Nyree Smith's mission to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer

When Nyree Smith was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she was told she had nine months to live. 

"This cancer happens so fast, that most people go really quickly," Nyree tells Newshub. "For some reason, and I don't know why, I've survived just past four years."

She was diagnosed with the illness in 2017 - but doesn't let it define her. 

"I make a conscious effort every day when I get up to find the positive in things as much as I can. There's no point being doom and gloom," she says. 

Nyree is on a mission to help others, so they don't have to go through what she did. 

"When I was diagnosed, I called myself the forgotten patient. I felt like there was no one else out there like me. There were no support groups... I didn't know a single soul that had pancreatic cancer that was alive, for me to talk to."

Nyree Smith.
Nyree Smith. Photo credit: Newshub.

More than 630 people in New Zealand are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. It has the lowest survival rate among all major cancers. 

But despite the concerning numbers, it can be a cancer that doesn't get a lot of attention. 

"Pancreatic cancer is the forgotten cancer - simply because so few people survive it," Liam Willis, the Gut Cancer Foundation Executive Officer, says. 

Because symptoms are so varied, the disease is often only picked up when it's too late.

"Around 80-85 percent of people will be diagnosed too late to be cured from this cancer," Willis says. "It often doesn't present any symptoms until it's very late in the diagnosis and it's often quite advanced."

Symptoms include back pain, a loss of appetite, jaundice and nausea. 

"That makes it difficult to spot... to diagnose... and very difficult to treat," he says. 

November is pancreatic cancer awareness month. 

Nyree says she's determined to shine a light on the disease with the time she has left. 

"I've survived this long for a reason... there are still people out there who need to know about it. As long as I've got breath, it keeps me going. It gives me something to fight for."

"If I could save one life - then I'm successful."