What started off as a family ski holiday turned into a nightmare for Angela when a fall led to a lung cancer diagnosis. However, once the shock had passed, Angela took charge of her diagnosis and sought a second opinion about her treatment options. She knows at some point the disease will progress but for now she’s living her life.
When I was first diagnosed, lung cancer was my first thought in the morning and my last thought when I went to bed. It was just there when I woke and went to sleep. Now nearly two years after being diagnosed, I can say it’s not a death sentence.
I was diagnosed in January 2019 completely out of the blue. We were on a ski holiday in Austria and I suffered a peculiar fall. One minute I was upright, then next I was on the ground and hurt my shoulder. One of my friends is a paramedic and he said I need to get it checked so I went to hospital in Austria and had it x-rayed. Whilst I was there they also x-rayed my chest; thank goodness they did because that’s when they spotted the lung cancer.
Everybody assumed we had got this really early. We thought it was stage 1 and they’d be able to whip that bit of the lung out whilst I was still in Austria. Then we’d go back to the UK, have a bit of chemo perhaps, and I’ll be cured.
Unfortunately, when I got back to the UK, I had a scan of my whole abdomen and they discovered another lesion in my back which meant I went from stage 1 curable to stage 4 palliative which was a huge shock.
I asked the oncologist if it was going to kill me and he was very honest. He said, ‘Probably at some point yes it will kill you.’ So, I knew what it meant to have stage 4 lung cancer. I would lie in bed at night thinking I might not get to Christmas, that I might not get to the beach again, all those negative things.
Be your own advocate
Very early into my diagnosis, a friend gave me a book and one of the chapters was called ‘Being your own advocate’. It was so, so helpful and I realised I needed to do everything I could to take back control.
I got myself a blank sheet of paper and hit the web, writing down all the particular things about my mutation of lung cancer.
I also went into my oncology meetings with questions. I’d walk into my appointment with this big binder under my arm and opening it up, like I was chatting to a builder who was doing up your house. I also asked lots of questions. I didn’t care if I sounded foolish; if I didn’t understand what they were saying I asked them to explain it to me again.
During an appointment with my oncologist, we were discussing my treatment options. I got the sense that he wanted to try radical treatment but it wasn’t available at that particular hospital. By this time it had been three months and I still hadn’t had treatment which was crazy because the cancer was in there, probably growing.
That’s when I thought I needed a second opinion. I was worried about going for my second opinion because my oncologist and my lung cancer nurses were fantastic, and I didn’t want to upset them because they were lovely people. But this was my health, my life, I had to put that first.
I let them know all the way through that this is what I was doing, and they accepted with good grace. I asked the oncologist if I was his mum, would he want me to go to this hospital rather than stay with you guys and he said yes. That was enough for me.
I went to my GP and they filled in a form for a second opinion. They gave me a reference code and I went on the Government website and booked myself an appointment.
However, a couple of weeks before the appointment, I still hadn’t heard from them so I called them. I wanted to check they knew I was coming and if they needed any information. It was then that they told me they had cancelled the appointment.
I then found out that, although we can make these appointments ourselves, because they don’t have all of the paperwork, they often just clear the appointments. I understand why; they would be absolutely inundated by patients who they can’t actually take.
I was devastated. I think that was my lowest point but I refused to give in. I kept phoning and managed to get through to the secretary of the doctor that I had identified. She was wonderful. She listened to my story but reiterated that the doctor wouldn’t be able to see me.
However, she then called me back and explained how she had told him my story and he would in fact see me. I had an appointment for the following Tuesday.
It just shows how you must persist. Don’t be put off. Keep trying to find a way around the system.
I had my appointment and a week after I started my chemo treatment. Three weeks after that, I was able to get rid of the lesion in my back.
Had I not taken charge of my diagnosis, I think I would have been in real trouble, whereas I’m now on my daily tablet which is keeping my cancer at bay, I’ve had four clear scans. It’s not going away but it’s not doing anything naughty in my body.
There’s nothing I can’t do. My first grandchild was born five months ago so I got to hold my first grandchild. My son is getting married next July, so life’s great.
I’m playing golf. I’m gardening. I’m walking. I know at some point the disease will progress, but for now I’m living my life.”