19th November 2020

I am Still Here: Brian’s lung cancer story

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The word journey is one used quite a lot when talking about cancer. For Brian, it’s been one heck of a journey…

I was suspected with cancer in January 2014, but I wasn’t actually diagnosed until 6 weeks after surgery.

My one and only symptom was clubbing of the fingers, where all your fingers swell up. The GP straight away had an idea of what it was and sent me straight for a chest X-ray and referred me to a respiratory consultant.

I went for my chest x-ray that day and when I was sitting in the room waiting to change back into my normal clothes, the door was opened and all I could hear was the technician saying ‘Oh god, look at that!’ Not words you ever want to hear!

She came in and said they had seen something on the scan and needed to contact the radiologist to come and have a look. And with that she shut the door! I was left thinking the worst.

Whenever you think of lung cancer, the first thing you think of is a death sentence. Nobody survives, because all you hear of is people dying. But that wasn’t the case with me, despite the technician’s initial response. I was actually diagnosed early enough for curative-intent surgery.

Life after surgery

There was nervousness, there was apprehension prior to surgery because you’re never sure but my opinion was if it had grown so fast in so short a time, what was it going to be like in a couple of years’ time? The surgeon was telling me we should take out the whole lung so I went with what he said, and because he was so positive about it, that made me positive as well.

About a year after surgery, I was with my physiotherapist who referred me through an exercise referral. I enjoyed the physical side, the exercise, the training, so I thought I can do it and help other people. I got myself qualified as a personal trainer, after that I thought I really enjoy this but want to work more with people with cancer and pulmonary conditions etc. so I looked into retraining in that side. I went and did my exercise referral qualification. I did pulmonary rehabilitation, cancer rehabilitation, diabetes and obesity rehabilitation so that I can work with people with different backgrounds to then help them.

I was doing seven spin classes a week, teaching. To start off with, I taught off the bike because of my breathing but eventually, as my condition improved, I was doing six or seven classes a week.

However, at the end of November 2018, I started having breathing issues again. I was still training people, but I knew my breathing was rather iffy. I was back and forth to the GP’s trying different inhalers to see if it would sort my breathing out, but nothing was working. Then one day my breathing got really bad.

I went into respiratory failure. Two chest infections, pneumonia. While I was in hospital, I went into septic shock. I had a heart attack and a stroke in two areas, which obviously causes problems. With me having one lung, they struggled to ventilate me. They didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t stable enough to get a scan of any sort so they couldn’t scan me to see what was going on. The last resort was to get me prone, which was face down to get me to breathe and with that it seemed to work. They can only leave you so long that way, so they kept turning me and when they turned me on my back it was only a short amount of time before I was struggling again so they kept moving me. I spent 10 days in Dundee in the ICU where I was eventually ventilated.

Road to recovery… again

It was a long hard road but I’m out and since then the respiratory consultant has investigated various bits and pieces and they’ve now diagnosed me as a severe asthmatic.

No one can link it to lung cancer. They’re saying your lung cancer is lung cancer. You’re now severely asthmatic because we found this enzyme in my blood which is causing the problems. But you can’t help think if I had two lungs, would I be ok?

I noticed my fingers swelling in August and didn’t go until the January. In that time I lost a lung. If you go early, it could be worst case a lobectomy or they could cure it with chemotherapy or radiotherapy and get rid of it that way. They can treat it. I waited months so the consequence is I’ve lost a lung.

The longer you leave it, the worse it’s going to get because cancer doesn’t go away. It’s not something that can be cured by doing nothing. It’s got to be cured by doing something.”