Mark's Story

Mark van der Sluis

Mark's Story

At just 45 years old, Mark van der Sluis was unprepared for the way his life would soon be turned upside down. A guru in marketing and sales at Roland Australia, a job that combined his love of piano with his passion for helping people, Mark was living the dream.

“I love playing the piano, so being able to work with Roland, the company that makes the digital pianos was just amazing… I’ve been there now for 30 years!”

However, everything changed in April of 2012. It was Easter, and Mark, his wife Frankie and their two kids were camping at Kingscliff in Northern NSW when he began to experience severe abdominal pain.

“Originally, I thought that it was possibly a bladder infection or another episode of Diverticulitis, which I had been diagnosed with prior. Frankie encouraged me to go to the Gold Coast Hospital where they did a CT scan which came back positive for Diverticulitis. That’s when they said we’ve also found this tumour on your pancreas. It was 3.8cm when they found it, and the surgeon said I had about a two-week window between it being operable or not. I didn’t know where the pancreas was, let alone what pancreatic cancer was. I remember just looking at Frankie and she just turned white, white as a ghost.”

In 2012, Mark underwent a 10-hour Whipple Procedure to remove his tumour, and whilst the procedure was successful, it proved to be just the start of Mark’s journey.

“The recovery from the procedure was difficult. I remember being in so much pain, pain beyond my wildest dreams, even the thought of surviving was difficult. But then, Frankie came in on a day I was feeling down. She brought in these photos of all the things I had to look forward to, all the things I loved. Photos of the kids, us as a family, and even a photo of Hawaii, which was a holiday we had talked about taking. I think it just put things in perspective, and gave me something to look at, to fight for. Because now I knew I needed to fight.”

And fight he most certainly did. Just three months after undergoing the Whipple procedure, Mark returned to work at Roland, “They were amazing, they made so many accommodations for me, to make my life easier” and started to get his life back on track, starting with a furry addition to the family- a Cavoodle named Bentley!

“He’s my little wingman and such a great distraction for the family. And when I’m feeling overwhelmed with the lot I’ve been dealt, he’s so great to have around. Walking in the park or cuddling on the sofa is just the kind of medicine you need!”

And as of this year, Mark is happy to say he is 11 years cancer-free.

“11 years on from my diagnosis, and the conversation globally has just got louder. The biggest thing for me, especially when I was living day by day, was that there weren’t that many people talking about pancreatic cancer or even aspects of the journey, because no one was living to tell those stories. Today, it’s great to see so many more people getting the treatment they need earlier, being diagnosed earlier, and living to tell the tale. But there is still such a long way to go.”

Mark is incredibly passionate about increasing awareness for pancreatic cancer and providing a voice of hope and support for those currently living with the disease.

“I’d love to grow old and look at survival rates that are insanely better than they are now and say ‘I helped that’. It’s been 11 years since I went through this, and I’m not kidding when I say I've just now found my voice. It was too hard to talk about before this. Too raw, painful and emotional. My biggest driver now is to let other survivors know that they aren’t alone and to show them they can survive this. I wish that when I was going through it I’d met someone, or been introduced to a survivor that was just further upstream from me so I knew what to expect. Now I can be that person for other people.”