12th April 2019

Amanda Sands

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As a GP in the army, Amanda recognises there is a lack of awareness about lung cancer and who it can affect amongst the general public and healthcare professionals. Whilst acknowledging that lung cancer is still a disease which is more prevalent in the older generation, she is urging GPs to remember lung cancer can happen to anyone and that it is so important to take time to listen to a person’s story.

“If someone has got a cough for more than three weeks you need to be thinking what could be causing this and think about doing some kind of investigation such as a chest x-ray. likewise, if someone has got a wheeze and it doesn’t really fit in with their previous history, or have a history of any allergies, again you need to be thinking about doing some further investigations.

Amanda, living with lung cancer.

GPs haven’t really heard of my type of lung cancer. I’ve got an ALK rearrangement which is a type of mutation. I am a GP in the army and none of my colleagues have heard of that kind of lung cancer.

I had a bit of a cough, and also felt tight chested. I just thought “this is pollen related” and my GP agreed.

But over the next six weeks, my cough developed, and I had really difficulty walking uphill without getting short of breath, which was very unusual for me – I was generally pretty fit.

“I tell people I have lung cancer because I think it’s really important to raise awareness. A lot of people can’t believe that I’ve got lung cancer because I’m a not smoker and I’m young.”

Amanda was diagnosed with lung cancer aged 48

I went back to the GP and that time I said I need a chest x-ray. When it came back abnormal, I said I wanted an urgent CT chest scan because I thought there could potentially be something serious going on.

At that point, I was told it could be lymphoma or TB. There was an outside chance that it could be lung cancer but because I was a non-smoker and because of my age, it was only an outside chance.

I had a lymph node biopsy from my neck because the cancer had spread to my neck and when that came back showing lung cancer, I knew it was a stage 4, incurable diagnosis.

I was shocked. You just don’t think that you’re going to be a young, female non-smoker and get lung cancer. No one know what has caused it. It’s not smoking related. It’s due to some kind of genetic mutation. no one knows what causes it only that it is on the rise within young female who don’t smoke.”

Living with late stage lung cancer

“Lung cancer hasn’t really stopped me doing a lot of things. I still try to be active and challenge myself. I’m back at work full time.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve learnt to ballroom dance and performed in Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Strictly Ballroom dance competition last year. I’ve also returned to doing snow sports, in particular skiing. I’ve just learnt to Nordic Ski and am taking part in a Nordic Ski marathon which is 55km long so I’m busy doing training for that!

I get through the bad days by just trying to stay positive and think of things that I am thankful for.

I tell people I have lung cancer because I think it’s really important to raise awareness. A lot of people can’t believe that I’ve got lung cancer because I’m a not smoker and I’m young. They still think lung cancer is only in people who are in an older age group and who have a history of smoking. I’m proof it can happen to anyone and people need to understand that.”

Advice to people with symptoms, and to healthcare professionals

“If you’ve got symptoms, go and see your GP. If you’re really concerned, I think it’s fine to discuss with them your concerns and talk about whether or not you should have some further investigations, rather than just delaying it.

As a GP, we deal with coughs and upper respiratory tract infections a lot of the time. They’re bread and butter consultations, but I think it’s important to take time and listen to your patients concerns. You need to take people’s symptoms seriously and think that there could be something else going on.”