When café owner, Annarita, was given just two years to live, she was devastated. If the doctors were right, she wouldn’t see her children become teenagers. However, almost eight years and 150 brain mets later (yes you read that right!), Annarita is watching her children become young adults. She shares the highs and lows of her remarkable story with us.
“When my doctors told me that I had stage 4 lung cancer, I thought my life would be cut short. They gave me just two years to live, just two short years with my family. The thought of my kids without a mother was more than I could bear. They were only 10. Two years would only give me until they were 12. That’s a critical age for children.
I was an active 40-year-old, I went to the gym and did all the things you do when you have two young children.
When running with my friends, I noticed I was getting breathless. It gradually got worse and then I started coughing. I know if you have a cough for more than three weeks you should go to the GP.
I went back and forth several times for about seven months before I was sent for a chest x-ray. Before that doctors thought it could be asthma or chest infections, but never lung cancer.
I had surgery which unfortunately wasn’t successful. Then, I had six sessions of Chemotherapy which I didn’t tolerate at all. I was also on steroids which bloated me so much, I put so much weight on.
After chemotherapy, I had a biopsy which discovered that I had the ALK Mutation, so I could have targeted treatment. The first one I had lasted eight months; the second, ten months. The third one that I am on now, I have been for over two years.
I’m sorry, how many?
The thing with lung cancer, just as you start to adjust, it can throw you a curve ball! It was two years since I was first diagnosed – you’ll remember that was how long they originally gave me! I found out I had brain metastases.
They initially thought I had three. It was only when I was hooked up to the machine, that the radiologist said “Actually, you have 60!”
I’ve now had treatment for over 150 brain mets. Some were in delicate places and needed to be treated straightaway. One treatment took over six hours, but I didn’t care how long it took, I just wanted them gone!
I’ve also had bone mets, which have caused me quite a lot of pain. Advances in treatment and technology is phenomenal and these too have been successfully treated with radiotherapy.
It’s a dark place when you have been told you’re going to die. You can’t really focus on anything else. During treatment, I thought about death, a lot. It was really hard. I tried anti-depressants, but they weren’t right for me.
My sister practices Buddhism and she introduced me to her way of life. She recommended a lot of books and they really helped me get through the bad days.
Seven years on…
I try not to let my cancer interfere in my life. My children don’t want to talk about it, and neither do I. It’s not a secret, we just don’t shout about it. It’s something that I have, and I deal with.
Support is so important. My husband, Gio, and my children are reason to stay strong. Gio has been brilliant. He somehow finds ways to distract me from the illness. He found it hard at first, but we get through it together. I’d be lost without him.
My mother-in-law, my friends, my oncologist and my incredible nurses, Josie and Susan, have also been a massive support.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, this would have been a death sentence. New treatments mean that is no longer the case. I’ve had five more years than expected. I’ve been able to see my children grow up, and I hope I continue to see much more.
Life during covid-19
In lockdown nothing really changed for me, thankfully. I still do a lot of cooking and baking! My husband and son were very busy with extra work as they’re key workers.
I’m grateful that I’ve still been able to go to my hospital appointments during lockdown as I know others haven’t been able to.
I hope that things will get back to normal in the new year so that we can make the most of living, instead of living in fear of catching the virus.
I do find myself thinking “what if things get worse with covid-19?”, it is a worry but, I’m still full of hope. We’re lucky that Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are doing all they can to make sure people like me – who are living with lung cancer – aren’t forgotten about during the pandemic.”