Challenging nihilistic perceptions of lung cancer
It is everyone’s greatest fear to be told they have cancer, but when that diagnosis is lung cancer, the fear seems to go to another level.
With historically stubborn survival rates, lung cancer does remain the UK’s biggest cancer killer, so it is no surprise that so many people think if you have lung cancer that you are going to die, and die very quickly. This fear can sometimes stop people from seeking out helping and acting on symptoms, especially those who have smoke or have smoked with guilt and fear of judgement compounding their inaction.
However, when lung cancer is caught early, it can be successfully treated. It can be cured whilst advances in treatment means more people are living well with later stage disease.
It’s been 23 years since Bill Culbard was diagnosed. He was afraid to go to the doctor because, having smoked, he knew his persistent cough could be a sign of lung cancer. His fear was intensified because he’d seen his father died of the disease.
But Bill took action and, whilst his fear became reality, it was not the death sentence he expected – even when he was told his cancer was inoperable.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and then two years of follow up scans, Bill got the all clear. His consultant said, in the nicest possible way, “I don’t want to see you again.” And he never did!
The 10-year milestone
Bill has featured in many of our awareness campaigns but his story is far from the only long term survivor story. Joe Crofts and Pat Crawford have both surpassed the 10-year survival milestone having had their lung cancer caught early.
Joe was diagnosed in 2011 at just 35 years old. Since his surgery, he has fallen in love with cycling and five years on from his surgery took on our London to Paris cycling challenge which saw him complete the 100-mile ride in just four days.
There’s no point telling people who are worried they may have lung cancer not to worry. It’s a worrying thing. It’s a serious thing. But don’t put it off because, if you do have lung cancer, it’s not going to get better without going and finding out you have lung cancer and getting treatment. And if you don’t, finding out you don’t stops all the worry.
Pat Crawford was diagnosed with early stage disease over 11 years ago. She had been suffering from a bad chest infection and was sent for a scan. On the scan, they found a tiny ‘insignificant’ nodule on her right lung. They recommended Pat had a follow up scan six months later – just as a precaution. When she did, the nodule had grown and later confirmed to be cancerous.
Since her surgery, Pat took on our abseil challenge to show people that people can live a normal life (if you considering abseiling down the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral normal!) without part of or even without the whole of their lung.
The importance of detecting lung cancer early
People diagnosed at the earliest stage are nearly 20 times more likely to survive for five years than those whose cancer is caught late. In Bill, Joe and Pat’s case, those five years sooner turned into 10 then more.
Living well with late stage lung cancer
Sadly, not all lung cancers can be diagnosed early. The nature of lung cancer means, in some cases, symptoms only start to show when the cancer has advanced. However, advances in treatment means we are seeing more people live well with lung cancer for far longer.
When Spike was first diagnosed with lung cancer and a secondary brain tumour, he was told he had between 6-12 months to live. That was in 2018.
Spike underwent a biomarker test to confirm the type of lung cancer he had. When the results came back, a whole new treatment line of targeted therapies opened up and Spike’s cancer is now stable.
Following my diagnosis, I had several wishes that gave me hope. I wanted to have another Christmas with my wife and family. I want to see my wife thrive in her career after completing her master’s degree. I wanted to see my daughter start Year 5 and watch my son walk through the school gates of his secondary school. Those wishes have all come true.Spike, living with stage 4 ALK+ lung cancer
When it comes to wishes and lung cancer, everyone diagnosed hopes for a miracle. For Glenys, that miracle came true this year.
Glenys was living with late stage lung cancer after suffering with pain in her clavicle, which had moved down her arm. In January 2020, she received the devastating news that she had lung cancer. Initially told the plan was treat-to-cure, Glenys’s biopsy result changed matters.
My daughter got married in December 2020. I remember going wedding dress shopping with her, watching her find her perfect dress. I sat there thinking to myself, would I get to see her in that dress. I asked my consultant about it at time, and he said he’d like to think that I’d see more than that.
Instead, Glenys started on immunotherapy. It was a gruelling regime with some nasty side effects. Glenys managed to complete most of the course but, eventually, the decision was made to stop the treatment in July 2022 because it was making her sicker than the cancer! Then in June 2023, Glenys received the news she never thought she’d hear… She was in remission.
Not only did Glenys get to see her daughter get married, at the beginning of this year she also welcomed her first grandchild. Now, with news of her remission, Glenys is now planning a life watching him grow up.
Forget everything you think you know about lung cancer
When lung cancer is caught early, it is easier to treat. Surgery has evolved and now many people with early stage disease have keyhole surgery which significantly shortens recovery time. In some cases, people are discharged the next day whilst others have gone on holiday a month after surgery.
For those facing a later stage disease, the development of new ways to treat lung cancer, such as targeted therapies and immunotherapies, means people are able to live relatively normal lives for many years.
So, for anyone experiencing symptoms, don’t delay. The sooner you find out, the better your chances to live.
Do you have a lung cancer story to tell?
Share your experience and help us challenge the dangerous misconceptions of lung cancer.