Ali continues to make improvements to the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer her mission, and through PCA and its collaborators, she is determined to make the UK’s public and medical profession sit up and listen about pancreatic cancer.
Ali was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in October 1965. She is married to Phil and has two grown-up sons, James and Nick.
In 2007, having accepted a place from Imperial College, London to pursue a PhD in stable isotope cosmochemistry, (which included the study of meteorites), Ali was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Unlike 90% of the patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Ali was lucky: her illness was detected early enough to allow a life-saving operation. In fact, Ali was just one of the 10% of people who are ever able to have life-saving surgery. After undergoing a ‘distal pancreatectomy’ and ‘splenectomy’ where 80% of the pancreas and all of the spleen is removed, Ali received 6 months of combination chemotherapy and then 6 weeks of chemo-radiotherapy treatment.
Since her surgery, scans have shown ‘no evidence of disease,’ and in 2013, six years after her diagnosis, Ali was ‘signed-off’ by her oncologist. Read more of Ali’s pancreatic cancer story.
Having taken the bull by the horns and completed a year of the PhD course at Imperial College, Ali decided academic demands, plus a long daily commute to London, were taking a toll on family life and put it on hold.
But she put this new available time to good use. Having been astounded by the dismal survival rates of pancreatic cancer patients and by the little or no improvement in these rates over the last 40 years, Ali joined forces with others to set up the UK’s very first Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Week in November 2009.
Her passion to encourage early diagnosis for the illness prompted Ali to found Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA) in August 2010. Finding great support from UK-wide specialists (including her own surgeon and now PCA trustee), Ali initially worked with leading researchers to develop key pancreatic cancer facts and statistics, which are regularly requested by the media at home and abroad. In September 2011, Ali managed to persuade British and Hollywood actor, Hugh Grant (who lost his own mother to pancreatic cancer) to become patron of PCA. Other patrons now include British actress Joanna David, former Apprentice and now Countdown presenter Nick Hewer and TV medic Dr Hilary Jones.
Key Opinion Leader and spokesperson
Ali is in great demand as a Key Opinion Leader and media spokesperson for pancreatic cancer having recently been interviewed on BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Britain, This Morning, Sky Sunrise, Sky News, ITV News, Newsnight and many regional BBC and ITV news programmes.
She is often invited to do radio interviews across the UK for both BBC and independent radio stations and for international radio stations such as BBC World Service, Melbourne 10 and CBS Canada and is often asked to comment on press articles. Ali has also been featured in articles in many UK national newspapers and in some women’s magazines.
International and pan-European work
Ali holds positions in varying societies/initiatives representing pancreatic cancer and Pancreatic Cancer Action across the world including:
- Pancreatic Cancer Europe (multi-stakeholder platform) – Awareness work-group lead and Diagnosis work-group member
- World Pancreatic Cancer Day – Steering Group Vice Chair
- World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition – Steering Group Vice Chair
- EU Pancreas COST Action (BM1204) a platform that unites research groups across Europe – Ali is a member of WG 4 patient management
- PCA is a member organisation of the European Cancer Patient Coalition
Building a great reputation as a public speaker, Ali is often asked to speak on pancreatic cancer at conferences and other events across the world. She has recently spoken at events such as:
- The All Party Parliamentary Group on Pancreatic Cancer (Westminster);
- The All Party Group on Cancer (Northern Ireland);
- 2015 BIO International Convention, Philadelphia;
- The Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology, London;
- The Pancreatic Cancer Forum, Milan;
- Multi-Stakeholder Platform on Pancreatic Cancer, Brussels;
- Greek Society of Cancer Patients, Athens;
- The 50 Plus Show, London;
- Pancreatic Course, Southampton University (2016);
- Diabetes UK Symposium, Glasgow (2016);
- European Society for Medical Oncology, Copenhagen (2016).
Tying in the occupational health work of the charity, she has spoken at corporate events for organisations such as Royal Bank of Scotland, Lockton, Celgene and Baxalta and has assisted in the training events for employees of pharmaceutical companies with an interest in pancreatic cancer in the UK and Europe.