After a TV advert prompted her to visit her GP, Cath was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2015. Her oncologist believed that the tumour had been growing for at least 10 years. Thankfully, Cath’s diagnosis was early enough to have surgery with curative intent. She shares her story and advice for anyone going through similar:
“The tumour was close to both the top and bottom lobes of my lung. Pre-surgery, I was advised that once anaesthetised, a sample would be taken and tested from the top lobe. If there was any evidence of lung cancer in that top lobe then they would have to remove my whole lung.
This was a terrifying prospect. I had been quite naïve in thinking just the tumour would be removed and I had never really considered that a whole section of my lung or even the entire lung would need to be removed.
I noticed that I had a persistent cough and had been coughing for 5 weeks. I tried different types of cough mixture, but nothing was working.
I was getting tired and breathless quickly when running my usual 5K three times a week – I had never experienced this before. It was September so I thought my symptoms were due to the time of year, or as a result of the upheaval after recently moving to a new house.
My coughing fits then progressed and lead me to suffer from laryngospasm, where I coughed but was unable to breath again. I started to panic as I knew something wasn’t right.
Thanks Sir Alex
The Get Checked Early adverts that Sir Alex Ferguson starred in prompted me to visit my GP. Initially, my concerns were dismissed, and I was told to go back in another month if I was still coughing.
The advert itself said ‘If you have had a cough for three weeks or more, get checked out’. But as I didn’t fall into the high-risk categories, I wasn’t sent for any tests.
After visiting A&E following developing significant breathing difficulties, I visited a different GP and was referred for a chest X-Ray. A CT scan soon after revealed that I had a tumour on my lung, as well as irregularities in other parts of my body which needed to be investigated.
Understandably, I was quite panicked when I learned that my whole lung might have to be removed.
The nurses and my surgeon, Alan Kirk, at Golden Jubilee Hospital were very good at calming me down. Mr Kirk talked me through my CT scan and the whole procedure. He assured me that a full pneumonectomy would be a last resort as he was sure that the smaller VATS surgery was all that would be required… and he was right.
I had a lobectomy of my left lung via VATS (video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery) under the capable hands of Mr Kirk. Recovery after surgery was remarkably quick, after a night in intensive care I was quickly back to the ward and getting on with physio required to keep the lung working and get the post-surgery fluids out from my chest.
I chose not to have any visitors at hospital during my recovery. This was my preference to enjoy some time by myself, listening to the radio, reading my book and nodding off when I could.
It was a relatively short stay in the hospital, my surgery was on the on the Wednesday and I was discharged by the Saturday – but I still had about three months of post-surgery recovery before I was physically fit to get back to work.
As there is a higher risk of atypical tumours to spread beyond the lungs, I am having checks for 10 years post-surgery.
My manager at work is very understanding regarding my check-ups. After the first few I did worry for about six weeks after in case there were any results showing that the cancer had returned. After 5 years, I worry less and have adopted the ‘no news is good news approach’, if something was untoward, I know it would be followed up quickly by the team who look after me.
I’m lucky to have a close circle of friends who all helped me get through the emotional rollercoaster that a cancer diagnosis brings.
I want to tell those who are currently going through treatment or surgery to talk to people who have been through it.
You don’t need to deal with this on your own. Don’t underestimate the impact a diagnosis and treatment can have on your mental health. I may have been physically fit enough to get back to work, but it took me a long time to get back to full concentration. I can now talk about my experience without being so emotional.
Life is a bit different. Having a diagnosis of lung cancer changes your outlook on life.
It made me realise I’m only here once and, it has rejuvenated my attitude that if an opportunity comes along to go somewhere, or do something, I should take it.
I’m so glad I didn’t ignore the symptoms. It’s thanks to the advert and Sir Alex Ferguson that I went to the GP in the first place. If I’d have ignored the symptoms and taken the advice of the first doctor, the outcome for me could have been very different.
It isn’t just people who smoke who can get lung cancer. The judgemental attitude that someone diagnosed with lung cancer has caused it themselves needs to stop. More people need to realise that if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. It’s as simple as that.”