As an avid runner, living in rural Wales, Jane is not what many perceive to be a ‘typical’ lung cancer patient. It’s one of the reasons she first got involved with the charity after her initial diagnosis in 2014 – to highlight anyone can be diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Hello! By way of introduction, I am Jane Holmes. I moved to the beautiful hills of Wales in 2010 along with my husband and we have three lovely rescue dogs (along with a couple of outdoor cats).
Both my husband and I are keen runners, running regularly with the dogs, and are members of the local Sarn Helen running club. Although I am not a speedy runner, I can plod along for a long time and have managed to complete six marathons since moving to Wales.
My general lifestyle over the last twenty years has been one of healthy eating, exercise, not drinking or smoking (sounding very virtuous!). However, in 2014, I was shocked to receive a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer.
I was 43 at the time and still running regularly. I had none of the recognised symptoms of lung cancer and had gone to the GP about something unrelated which had luckily led to a chest x-ray.
After my diagnosis, life became a whirlwind of tests, biopsies and scans. Originally, they thought the cancer had been caught early and that I would be able to have surgery. However, a PET scan revealed it had spread to the nodes in my neck.
So suddenly, it went from stage 1 to advanced lung cancer. Stage 3b. Inoperable. Incurable. Terminal.
The statistics around lung cancer make for grim reading and when questioning my prognosis, I was told that from my position ‘one in three people would be here in a year’s time’. However, that said, I was younger and fitter than the average patient so that would stand me in good stead and so I started treatment, with hope.
I had four cycles of chemotherapy. This had limited effect so my treatment was changed to 30 sessions of radical radiotherapy to my chest and neck. During this time, I continued to try and keep as fit as possible and still maintain a healthy diet and a good dose of humour.
When radiotherapy treatment had finished, I decided I wanted to do something positive and so I focused on raising money for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I had been shocked to discover that lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in the UK, accounting for almost a quarter of all cancer deaths (more than prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer combined) and yet shockingly received less money for research.
One in seven people diagnosed has never smoked and increasingly it seems that middle-aged females are being diagnosed. I guess as a lady, you’re more aware of breast cancer, and because there’s a lot of publicity about this type of cancer so that would have been more what I would have been on the lookout for that lung cancer.
But, as I know firsthand, lung cancer can affect anyone and, since my diagnosis, I’ve met a lot of young women who have lung cancer. I think that’s quite ‘out of the normal’ thinking for people.
With the help of my family and friends, who have all been so incredibly supportive, I have raised nearly £25,000 to date. I’ve done lots of runs as well as other fundraising initiatives including BBQs, garden party, coffee mornings, raffles and a dog training fundraiser.
By March 2015, scans had revealed that the only active cancer remaining was in the main tumour in my right lung (I had affectionately named my tumour ‘Bernard’). With this result, the clinical team were happy to review the surgery decision and in July 2015 I had the top right lobe of my lung removed, along with ‘Bernard’ and some of the associated lymph nodes.
Four months after surgery, I ran Marathon Eryri / Snowdonia marathon (26.2 miles) with my husband. As you can imagine, Snowdonia at the end of October can be quite an unforgiving place in terms of weather – but we were lucky to have a clear day and the run went very well.
Then, two years later at one of my routine scans, a node lit up in my neck. The cancer had returned.
I had a complete neck dissection in December 2017, just before Christmas. That was then followed by another six weeks of radiotherapy. I’ve had clear scans since then and I’m back running again!
I feel very fortunate to have had such good care from the NHS and to have a forward-thinking clinical team who were prepared to push the boundaries on what the ‘clinical pathway’ could look like.
Without their care and expertise, I would not be living the life I currently am enjoying. I feel fit and maintain a positive outlook on life.
I know the stats are still not good around lung cancer, so my advice to anyone newly diagnosed is avoid them and avoid the horror stories. Try and focus on the positive stories – there are lots of them here on the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation website!Jane on the benefits of keeping positive.
Statistics are changing. They are improving, slowly. This is because treatments are changing. Since my initial diagnosis, there has been so many advances in relation to lung cancer treatments. There are new drugs like targeted therapies and immune-oncology.
But my main piece of advice is: Don’t get too far ahead of yourself because I’ve been inoperable and I’ve since had surgery!
Stay positive, because the way I look at it, if there’s one in 10,000 chance then you could be that one.”