Celtic legend Frank McGarvey's pancreatic cancer symptoms were "palmed off" for months by GPs and missed by doctors who insisted he was "fit as a fiddle" just weeks before the former footballer discovered he was terminally ill.

Mr McGarvey's daughter, Jenny Kane, has spoken to the Herald for the first time about her father's ordeal, saying that it was his dying wish his own experience could be used to raise awareness and help others suffering from the devastating disease to be diagnosed earlier.

"My Dad said to me 'we need to tell people about this - there might be someone else in my shoes who just thinks they have gastroenteritis or indigestion'.

"He was so passionate, and that's why I'll never stop."

The Herald: Jenny, pictured with her father Frank McGarvey who died on New Year's Day 2023Jenny, pictured with her father Frank McGarvey who died on New Year's Day 2023 (Image: McGarvey family)

The 66-year-old, who became Scotland's most expensive footballer when he was signed to Celtic for £270,000 in 1980, died in a Lanarkshire hospice - surrounded by his four children - in the early hours of New Year's Day this year.

He had been diagnosed with incurable stage four pancreatic cancer in October 2022 and was told the following month that he was too sick to survive potentially life-extending chemotherapy.

"We were just devastated," said Mrs Kane, who had just discovered she was pregnant with her third child at the time.

"Right up until he got the news he was so adamant that he was going to fight it.

"It was heartbreaking - he was so hopeful that he could be the one to beat it, and knowing his character he would have given it a good go."

FULL STORY: 'Charismatic and larger than life' - A Scottish football icon and his battle with cancer

The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in the UK is just 7.3% - the lowest for any of the common cancers, and a statistic which has barely changed in 50 years.

More than 900 people a year in Scotland are diagnosed with the disease, but only 10% of cases are detected in time for surgery. For those who are, five-year survival increases to 30%.

With no routine screening programme, early detection relies on symptoms being investigated early.

These can include jaundice, upper abdominal or mid-back pain and discomfort, pale and smelly stools, loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, new-onset diabetes not associated with weight gain, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

On average, most people visit their GP four times before being diagnosed.


Mrs Kane, 36, said her father's symptoms began in Spring 2022 with mysterious chest pain which he initially blamed on having being struck by a car door.

As it spread to his back, he lost his appetite and began losing weight.

GPs diagnosed indigestion but, as symptoms persisted, took blood tests for helicobacter - a common bacteria which can lead to gastric ulcers.

Mrs Kane, from Glasgow, said the process was complicated by long waits for a face-to-face appointment and the surgery's reliance on locums, which meant her father had no consistent doctor.

"I felt like we were just getting palmed off," she said.

"They were not taking any of this seriously until it came to the summer time by which time I was ferociously emailing the doctor's week after week to say 'look, someone has to take this seriously'.

"By that time my Dad had lost two stone in the space of two months - surely that's not indigestion?"

The Herald: Frank McGarvey scored over 100 goals for Celtic during a five-year stint at the club from 1980 to 1985Frank McGarvey scored over 100 goals for Celtic during a five-year stint at the club from 1980 to 1985 (Image: Getty)

In August, Mr McGarvey was taken to A&E in Glasgow with severe chest pains. An X-ray found signs of inflammation in his sternum but medics gave him the all-clear.

Mrs Kane said: "I sat there and watched the doctor tell him there was nothing wrong with him - 'you're fit as a fiddle, Frank'.

"Yet he was coming to my door every week skinnier and skinnier, not eating, weak, with this constant pain in his chest, and painkillers weren't doing anything.

"This is a man who never took paracetamol in his life - he didn't believe in medication - but he was wanting as much pain relief as he could get."

Mrs Kane and her three brothers were clubbing together to pay for their father to undergo an endoscopy privately when he was finally sent for the procedure on the NHS at the end of September 2022.

A week later he was told he had cancer.

He is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren, and Susan, his partner of 14 years.

The Herald: Jenny Kane pictured with her three daughters, Jessica (5), Antonia (2) and four month old Francesca 'Frankie', who was named after her late grandfatherJenny Kane pictured with her three daughters, Jessica (5), Antonia (2) and four month old Francesca 'Frankie', who was named after her late grandfather (Image: Pancreatic Cancer Action)

Mrs Kane, who is backing Pancreatic Cancer Action Scotland's #Missed campaign, said the family are dreading their first Christmas without him.

She said: "It's going to be so, so tough this year.

"The 'missing' campaign is so poignant because his symptoms were so badly missed, time after time, and he definitely will be sorely missed."

Joe Kirwin, chief executive for Pancreatic Cancer Action, said: "Many families across Scotland will be missing their loved ones lost to pancreatic cancer this Christmas.

"The McGarvey family is spending their first Christmas without Frank because his symptoms were missed.

"Our #MISSEDatChristmas fundraising campaign seeks to ensure that other families don’t have to go through the same thing.

"In the UK, around 26 people die every day from pancreatic cancer.

"All the money raised from the campaign will go towards fighting for earlier diagnosis to help ensure that more people aren’t missed at Christmas."