Talking about lung cancer can be hard. It certainly is for Emma, who talked openly about having lung cancer for the first time after being diagnosed seven years ago.
“I avoid talking about my diagnosis. Day to day, people will ask me what do you do for work. I explain that I’m retired. The reply is ‘Lucky you! Did you win the lottery?’ Not so much.
When you get diagnosed with it, it’s everywhere. It’s where you go to get the bus, it’s on the bus shelter. You listen to the radio, its on the radio. It saturates you.
I dealt with it by hiding myself away.
For about 10 days after treatment, I would just stay in my room. I wouldn’t let anyone visit. This was to protect them from seeing me so low, and so poorly.
Then I just got into this cycle of counting down. There was four left. There were two left. There was one left. Each chemo got harder as more poison was in my body, but I was determined to get to the end of it.
Then, at the end of all the treatment, I just expected to bounce back and for it to have left my body. But that took a long time. It took a long time to be able to walk to the end of my street, to pick up a pen, to write my name, to taste food.
The biggest thing, post treatment, was the hair, losing part of your own identity when your hair falls out. You change, and just looking in the mirror is really hard.
But, once you see growth – your hair grows, your nails grow – you feel like you’ve come back to yourself.
Living with lung cancer
Life’s simpler since my diagnosis.
Before, everything was such a rush. I would get the kids to school, go to work. I worked with children with very challenging behaviour, so it would be frantic. I’d get home. It would be ticking the list of the tea, the pots, your life, waiting for the weekend.
But now, if I don’t wash the pots, I don’t wash the pots. If I don’t want to cook, I don’t cook. There’s no daily tick list. It’s more ‘what do I want to do?, which is hard, believe it or not, because you feel selfish. It is really hard to do what you want to do. But that is what I try to do now.
I wanted to go somewhere every month for a year. I went to New York and Cancun. I got married in Turkey, so I went back there. Edinburgh. Newquay. Just lots of different place every month and it was just beautiful. It made me feel very positive.
My favourite place was Whitby, because I went with my mum and she loves it. She scattered my grandparents ashes there, so it was a bit more of a heart tug.
I am not a cancer warrior
I’m a mum, a daughter, a wife. I have great days when I can pick myself and be fine, and I have days when its grey and there’s no fight left.
I think to say warrior it’s saying you’re tough and you’re strong and no one is. To try and aspire to be that, you can make yourself feel like you’re letting yourself down. You’re not. You’re just being human. We all cry, and we all need to hide away. We also need people who can come round, and pick us up and say it’s ok to cry and not be strong that day.
That’s what I’ve learnt and I hope that when I’m back on chemo – because I will be at some point – it will be different. I’ve excepted that it’s ok to be ill, that I can’t protect everyone and that I will need them.”
Emma shared her story as part of our Follow my Lead campaign for Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2019. Follow my Lead aims to improve conversations around lung cancer and help those affected to address and deal with a diagnosis.