3rd December 2021

Heather’s lung cancer story

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Heather Croft from Stockton-on-tees is a retired police officer, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She’s also living with incurable, but treatable lung cancer. The diagnosis left Heather and her family utterly speechless. But, nearly three years later, she’s living well with lung cancer thanks to targeted therapy – she even completed the Great North Run this year.

“When I received my diagnosis, I was told that although incurable, I did have options and one of the first things they needed to do was test for genetic mutations.

Those few weeks waiting for results of the tests were the longest few weeks of my life. Targeted therapy seemed like the best option, but there was only a 15% chance of having one of the four treatable mutations at the time.

The results came through after about a month – three calls, three negative tests and then the final call that my last mutation test was positive – I had a targetable EGFR mutation. I was elated.  

A week later I started Afatinib 40mg (one tablet a day), and this tablet has miraculously kept my cancer sleeping for nearly three years now. 

Side effects

The side effects can be brutal, it seems to dry everything from the inside to out! I have nail infections, dry brittle unruly hair and eyelashes, diarrhoea, skin rashes, water infections and tiredness. However, I have become an expert in battling these side effects and refuse to let them stop me enjoying my life. 

I am stable and riding this train for as long as I can!

To help cope with these side effects of treatment, I make sure I do lots of exercise, whether it be the gym, walking or even doing some stretching exercises at home. It depends on how I feel. Being in the outdoors or up early for the gym makes me feel less lethargic somehow, and I really believe the endorphins greatly assist and make me feel calmer.

Living with this diagnosis has taught me to take notice of the little things more, whether it be spending quality time with my kids and grandkids or watching the birds in the garden. I look after my grandchildren a few days a week and go to the gym as normal. I try and make the most of every day, making sure I book treats in my diary to look forward to, be it a holiday, a special meal or just a few days away with my friends or family.

I utilise Facebook groups to ask others for assistance and my lung cancer nurse specialists have helped me find the right creams and tablets to keep my symptoms under control.

If you are reading this and are dealing with side effects of treatment, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have found that I should ask for help more if I’m struggling. Contact your lung cancer nurse, or the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Ask the Nurse helpline.

I try to be my own advocate and be aware of potential new treatments and options, but I don’t like to dwell on my future health too much. I concentrate on the present and the many precious and positive things in my life.

I know that treatment will stop working eventually and my health may deteriorate quickly, but in the meantime, I have experienced some fantastic milestones: the arrival of my second grandchild, the wedding of my eldest daughter and trips to New York and Florida.

The Great North Run

When I was first diagnosed, my elder daughter Lori declared that she was going to raise funds and awareness for lung cancer by entering the Great North Run. I later decided that I was fit enough to join her. I had completed the run before, but this time I felt that over 2 years into my cancer journey, I was one of the lucky ones to be able to run the race. I also got to experience the run with my daughter and spend quality time with her training for the race.

We chose Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation as they had assisted me by hosting a Local Information Day which greatly improved mine and my family’s understanding of lung cancer. We liked the way the charity offers support, guidance and also funds research into the disease.  

My friends and colleagues have also fundraised on my behalf for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Cleveland Police and NERSOU raised £2,463 doing a sponsored walk, baking sales and raffles when I was first diagnosed in 2019 and in May this year my friend Kath Lee raised £3,681 doing the Yorkshire Coast to Coast (196 miles!)”