When she was first diagnosed, Lizzi recalls seeing the words ‘palliative care’ next to her scans and so she thought that was it. Over a year on and a crazy trip through the Stelvio Pass in Italy, she now knows palliative care no longer means the end.
I was diagnosed with lung cancer on the 16th of April 2019.
I didn’t have any of what I’d consider to be the classic symptoms. I didn’t have a bad cough that was getting worse. I was breathless, but I could still do things. I was very tired, but I thought that’s possibly because I’ve got no energy because I’m not eating. That was actually the worst symptom, the nausea, and not being able to keep any food down but I would never have put that down to lung cancer.
We had been to Spain in February to house-hunt. Having sold a property over here we decided we’d buy a holiday home for all of us to use. On the day that we came back, that evening, I had a really bad back pain. It was just like a dull sort of painful ache in my lower back. I self medicated for several days, but then my husband said that I needed to go and see somebody because it wasn’t getting any better.
I was originally diagnosed with muscular pain but obviously that didn’t do anything. I then had an X-ray, and they noticed that there looked like some fluid around my lung and a possible shadow. At that point they thought it might be pneumonia, so I went through three lots of antibiotic treatment. During this time, I found it really difficult to keep any food down and lost about a stone and a half in weight.
Eventually, I went to the GP again – I couldn’t count how many times I’d been – on a Friday evening and he sent me to Southampton General. They admitted me because my oxygen levels were low, and I had a CT scan as well which confirmed the shadow. They drew some fluid off my lungs and then I had a bronchoscopy.
It was mid-April when I finally got the diagnosis. I think probably I was a little bit in denial. The consultant told me I had lung cancer, that there was a tumour in my lung and that it had spread to my lymph nodes and the fluid around my lung on the right hand side. She said it was inoperable because of its location; it was right down near the bottom of my windpipe. She also said it was incurable because it had already spread to other parts of my body. I also had an MRI which found several brain mets, so by the time I started on treatment, I felt pretty hopeless.
I’m EGFR+ so I’m on a targeted therapy. I take this tiny little tablet at the same time every day. But this tiny little tablet has changed everything.
I had my first scans in two and half months later. The tumour in my lungs was about quarter of its original size. The fluid around my lung had almost gone, and there were only one or two lesions in my brain, nothing like what there was before. It was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe how quickly things had cleared up.
There is no reason that you shouldn’t have hope. I’ve had many a conversation with my consultant about the amazing leaps that medical science has produced in the last ten years. As he said, ten years ago, someone suffering from incurable, inoperable lung cancer would basically have been written off. That certainly isn’t the case for me. I am out there living my life.
A close friend of mine who has lots of madcap crazy ideas said she would like to do the Stelvio Pass in Italy in her little Mazda sports car and would I like to go along? So I spent eight days driving round with her in her little Mazda MX5 round Europe! We did nine countries in eight days. We did the Stelvio Pass which is amazing, absolutely beautiful. I did it normally, she did it in a ballgown, because she wanted to, and we played Matt Monroe from the Italian Job, as we drove all the way up these hairpin bends!
I’m now more hopeful that a lung cancer diagnosis does not mean the end of life that I believed it was when I first heard those awful words. Don’t get me wrong, those feelings do creep back in every now and again. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t feel a bit mortal but I’m a lot more positive now.
Now I’m able to plan. At one point all I could think of was all the negative things, I’ve never done that, I’ve been there or I’ve never done this, and I’m never going to and then, with the treatment working so well, I’m beginning to think, ‘Oh, there’s no reason why I couldn’t do that or go there or sort of thing. It gives that little bit of hope, that little bit of excitement about what’s coming.”