There is no right way to cope with a lung cancer diagnosis. Even if your treatment is working, it can be a frightening and anxious time. Ahead of World Mental Health day, Mandy shares her story and the anxieties she faces as she lives with stage 4 lung cancer.
When I was first told that we could treat this, I’ll be honest I did not believe him at all and, as far as I was concerned, I was going to die and I was going to die really quickly.
I was a physiotherapist in my distant past under I was about 35. I did treat patients with lung cancer so that became very hard when I was diagnosed with lung cancer myself.
Back when I was physioing and treating the prognosis for lung cancer was horrendous and, on top of that, in 2002 my mother was diagnosed and died of lung cancer within a year so, I always thought of lung cancer as an instant death sentence.
It has always been in the back of my head that this is something I might get and it absolutely terrified me so when it was finally confirmed, my world stopped.
I was diagnosed in the summer of 2018 with absolutely no lung symptoms. My symptoms were actually caused by the secondaries in my brain, although we didn’t know that at the time.
Overnight, I lost the ability to see out of my right eye and to get the right words out. I couldn’t work out the word for bicycle for example. I was having to go ‘those funny things with wheels that you sit on!’
I was told very quickly that the brain tumour was secondary so they knew to start looking for the primary. They soon identified it in my lung and it was tiny.
When I was diagnosed, my oncologist told me said ‘We can treat this’. Despite his positivity, it took another two months of being on the drugs (because of my husband’s private health insurance, I was able to have the targeted therapy, Osimertinib) to show me in black and white that it was in fact treatable.
I needed to see the difference in the scans and have the radiotherapy on my head to show that the tumours had gone. It was although I needed double proof because I had seen what lung cancer could do to a person. I wasn’t going to take his word for it.
The treatment has worked fantastically for me. Yet, despite this, I am still very anxious. Before my diagnosis, I’d describe myself before as happy-go-lucky, very positive and very optimistic whereas now it’s the opposite – an anxious pessimist with no future.
Because the treatment is working, those feelings actually get me very cross. They make me angry because it shouldn’t be like that. I’m incredibly lucky and I know I’m incredibly lucky but it’s such a hard thing to get your head around, especially at the moment.
I have always managed to do very well is to park what is happening at the back of my head. It’s always there but I’ve managed to park it until you see your next scan date in your diary and then it shoots to the fore. What COVID did was to bring it permanently to the fore.
It’s really hard to look into the future. My sons, for example, both got engaged within three months of each other, and both picked wedding dates that were over a year away. I’ll be honest, the happiness of them being engaged was quickly followed by ‘Oh my god, am I going to see that day’, which was then followed by ‘Oh my god, am I ever going to see grandchildren’?
But I am trying my best not to let these feelings take over because both my sons are now married and I was there. At my latest scan, my oncologist said ‘I just want to tell you now, you’ve got a long life’.
I play tennis three times a week. I have a dog and a puppy and I walk for an hour and a half every day. To be honest, I have more from my arthritic knees stopping me doing what I want to than the lung cancer! I’ve completely been able to go back to living an absolutely normal life and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.”