1st November 2021

James Brokenshire’s widow pleads others to Spot the Difference

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The wife of the late Conservative MP, James Brokenshire, is urging people to play close attention to any differences in their health in the wake of her husband’s death.

James died of lung cancer on Thursday 7th October. His wife, Cathy, wants to help others avoid a similar fate, pledging her support to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Spot the Difference awareness campaign as part of lung cancer awareness month.

She said, “James was a wonderful husband to me. He was an incredible father to our children. He was a loyal public servant and he really cared.  Just reading the tributes on the MuchLoved page shows what a difference to other people’s lives he was making. But now I am starting to contemplate my life without the man I spent the last 30 years with, by my side.

I am not alone. Every year, over 35,000 people die of lung cancer – and 95 on the same day as James.  And simply put, the majority of people are diagnosed too late. James was desperate to change this, and now it falls to me to help make that change. If we can prevent even one family from going through what we are currently going through, then it will make our loss slightly more bearable.

We need to help people spot the early symptoms of lung cancer – no matter how subtle, no matter how trivial they might appear, no matter how many other things they could be, or how busy our lives are – we need everyone to take action. This way, other battles with lung cancer can have a different outcome to James’.”

Jackie Hugill (below right) is one of four patients to front Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Spot the Difference campaign, and her story did have a very different outcome to Mr Brokenshire’s.

A fit, active woman who routinely ran three times a week and competed in several half-marathons, Jackie owes her life to a friend who noticed her nasty cough.

“My husband and I had been on a caravan holiday in Arran with friends. And a caravan is a very noisy place, you can hear everything.

‘’My friend made me promise to go to the doctor with my cough. At the time, I had no concerns about my cough whatsoever; I’d had it for as long as I could remember – it was just my cough! My friend, however, was insistent and she made me promise to go to the doctor.

“I kept my word and despite my chest being clear, the doctor sent me for an x-ray to investigate it further. I then received a call no one ever wants to get; something had shown up on the x-ray and I was being referred to hospital with suspected lung cancer.”

Further tests confirmed Jackie’s worst fears. However, her early diagnosis meant she was able to have the cancer surgically removed and, seven years, remains cancer free. She has even returned to her spin classes.

Like Cathy Brokenshire, Jackie is now passionate about helping others to get diagnosed as early as possible. She has this vital message:

“’My advice to anybody who experiences anything slightly different in their health, anything at all, go to the doctor, get checked. It’s not always bad news. You can live a a perfectly healthy, normal life after lung cancer.”

The sooner lung cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat with curative intent. However, two thirds of people are diagnosed at late stage when curative treatment is no longer an option.

This is, in large part, due to the subtlety of early symptoms which include a persistent cough that lasts for three weeks or more, breathlessness, coughing up blood, hoarseness, fatigue, loss of appetite, back pain and ‘clubbing’ of the fingers.

Many of these symptoms can be associated with less serious ailments and many people may not want to bother their doctor with seemingly trivial matters. The Spot the Difference campaign aims to highlight how these small changes in our health could in fact spell big trouble, as Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation explained:

How many of us take notice of seemingly small things, such as a cough that doesn’t go away, or being a little more tired than usual? Yet these may be early signs of something much more significant happening within us.

“We urge everyone to take a moment to think about their health – have there been any subtle changes? Anything our friends or family have told us they’re concerned about, or anything we’ve spotted in our loved ones? If so, don’t hesitate, go and see your GP and get it checked out. Most likely, it won’t be anything serious but if it is, then by taking early action you could save your live.”

For more information about the Spot the Difference campaign and potential lung cancer symptoms, visit roycastle.org/spotthedifference