Conservative Party MP Eric Ollerenshaw has reflected on his 35-year relationship with his partner which was cut short just six weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said he wanted to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, which is the fifth most lethal cancer in Britain.
He said: “Thirty-five years, eight months and 17 days we had together,” speaking of his relationship with Michael Donoghue. “And then pancreatic cancer took him in six weeks. It’s just no time at all.”
The 63-year-old MP said the grief from losing Michael almost made him quit politics, but is now more determined than ever to raise awareness of the cancer.
The Telegraph notes that of the 8,000 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, only four percent are expected to survive longer than five years.
“There has been no improvement in mortality rates for pancreatic cancer in 30 years,” He said. Mr Ollerenshaw was one of ten openly gay Conservative MPS to be elected in 2010. “It’s simply not good enough.”
He said the misconception that the cancer is an “old man’s disease” made it more lethal, as it had a low profile. Noting that 35% of cases occur in people under 60 years old, he said women were actually more affected than men.
Cases may be missed, the MP notes, as symptoms are not specific, and little is known about its causes.
Speaking of the speed at which the cancer took hold, he said: “It was the summer of 2009, and Michael, who was 61, kept suffering upset stomachs… Whatever he took or did, he couldn’t seem to get right. From being the sort of man who never troubled the GP, he was suddenly there a lot, asking for help. With hindsight, you have to say, isn’t that the sort of change in behaviour a doctor should notice?”
He said that within weeks, Michael was called urgently back into the hospital and given the bad news.
“You just go along with your normal life, and then suddenly, bam, you’re in this other world of cancer – statistics, treatments, percentages. We were totally and utterly unprepared.”
The pair were then told the cancer was terminal, and after further complications and a lack of space at the hospital, were told to try a hospice in Hackney. After just a couple of days Michael passed away.
Saying that he nearly quit the London Assembly, of which he was a member when Michael died, Mr Ollerenshaw said he decided to use the position of MP, to which he was elected the following year, to good use to raise awareness.
“There is a lot we can do,” he said. “We need to make sure not only that the public, but also doctors are more aware of pancreatic cancer. GPs may not see more than one case a year, if that. Research into more effective chemotherapy is also needed. And we need to look at improving surgery. Removal of the pancreas had a high mortality rate, but now that it’s usually performed in specialist centres, success rates have gone up.”
“It’s the speed that catches you,” he concluded. “We were in a daze those six weeks. It’s been the two of you together your whole lives, and then suddenly, terminal cancer.
“What do you do with your life after something like this? You have to go on. I’ve had good support – but I’ve been left on my own.”