Mother. Grandmother. Great grandmother. Runner. Pragmatist. Anne Libby is many things. She is also living with inoperable, incurable but treatable lung cancer, and it’s the treatable bit that she chooses to focus on.
Here, Anne shares her story about being a mum and living with lung cancer ahead of Mothers Day 2021.
“I didn’t have any obvious symptoms of lung cancer, or at least the symptoms you would most likely associate with lung cancer; I didn’t have a cough, no chest infections. I was getting a bit tired, lost a bit of weight but at the time this was because I was running a lot. But then I started to develop a little bit of a wheeze and a couple of other things just didn’t feel right.
Initially, the doctors thought it was just a virus. I then started to get lumps in my neck. I immediately thought it was lymphoma because my sister had passed away the year before with that. The doctors reassured me it wasn’t that, still insisting it was a virus. But I knew something wasn’t right. I believed it was cancer and eventually I was referred for tests. The x-ray confirmed something was on my lung and, more tests, scans, biopsies later, I was diagnosed with lung cancer.
I was told my lung cancer was inoperable and incurable. I went numb. But then they said the word ‘treatable’. My lung cancer was treatable, so I focused on that.
The first few days and weeks were really hard. I’m a very pragmatic and usually a very positive person so I took a deep breath and thought ‘Right, this is happening. You’ve got to come to terms with the fact that you’ve got a life limited illness. You don’t know how long you’ve got but let’s deal with it.
At this point, only my husband knew the diagnosis. I wanted to tell my daughters first but I also wanted to protect them so decided I wasn’t going to tell them until I had my treatment plan in place. That way, I could tell them in a more of a matter-of-fact way, to be able to say ‘I’ve got this but I’ve got my chemo in place. This is when it’s starting. This is what’s happening’.
It sounds strange but I was so happy to start chemo, despite knowing how bad the side effects can be. I was happy because to me, this is what was going to extend my life. It wasn’t going to cure me but it will give me a chance to live my life, and I’m so glad I’m still here because so many wonderful things have happened during my treatment, including the birth of my great grandson and my great niece.
Treatment was tough though. I was on a combination chemo and immunotherapy every three weeks. I tolerated it really well. The worst thing for me was the chronic fatigue. That was an awful feeling, especially when I was used to being so active.
But one of the things that I found difficult was all of the medication you took to counteract, or help with, your chemo or to help – steroids, for example. I found that really hard. Sleeplessness, mood changes. I was very angry which is not like me.
I also found it difficult to find information specifically about lung cancer, until I found Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. It’s my go to place for information because it’s specifically about lung cancer and the information on there is amazing. If I need to find out something about a specific thing, there’s always information on there and I always refer others to it too. For me, it’s the site I trust the most.
However, it was all worth it because the tumours have shrunk and they remain stable, which my new favourite word! I love hearing that word. Stable. When you get your latest scan results and they say the word ‘Stable’ it’s a huge relief because you can get on with living for another three months before the next scan.
At the moment, I’m feeling good. I’m on maintenance chemotherapy, palliative maintenance, they call it. I still manage to get out most days. That’s really important to me. . When I was first diagnosed and everything became too much, I’d go for a walk, I’ve got this place where I sit and meditate overlooking the bay.
Now, I have more good days than bad days and I’m back running. I’ve joined Roy’s Runners and loved doing the Retro Runs. I try and get out every day. If one day I can’t run, I would jog. If I can’t jog, I’ll walk. If I can’t walk, I’ll stroll and if I can’t stroll, I’d just go to my place and sit and breathe. It’s how I hope.
This is one of the main reasons I wanted to share my story, to show people that you can live a good life with lung cancer. I’ve got lung cancer but I don’t have a cough. I’m out running. I have good days and bad days but I am living with with lung cancer, and living well, and that’s what I will keep on doing for as long as I can.”