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20th March 2020

Finding happiness with stage four lung cancer

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The words happy and stage four lung cancer don’t seem like they would go together.

Being told you have incurable lung cancer is terrifying. You are grief striven as you focus on everything you are potentially going to leave behind.

However, there can be another side to lung cancer, one that does include happiness as these stage four lung cancer patients, today on International Day of Happiness [20th March], can attest to:

Heather

Heather is living with stage four lung cancer and bone metastases. She lives on the Isle of Man with her husband, Mike, and has two children, Danielle 21 and Rod, aged 20.

“Life is obviously different to what it was before my diagnosis. I have to work within my physical limitations. I have to pace myself and I’ve had to retire from work. But there’s still an awful lot to be enjoyed in life.

I still obviously love spending time with my family and friends. Most of my hobbies I can still do. I still read a lot. I still write my poetry. Since being diagnosed, I’ve learned a lot of new skills too. I’m teaching myself to play the guitar – not terribly well! I’ve become a Reiki practitioner and I’m also learning to sing.

I joined a singing class at our local hospice to help with breathless. But what started out as symptoms management has actually led me to discover the joy of singing. Maybe not quite such a great joy for those listening but nevertheless it makes me happy!

And I can still travel. Travel has always been my passion and, while I may not be able to do some of the trips I had planned, there are still many beautiful places I can experience. I had a wonderful journey on the Orient Express to Venice. My husband and I had a great holiday in the south of France.

We’ve also had a lot of trips within the UK, visiting cities we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. We’ve spent a lot of time down in Cornwall, which is lovely too, and Ireland. I’ve made a lot of great memories.”

David

David is living with stage four lung cancer which has now spread to the lining of his brain. He lives in Basildon with his wife Sonya. They have four children and five grandchildren, with number six on its way.

“I used to work a lot. I had a good job and was working hard for my family. But you didn’t get much time between shifts and I would miss out on time with my family.

Then cancer came along and it makes you realise what’s important. Family, my wife, all your kids and your grandchildren. They are much more important than work. We go to Southend for the day. Go trampolining. Go for a meal. It’s just nice to be with them.

My lung cancer diagnosis has made me get my priorities right, and that not going to work, not worrying about money, just your family. Don’t get me wrong, when I got diagnosed, I did worry about money initially, but I thought, worst case, we might lose our flat. But if that happened, we could move in with my daughter. It would be a bit hectic but I’m sure it would be alright. Clinging onto things isn’t what it’s about. It’s just about family and being happy.”

Sophie

Sophie is living with stage four lung cancer. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes, spine and ribs. She also had ‘more brain tumours than the doctors could count’.

“I have been to the brink of death, but I’m not dying right now. I’m living, thriving, working, creating. I live full out. I remember thinking if I can’t live long, I’m going to live deep and I’m going to live loud and I’m going to live unbridled.

I know other patients who live unbridled and, somehow, we pack life into what we have. That’s the gift of cancer. There are gifts in this disease. One is that you suck the marrow out of every moment. I’m a thriver.

It’s hard to describe the most uplifting thing to happen to me since my diagnosis because it been a profoundly uplifting experience in many ways.

When your life is on the line, you want to pick up the dreams that you’ve left on the shelf along the way. My biggest dream was to write and be a writer. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 10 years old and it blew my mind. I wanted to be a writer from then. But then I fell in love with the transformation work that I was doing, and I put writing down.

Cancer has given me that vocation again and now I’ve written two Sunday Times bestselling non-fiction books, with The Cancer Whisperer being translated into 12 different languages.

I love to write. It’s such a joy in my life. I find it healing so cancer’s given me back a gift and a talent that I had neglected for a really long time, so thank you lung cancer for that!”

Tony

After initially having curative intent treatment, Tony then find out he had stage four lung cancer with brain and kidney mets. It’s hard to imagine how you get over that, but Tony did and with a smile on his face.

“I’ve always been quite a positive person. I can remember when I first got the stage four diagnosis. I didn’t really think ‘Oh my god, this is going to kill me’. I actually thought, ‘There must be something we can do here’.

Fortunately, there was. I was tested for mutations and the results came back that I was EGFR+ and could have targeted therapy. So, whilst I felt unlucky that I got lung cancer, I was quite lucky that I had this mutation, and the follow-on mutation T790.

Life, for me, is good and now that I’ve learned to cope with the side effects of my treatment, there’s nothing that lung cancer stops me doing.

I was worried that it might stop me going to my daughter’s wedding in Italy, but I was there, walking her down the aisle. That day was happiness personified.”

Emma

It’s taken Emma (left) a long time to come to terms with her lung cancer diagnosis, but now she has, she is beginning to experience happiness again.

“Life’s simpler since I was diagnosed. Before then, I was always in a rush – get the kids to school, go to work, get home, cook dinner, tidy up. It was frantic. Now everything is a bit calmed and I have more perspective. If I don’t want to cook, I don’t cook. If I don’t want to wash up, I don’t wash up!

I enjoy sitting in the rain, dragging my mum round endless supermarket trips – things you had time for. I’m focusing on what I want to do, which can be hard because it doesn’t come naturally, but it’s what I’m trying to do now.

And what I wanted to do was go somewhere every month for a year. I went to New York and Cancun. I got married in Turkey, so I went back to where I got married. Then I went to Edinburgh, Newquay, just lots of different place and it was just beautiful.

My favourite place was Whitby because I went with my mum. My mum loves it there. It’s a very special place to her as that’s where she scattered my grandparent’s ashes.

It was something that I shared with others. I went with my husband, or I went with my mum. It made me feel very positive.”

Some of the people in this story are part of our online lung cancer community.

If you’re living with lung cancer, you can talk to others diagnosed with the disease, as well as ask questions and share experiences, on our online forum.