“I was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. It was June and I coughed up some blood – just the once – but it was enough for me to go to the doctor. He sent me for a chest x ray which revealed a large tumour, stage 3 lung cancer.
It was totally unexpected and all I knew about lung cancer was it wasn’t a good one to have in terms of surviving. This turned out to be more true than I imagined. The survival statistics for lung cancer are shockingly poor and, when I first realised what they actually were, I was totally overwhelmed by it.
Looking back, I realised I had been extremely tired, beyond what I should have been, for about a year. But I was coming up to 50, I worked full time, I had two daughters and everyone I knew was tired so there wasn’t anything strange in that. I now realise that was a symptom I should have listened to. That said, if I’d gone to the doctor and said I’m tired, the last thing I would have been thinking about was getting sent for a chest x ray. Lung cancer wouldn’t even have been on my consciousness and I doubt it would have been on the doctors either.
Fortunately, even though I didn’t go to my doctor when I first had symptoms, I was still able to have surgery. I had the top lobe of my lung removed. I thought that was the end of it and, for five years, it was. However, in 2014, the lung cancer returned and I was re-diagnosed.
When I was first diagnosed, I soon learnt lung cancer carries a stigma obviously related to smoking. People would say ‘I didn’t know you smoked’. To begin with, I was keen to get it out there that I had never smoked but then I took a step back and thought what am I saying – I don’t deserve it but if you smoked you do? I realised this was totally wrong for me so now, unless I’m asked, I don’t ever say it.
“I think part of the problem with lung cancer is a lot of people are very unwell and there aren’t as many survivors who are able to carry the message about lung cancer on.”The average prognosis for a person with lung cancer is just 200 days
I do understand where this attitude comes from. The statistics are high, there is a high correlation between smoking and lung cancer. But I think we also need to get the message out there that there are a lot of people who have never smoked who also have lung cancer.
It shouldn’t matter. It should be totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter at all. Whether you smoked or whether you didn’t, it really doesn’t matter. Nobody deserves to have lung cancer and nobody deserves to have a stigma attached to it.
I think part of the problem with lung cancer is a lot of people are very unwell and there aren’t as many survivors who are able to carry the message about lung cancer on.
I said to a friend – how many people do you know with breast cancer and was counting them out on her fingers. Then I said how many people do you know with lung cancer and she went one – me. But this can’t be right. A lot of people have lung cancer but it’s not seen in society in the same way.
People don’t or can’t share their story so I think this is fantastic opportunity to try and highlight that we’re here and we do need help with research and treatment.”