Sometimes, people with lung cancer, don’t have any lung symptoms. That was case for Andy McKay whose only symptoms were in his head – literally. By the time he was diagnosed, Andy could barely walk due to his brain mets but, after a matter of weeks on a targeted therapy, he started to get his old life back.
“You’re not taught at any point in school or work what to do when you’re dying of cancer. There’s no course to go through. I thought the only way I can cope is by thinking of what I used to do before I was diagnosed.
I was diagnosed in August 2017 with lung cancer. I initially started with symptoms in my head. I started to get some strange headaches and feeling a bit dizzy and off-balance. I likened it having about two gins but then it turned into 10 gins!
At the time, I thought it was bad hay fever. But it eventually got to the point where I had balance issues permanently. I went on holiday to Florida and by the time I got home, I was feeling so bad that I started going to the doctor. I eventually got referred to a specialist who ordered a scan and, by the time, I got the scan results, I couldn’t really walk.
The scan revealed a brain tumour right in the centre of my brain. It was a massive shock to me but what shocked me more was, the next day, when I was told the primary tumour was actually in my lung, that the brain tumour was caused by lung cancer. It was a double whammy of bad news two days in a row, probably the worst two days of my life so far.
I started treatment in mid-October 2017 on a drug called Alectinib, which is a targeted therapy. My first scan, around nine weeks after I started treatment showed that both of my tumours had shrunk considerably, around 70%.
At that point too I was feeling a lot better, I certainly was not back to full health but felt a lot better than I did before I was diagnosed.
I had another scan a few months later. That time, my tumours hadn’t shrank any more so I was a bit disappointed. However, after a good chat with my oncologist, he explained that the key thing is that I had no new tumours and no growth so I settled with that. Stable means you’re not getting any worse, that the tumours are under control.
In addition to the targeted therapy, I’ve had some targeted radiotherapy which wasn’t too bad. The worst bit is the mask. I also had a lobectomy, about 4 or 5 months ago, to remove one of the lobes in my left lung. I’ve now had the first scan in two years to show no active cancer in me, no evidence of disease.
I wouldn’t say life is fully back to normal. I’ve made some lifestyle changes. I’ve given up alcohol which I shed a tear over at the time. I eat a bit healthier as well which is good. I’m back out cycling. I cycled 20 miles at the weekend in one go which was my target for the month. Next month, my target is 30 miles in one go.
I still think about having cancer about 30-40 times a day, even though the treatment is working. It’s pretty constant. You feel different to other people. Other people don’t have that hanging over them.
But I also try and be positive. My diagnosis has made me really look to maximise the use of my time. Time is much more valuable than it felt before because, the reality is, the drug I’m on doesn’t last forever. The cancer will mutate around the drug and progress, so my aim is to enjoy life as much as I can between now and then.
I hope that I’m here long enough so that new and better treatments will give me even more time with my family, with the long term hope that one of these new drugs will be able to cure me, or at least, treat it as a chronic condition.”