle of pain. It's fine when she puts on a new patch (today) but by the 3rd day, she is in a lot of pain. Poor thing wasn't good last night. The medical team will also look at pain management. So over xmas she will probably hit a low, as the treatment will make her quite fatigued, which she is now also. But after that, she expects things to improve.

I'll keep you informed as we know more.

PS. Once again thanks for the cards & well wishes. Fiona and Suellen, I gave her your packages last night when she stayed. She said that was very kind of you for thinking of her.

Tue 04 Dec 2007 12:30pm - biopsy results today

Gillian is in Canberra today to get the biopsy results, so they can determine which type of cancer it is and get started on specific treatment.

She's continuing with up and down days. Sometimes feeling ok, but quite a lot of the time feeling tired, sore, nauseous and a lack of appetite. We are just concerned she isn't getting enough food down. She can only manage small amounts when the mood suits. It seems they might be able to drain some fluids trapped in her stomach that is causing discomfort.

I've read all of the guestbook comments to her and she is very touched.

Wed 05 Dec 2007 02:30pm - chemo this Friday

The biopsy confirmed that Gillian has the main pancreatic cancer. She will start chemotherapy on Friday, all day. She will have follow ups on Mondays from 17 December.

Yesterday was a bit distressing for Gillian. Long day. Not feeling well. Many tears. Understandably the weight of it all a bit too much. Will be lots of depressing times amongst her brave positive periods.

Her good friend Fling from Young stayed last night and helped out. Lovely lady. And Leonie is always there, taking her back and forth to Canberra, and handling the grumpier moments in her stride. Couldn't do without her.

Fri 07 Dec 2007 08:30pm - staying in Canberra for a week

Gillian had the Chemo today. It mainly consisted of being on a drip most of the day to put the chemicals in her body. During this they found a clot in her arm, which is not good, but found early enough before anything bad happened. She is now on more medication to thin the blood. Apparently this is common. She's a bit horrified with all the medication she's got to take.

This means she will stay in Canberra with Julian, Amy and Lila for a week. She will receive daily home visits by Calvary's 'At Home' team, to check her blood consistency and administer an injection (for blood thinning - the medication takes 5 days to kick in) and monitor how she's going.

Poor dear looks more gaunt. A bit of a worry. She had a light meal after arriving home, but was just sick as I was writing... Ok now, but hope some food can stay down to keep her resources up. When she's back in Binalong, we might need all the help we can get to keep her eating until this period is improved and strength is regained.

Still, she's remarkably positive for what she's going through. Lila of course give her great pleasure.

Sun 09 Dec 2007 11:30pm - situation not good

The situation is not good. The nausea side effect of the chemo is proving too much and Gillian has not been able to keep food or fluids down since the treatment.

We called the duty nurse this afternoon to possibly give her another injection for the nausea. However, when he arrived, he advised that it was best she go back with him to Calvary Hospital to stay overnight and get some fluids into her intravenously.

Gillian is so emaciated that she just cannot afford to lose more weight. I really fear that this battle is going to be too much for her. We want to be positive but it's really not looking good for our poor dear. Many fingers crossed that she can break out of this nauseated cycle and get some strength back.

Mon 10 Dec 2007 11:30pm - staying in hospital

After a terrible day yesterday, Gilly has benefited from her stay in hospital, receiving some welcome fluids via the drip. Breakfast managed to stay down, but lunch not so successful. The oncologist came by and said she's had a bad reaction to the chemo. They will change the dose next time.

Gillian is now in Calvary Public ward 5W, room 1. I popped in after work and she looks improved, but still very weak and tired, and still suffering nausea. It's hard for her to chat too long without nausea taking control.

We're expecting her to stay for a bit longer in hospital, which would be good, to ensure medication and fluids, food etc are being absorbed.

I know some of you want to stay and look after her, but there's not much we can do until she's more stable. Short visits are welcome. Send plenty of texts to keep her spirits up (but please don't feel bad if she doesn't reply as she too fatigued to work the phone much).

Keep those positive thoughts for us and thanks for the emails.

Thu 13 Dec 2007 00:30am - outlook grim

The last few days have been up and down. Gillian has been a bit more perky at times, but otherwise quite ill and fatigued. The drip has certainly helped, but food just won't stay down for long. She continues to be sick.

I found the doctor looking after her yesterday and asked her about the nausea situation and nutrition. The drip is only providing hydration, but no nutrients. Some nutrients from the food will make it into her system before she brings it back up. But I am shocked that this is all they can do. Surely they could give her something else, but it appears not. A line direct into her stomach will still end up being brought up. They don't seem to have anything that can go direct into the blood stream.

The doctor was of the belief this condition is as much the cancer as it is the reaction to chemo. She said there was a lot of tumours inside and this is probably causing the problems. This was new to me because I haven't heard about the extent of the cancer.

The doctor suggested we to speak to the oncologist to get more information. We called her in the afternoon but she would not give us any specific information. This amazed Amy (who is from China). There is no such thing over there of the ultra privacy in one's own family. Nevertheless, she was nice and we've arranged to discuss the situation together when she's due to see Gillian next monday. She did, however, say we needed now to have a serious discussion about things.

This is not good.

I will confirm of course, but my feeling is that my dear mum does not have a lot of time left. She really is going through a tough time. Although she is fatigued easily, I think if you want to see her before the worst happens, you should do it sooner rather than later.

This morning she will undergo a procedure. She was nil by mouth from mid night. Not sure what this is for (she didn't really know - too tired to ask a lot of questions). I think it is to alleviate the pressure on her stomach. Her poor tum is rock hard with fluids.

On a nicer note. Amy's Chinese parents sent Gill a lovely letter, which Amy translated very well. I read it to her in the morning, on the way to work, and it proved very emotional for us. It unlocked my emotions and broke through the defences I had established. What ever the outcome may be, I am so glad I still had and have the opportunity to say I love her very much and tell her what a wonderful respectful mother she has been to me. I have posted the letter on the guestbook.

Ok, sorry to be sounding negative, but I'm being realistic. Mum's really hanging in there and being positive. Such a brave face. It's all happening so fast.

Many thanks to the wonderful flowers that have been sent. She loves them.

Fri 14 Dec 2007 10:30am - Improvement again

The rollercoaster continues. Gillo looked really good last night and better still this morning.

The 'procedure' never eventuated. Maybe miscommunication. But she was supposed to have some x-rays, but they were too busy. However, they have changed her medication and this seems to have had a positive effect.

Gillian wolfed down her dinner last night (6.30pm) and has been able to eat a lot more. She was still sick about midnight, but that's a lot better. She's gone from being sick 5 times a day to 2.

Most of all, she feels in better spirits and was quite active this morning, have a little walk with me around the ward, chatting to the doctors and nurses in her usual friendly style (telling the sri lankan doctor she looked beautiful, etc). She enjoyed seeing your messages and said your love and thoughts have really lifted her.

Mon 17 Dec 2007 00:30am - Good for 3 days now

Just a quick one - Gillian has continued her good patch for 3 days now. She had many visitors over the weekend, including 3 great old friends Fiona from Melbourne, Venitia from Newcastle and Judith and her daughter Joanna from Ballarat/Melbourne (formerly our neighbours from Charnwood). She felt very special. She also has many cards and flowers and her room looks very personalised now.

Monday is not a good one for visits/calls. Gillo will have some tests and examinations. She will see the oncologist in the afternoon and find out what will happen next, eg further chemo treatment? And I will have the chance to talk to her regarding Gillo's future outlook and find out the real deal.

We've all been in a much better frame of mind. Until, the next update....

Mon 17 Dec 2007 10:30pm - Oncologist update

The day started well with a surprise visit by Gilly's dogs Homer and Illy. Gill managed to trek down to the front doors and see her doggies she has missed. I especially wanted to show her Illy's new haircut (a bit of a hatchet job).

Later, we met her oncologist and discussed what to do next. It was decided that we would not proceed with chemotherapy for at least another week. The doctor was worried that Gillian's frail condition and that she is still recovering from the scare earlier in the week to go through that again while she's still weak.

I had concerns about delaying further chemo and the consequences. However, 2 months of chemo is really needed to make any impact. Unfortunately, Gillian may not be able to cope with this. Chemo is to help with the symptoms, not a cure, so making her feel sicker may well defeat the purpose and could also weaken her further for no probable benefit. We also asked about latest drugs and medicines, but there is nothing that can offer us hope (the doctor believes she is quite up-to-date on latest trends and discoveries).

Gillian with a visit her grand daughter Lila and her good friend Fiona Lawry.

The main problem is that the cancer is too advanced. The recent bad experience was in part the chemo and fluid build up on her stomach - but also very likely to be the disease itself.

Gillian asked, in a round-a-bout way, what her life expectancy is now. Without being too committal, she said that most people will not last 12 months. Gillian's advanced state means it is more likely less than 6 months. This did jolt us, but deep down, I think we both expect this.

Gillian understandably became quite teary at this point. I needed to know more - what to expect over the coming weeks/months, so Gillian preferred I discuss this privately at this point. I will share because we should know the real situation and be able to deal with it in our own way. I will talk to Gillian about this when/if she is ready.

In summary, the cancer is well advanced and has reached her liver. Her frail state is an indication of how much the disease has affected her body. She may have weeks to months left. It will probably be quite quick.

Gillian remains positive and will not give up. Her public front is strong and determined. She does not show pain and discomfort to readily (wants to protect us all). But I know she does go through a lot of pain.

At this stage she may come home soon and we'll encourage to stay with us in Florey. She cannot be by herself. She will probably have daily visits from community nursing or palliative carers. I will have to discuss what we will do when things get worse - a possibility of going to the Canberra Hospice on Lake Burley Griffin.

Not much more I can say at this point. I'm so relieved she is presently doing well, despite being frail. But it's hard to comprehend that there is this short time limit for my dear mum and your lovely friend. I'm so glad many of you have been able to see her this week and that she was well enough to enjoy your company.

I'll keep you all updated as we take this journey. Please, if you can visit again, don't hesitate. If you need somewhere to stay, you are most welcome to stay at ours. Just let us know. Apparently there are good reviews about Sunday pancakes and coffee.

Gillian also had her stomach relieved of it's fluid this afternoon. Amazingly 3.5 litres was removed. It will likely return during the course, as her stomach is a bit 'leaky'. She has a lot of swelling now in her legs, but not too much can be done other than keeping them up and wearing some sort of stocking.

Ok. Chins up and lets keep her strong and happy as can be. We are looking forward to spending a nice quiet xmas with grandmother and granddaughter.

Tue 18 Dec 2007 11:30pm - Coming home Saturday

Gillian will be allowed home this weekend and will spend xmas with her family in Florey. This is great news. She's been off the drip for a few days now and was eating toast this morning like normal. So hopefully she will enjoy some xmas feasting...

Happier times at Calvary Hospital.
Gillian with her new born granddaughter Lila and daughter-in-law Amy in March 2007.
Gillian showed the nurses this photo today - "look, i used to have weight".

Amazingly 13 people visited Gillo today. It really warms me to know she has so many good friends out there. Especially those of you who have told me about the impact she has had on your life's. Had a big impact on mine too ;-)

Alistair, Gillian's ex-husband and the reason we came to Australia, has come to Canberra from Melbourne for the week and has been spending time with Gillian. He is a wonderful kind man. Amy always tells me she shouldn't have let him go. But it's great that he's always been a part of our life and we still regard him as a step-grandfather for Lila.

While we are on the subject... This year I managed to track down Gillian's first husband, my father. Unfortunately his memory is not a pleasant one for Gill, except for providing some a good mix of genes which has passed through me to Gillian's 1/4 Indian, 1/4 English, 1/2 Chinese granddaughter. While doing some family research on the net, I stumbled across a database match. Eventually I tracked down his death record in Canada. He shot himself near Vancouver in 1978 after another obsession with a woman. Another chapter closed and some closure at long last.

While we're still on men. Gillian would like to thank her former colleague from the Canberra Art School, Jörg Schmeisser, for his warm reconciliatory email. Jörg is fighting his own battle with cancer and we wish him well and return the warm thoughts.

Thu 20 Dec 2007 10:30am - Quite perky

Gillian's dramatic improvement continues. We're not out of the woods yet, but it's really great to see her old self again. She's very bright and perky, eating well and holding food down most of the time.

She thanks again all those that have visited and contacted her recently, but now she requests a couple of quiet days to rest from the busy schedule she's had, before she heads home.

Some pics from today:

1. View from window, with her cards. 2. Cheery self again. 

Fri 21 Dec 2007 10:30am - Quite perky

All good today with Gillian. She insisted on making me a cuppa tea this morning, as mum does. I ended up having breakfast with her. She's enjoying her morning toast and food is staying down most of the time. Just the occasional bit doesn't agree with her and comes back.

Sun 23 Dec 2007 08:00pm - Out of hospital

Gilly left the hospital Saturday afternoon and now is back at Florey in Canberra.

So far things are reasonably well. Of course now we are seeing both the good and bad times of a full day, not just a snippet of her day when she's fine.

Saturday night was good. She enjoyed the home cooking (smoked trout, minted egg and potato salad and fresh cucumber from the garden) and was not sick. Sunday morning consisted of a small portion of a cheese/ham crossaint and then tucked into her current favourite from the hospital, nutra-grain (iron-mann food).

Unfortunately, lunch was brought back up after an intrusive visit from a community nurse who tired out Gillian with a 2 hour visit, going over everything again and making her fill out the same &*#^ forms. Gill became quite stressed and then was quick sick afterwards.

Currently she's resting again after having some time with her granddaughter.

To make her return welcome, we bought her some nice new sheets and covers, as seen in the pic below as she was about to have a granny nap before dinner ;-)

Mon 25 Dec 2007 Happy Christmas from the Mann clan

Wed 26 Dec 2007 04:30pm - happy christmas

After a scary start, our family christmas proved to be a special day.

We changed tradition this year and had our special dinner on xmas eve. Chef Jules produced a roast and had success with a pair of well cooked spatchcocks (looking like turkey's in the clever camera angle below) and roast spuds to rival Gillan's great roasts over the years. The main thing was that Gillo really enjoyed the meal and was able to eat quite a lot.

Unfortunately, she had a very bad night. I think this is still part of the adjustment to being out of hospital and having to manage her own pain relief and not getting it quite right. The poor dear woke up at 2am in great pain and was very sick.

Pain management has been better since then and the special xmas day dinner of fish in white wine and baked potatoes also went down well - and stayed down.

When the medication kicked in on xmas day, we had a lovely late breakfast of those pancakes and then opened our pressies. I realised last night that this was the first time 3 generations of the Mann clan have spent xmas together since Gillian and I had xmas with her mother Beryl in 1981.

She was very moved (to tears) by a present from her daugter-in-law Amy, who made a special photo book - a pictorial diary of Lila's life so far.

Special xmas thanks to Leonie Hunter for dropping around xmas presents and items from Gill's house on Xmas eve. Also to Polly Ball who did Gillian's xmas shopping and found the 'ice cream loving family' a great ice cream making machine. She also brought a yummy home made ginger cake which we ate on xmas eve. And also to Sara and Nick from the Binalong Royal Hotel who dropped in on xmas afternoon and brought some more tasty home made cake.

Gillian is hanging in there. She is quite tired and fatigued a lot of the time. But she's been enjoying her food. She hopes you all enjoyed your christmasess too.

Thu 27 Dec 2007 12:30pm - personal blog updated

Gillian has updated her personal blog with a message.

Also, she has requested that phone calls or visits be short and preferably in the morning, so that an afternoon rest can be ensured. Fatigue is a bit too much presently.

Another tough night last night. Fluid on the tummy has increased again and we think we might need this drained again soon to make her more comfortable.

Fri 28 Dec 2007 12:30pm - Gillian has gone to the hospice

Gillian's health has deteriorated since Wednesday so we called the hospice home care team who visited last night. Upon another visit this morning, it was decided it was best that she go to the hospice for now.

I have a feeling that she really held out over xmas, and enjoyed herself, but possibly she ran out of energy and the illness caught up with her again. Or perhaps it's just the aggressiveness of the illness. We feel that there's not much time left for our Gill. We certainly don't want her to suffer too much more. Hopefully the experts can manage her pain to better levels so her remaining time can less distressful.

Fri 28 Dec 2007 09:30pm - Hospice update

Gillian is still determined to get better. We visited her at the hospice this afternoon. The house is quite peaceful and her room is almost hotelish, with her private ensuite and an opening to a grass courtyard garden with a view of Lake Burley Griffin, where Amy and I usually paddle our kayaks.

Gillian has picked up slightly and is happy with the care she is receiving. Still, she is quite fatigued, weak and nauseous. And her poor feet are so swollen with fluid (slightly relieved by a foot massage :-) Her back and stomach is the pain area, however her pain relief is now intravenous instead of tablets.

Home is quiet but doesn't seem right. Amy is quite distraught tonight. Daughter-in-Law and mother really get on well. Lila's smiles are a happy distraction for us all.

Sat 29 Dec 2007 09:30pm - Gillian has left our land and left her mark on it too

My brave brave mum passed away at 6pm today at the hospice.

We did not expect this to happen so soon, but we are relieved that her pain was not long. It seems she really held on for Christmas with us and then ran out of puff.

She was wonderfully looked after at the hospice and they were very sensitive to our needs.

Gilly had lucid moments in her last few hours. I was able to tell her I loved her. And she replied immediately "I love you too dear". I asked for a smile - I got one. I gave her some kisses. She gave them back.

I think when she felt she'd had enough, she said "Goodbye. Goodbye my dear friends". "Thank you all kindly".

She was indeed a remarkable woman. I'm very proud of her achievements, her brave independence, her uniqueness, the messages she left though her art, the wonderful teacher she was to many of you, and mostly to me, the way she brought me up and the values she imprinted on me. She was always there for me. A great mum. I write this with many tears.

Goodbye my dear mum. I love you very much.

I do believe her spirit has passed on to her lovely granddaughter. She's had an early eye for art. She's a special one too.

Thank you all for being part of my outlet. I've been very happy to include you all in this travel one must take. Special thanks to Amy who has been a wonderfully supporting partner and who is so sad that her close relationship with Gillian has been cut short. She was so caring of mum in her difficult days.

I will announce funeral details when I have it sorted out.

Julian, son of the artist.

Gilly in her last few hours. She was quite calm and comfortable.

From The Canberra Times


jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:27
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:27
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 03:29
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:35
jules mann,
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jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:47
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:51
jules mann,
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jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 04:40
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 03:15
jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 03:16
jules mann,
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jules mann,
11 Jul 2009, 05:19