Jane Burn tragically succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2017. We spoke to Mark Burn, her husband, about the Three Bears Foundation and the Burn family quest to raise public awareness of the cancer, to raise funds for cancer research, and to support other families affected.
The Three Bears Foundation mission is to overcome and stamp out one of the most under-diagnosed and least understood cancers. The Foundation received its name from Jane’s nickname for her son—‘Chrissy Bear’—and the Burn family were affectionately known as ‘The Three Bears’.
Mark says: “Pancreatic cancer doesn’t get the high profile that other cancers receive in the media and is incredibly difficult to diagnose.”
That said, it is the fifth biggest cancer killer in England with over 9000 deaths every year and has the lowest survival of all common cancers.
Mark explained: “Pancreatic Cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages and Jane was otherwise healthy but for a few minor problems. In the summer of 2017 her GP initially diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but after the pain got much worse, and after several scans and follow-up appointments, Jane received the worst diagnosis—and by that point the cancer was inoperable.”
At this time, September 2017, Mark, Jane, and Chris were trying to stay positive. Chris had just finished his degree and the family are very involved with Junior cricket in York and usually planned a holiday at the end of the season in September. This year, though, was going to be different.
“Jane was fantastic with how she coped,” said Mark. “The oncologist said realistically she only had 6 months so we decided we were going to make the best of it. However, the pain became increasingly difficult to deal with. Some of the other side effects of the cancer are an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, digestive problems (Jane struggled to digest food), diabetes and jaundice. (See www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk for more information.) In early December, I took Jane into hospital as she had sepsis and needed a course of antibiotics. Whilst waiting for a scan, she suffered a deep vein thrombosis and passed away on Monday 11th December aged 61.”
Within 48 hours of losing his mum, Chris decided he wanted to do something significant in Jane’s memory. His mum always loved New York, so, along with 7 friends and with the help of Pancreatic Cancer UK, he signed up for the New York Marathon. Mark said: “I went along to support them—and carry the luggage! The team were very determined, aiming to raise a few thousand pounds each. In the end, they raised over £60,000!”
After the success of the Marathon, the family decided to formalise the organisation, and the Three Bears Foundation was registered as a charity in 2019. Countless others have joined Mark and Chris helping to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer and, to date, over £90,000 has been given to Pancreatic Cancer UK. They continued to hold events—wine tastings, golf days and even a ball—until March 2020 when COVID restriction put such events on hold.
“We know that some things in life are not easy. But that does not make them impossible, and we are determined to raise public awareness and funds to further medical research and support the families that have been affected. You are not alone. And our vision is for much faster and more accurate medical diagnosis—and eventually the prevention, effective treatment and cure of this disease.”
Mark even ran the Great North Run in 2019. He said: “I was pretty fit as I had played hockey, but it gave me a focus and to go from 0 to 13.1 miles was a huge achievement. We had a team 17 people running and raised a large amount for the charity.”
As we come out of COVID restrictions, the Foundation is planning-ahead and organising more challenges to raise its profile (and funds) later this year. Chris Burn said: “During the pandemic we want to keep people running and cycling so, on the first weekend in March, we’re running a ‘virtual’ half marathon for just a £10 donation. And, if the current rules allow, we have 34 people signed up to run the Edinburgh marathon later in 2021.
“We are grateful of any support from the community,” Mark explains. “It doesn’t have to be big. Anything that is heart-felt and helps towards stamping out pancreatic cancer is brilliant.”
Pancreatic Cancer Facts
- It is the 10th most common cancer in England.
- Around 10,000 people are diagnosed each year.
- The one-year survival rate is only 25.4% and at five years, only 7.3%.
- A person’s risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and exposure to risk factors (including some potentially avoidable lifestyle factors).
- 1 in 53 UK males and 1 in 57 UK females will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in their lifetime
Symptoms can include:
- The whites of your eyes or your skin turn yellow (jaundice); you may also have itchy skin, darker pee, and paler poo than usual.
- Loss of appetite or losing weight without trying.
- Feeling tired or having no energy.
- A high temperature, or feeling hot or shivery.
Other symptoms can affect your digestion, such as:
- Feeling or being sick.
- Diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes.
- Pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you are eating or lying down and better when you lean forward.
- Symptoms of indigestion, such as feeling bloated
(If you have another condition like irritable bowel syndrome you may get symptoms like these regularly. You might find you get used to them. But it’s important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you.)