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15th September 2020

I am Still Here: Andrew Libby

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Saxophonist, Andrew Libby, knows when lung cancer is diagnosed early, it can be cured because that’s exactly what happened to him. He’s now urging others to take note of any symptoms they have so they can have a similar outcome to him…

I never knew you could have surgery on your lungs, so when I was diagnosed with lung cancer my heart sank. I just thought lung cancer was one of the worst types of cancers and that there was no way through it, so I immediately asked the doctor ‘How long did I have?’.

He told me to slow down and to take a breath. He explained I had stage 2 non-small cell lung cancer and that there was curative intent treatment available.

I went away and starting to read about surgery on your lungs. It was fascinating. I learnt that you could have a section of your lung removed, or even the whole of your lung. It was all news to me.

Initially, I was told that, because of the tumour was close to my heart, they would have to take out the whole lung. However, I then saw the leading surgeon in the Midlands who believed he could just take out the top lobe of my left lung.

Going in for surgery was a very scary moment. I’d been in the Army for 20 years, but I had never felt so scared in all my life. But six hours later, I opened my eyes and learnt the operation had been a success. He had got out the whole tumour and there was a negative margin around what they got. I still needed chemo, but it was gone.

I didn’t have a cough

You’d think, if someone has lung cancer that they must have a cough. I didn’t. My only symptom was a croaky voice. I was working as a music teacher and noticed my voice was getting quite weak during lessons. I’m also in a band and couldn’t sing anymore.

I went to the doctors and got referred to a throat specialist who saw one of my vocal cords was paralysed. We have two vocal cords and they wobble together to make the sound of your voice but one of mine wasn’t moving. I was told this normally means something more sinister because something is pressing on the nerve.

Lung cancer did cross my mind. I had smoked in the past and, as a musician, I have played in smoking environments, like Roy Castle did.  But I’m quite an optimistic person so just tried not to let myself go there. But when the x-ray showed I had a mass on my lung, I knew then that lung cancer was pretty likely.

For me, that quick diagnosis was massive because I could have easily not been diagnosed when I was, and the tumour would have continued to grow. The outcome would have then been very different, so it’s absolutely paramount that if you do have any symptoms, go and get yourself checked – however scared you feel. Leaving it is only going to make things worse.

If you have got lung cancer, you can get through it. I’m evidence you can get through it.

Back in the band

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I started playing the clarinet when I was about 8 and then the saxophone from 12. Music has taken me all over the world. I even played in Her Majesty’s Queen Guard Band for many years.

I was concerned that having part of my lung removed would have an impact on my music, or even stop me playing altogether.

I got my saxophone out three weeks after the operation to see if I still could. Amazingly, I could still play it. It was an incredible feeling.

If I was to go for a 10-mile run, I’d probably struggling (but I would have probably struggled before the operation anyway!) But I can play my saxophone. I’ve done gigs where we’ve played for three or four hours.

I play in a German oompah band. We do pop songs but in a German style, so it’s a bit of a comedy band. We’ve played a few festivals and it was such an amazing feeling to see the crowds. It felt I was back to normal again. And I’ll look forward to that feeling again, once the pandemic is over.”

Andrew is still here because his lung cancer was diagnosed early.

If you are experiencing symptoms, including hoarseness like Andrew, please contact your doctor. The NHS is still here and, if you are unwell, they want to see you.