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Friday 13 December 2019

Cancer death of Pippa pal Jenny may lead to life-saving database

Cancer victim Jenny Taaffe (left) with Pippa O’Connor
Cancer victim Jenny Taaffe (left) with Pippa O’Connor

A father-of-two who lost his wife to pancreatic cancer last August hopes a fundraiser with Pippa O'Connor can help spare others his anguish.

In Ireland, more than 500 people a year are diagnosed with rare pancreatic cancer, which has a survival rate of less than 3pc.

Businesswoman Jenny Taaffe was only 40 when she was diagnosed in August last year.

It would drastically change the lives of her two boys, Rory (7) and eight-year-old James, and her husband of 13 years, Alan McGovern.

A 2018 winner of the Image Businesswoman of the Year Award and originally from Rathfarnham, she was also Pippa's friend and business manager.

Despite being given only three months to live, she fought until the end and died exactly a year after her diagnosis.

Difficult

Her husband, who ran marketing company iZest with Jenny, is now hoping to raise €200,000 to kick-start a research project at St Vincent's Hospital.

"Pancreatic cancer is really difficult to diagnose as many times there are no obvious symptoms and, unfortunately, she had multiple tumours by the time her condition was confirmed," said Alan.

"The obvious thing was a pain in her back from tumours sitting on her spine.

"She also had other symptoms at the time like loss of weight and appetite.

Jenny and husband Alan
Jenny and husband Alan

"She got jaundice too, which is a real tell-tale sign of tumours getting bigger."

Jenny was told her cancer was inoperable, but being a "hugely positive person" she decided to fight for her life and underwent chemotherapy.

By Christmas, the family were overjoyed after being told the tumour had virtually disappeared.

Last March, she underwent a six-and-a-half-hour operation to have her pancreas removed, and the surgery was deemed a success.

"She was pretty much tum-our and cancer-free and had started her recovery," said Alan.

"She was starting to put on a bit of weight, but come June she started to slip again.

St Vincent’s Hospital
St Vincent’s Hospital

"At the end of July, they discovered the cancer had returned. She died a few days later. It's an absolutely devastating disease."

Jenny died in St Vincent's Hospital on August 7, surrounded by her family and close friends, after "an inspirational battle".

Speaking on World Pancreatic Cancer Day, Alan said he has good days and bad days, but he and his young sons have been buoyed by the support around them in addition to counselling.

He added that his team at work have been "amazing" in the wake of losing Jenny.

However, given that his wife was a "hugely positive" person, he does not want to dwell on the negative void she has left in their life, preferring instead to look toward the future.

Alan has joined forces with Pippa for the annual Blossom Tree ball next February 15, which has already sold out.

It will be held in aid of the Jenny McGovern Pancreatic Cancer clinical database, with additional fundraisers coming up in the future as Alan ensures that his wife has left a lasting legacy.

HSE approval has been given for the project, but funding has not yet been nailed down.

Positive

Through the St Vincent's Foundation and the support of Jenny's consultant, Prof Kevin Conlon, Alan wants to see clinical database nurses log the cancer journey of every patient who presents there and track their treatment and outcome.

He is hoping that tracking primary-care treatment will help oncologists secure more positive outcomes for patients.

"The surgery was savage for Jenny," he said.

"The team may have not carried it out if they had known she was going to die four months later.

"We would love this to be her legacy. She would come down and kick my ass if she saw me moping around the place."

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