Coronavirus may continue to dominate our headlines and our hospitals, but do you know who doesn’t care about coronavirus? Lung cancer. Lung cancer does not care about COVID-19. It will not wait patiently for the pandemic to be over. It is essential lung cancer does not continue to fall under the COVID shadow because, if it does, it will deny people the chance to be diagnosed early, and early detection is key. Just ask Jo…
“When my doctor and his nurse practitioner first told me I had lung cancer, they said, with great gentleness, that this was the best news I could get in the world of lung cancer. By that they meant that my cancer seemed contained and was wholly operable.
Of course, it didn’t feel like good news at the time. I was in complete shock! How could I possibly have lung cancer? I was fit and healthy. I was active. I swam, hiked, did yoga. I was symptom-free and hadn’t smoked since I was a teenager.
But that’s the thing with lung cancer, as I’ve since learnt. It doesn’t matter who you are. No one is immune and the aim of the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme is to pick up cases such as mine at the earliest possible stage before symptoms have even appeared.
I realised I was being given a gift, a huge chance to be free of this unexpected threat to my health and my life. I couldn’t pass that up so, as scary as it was, I decided to go for it.Jo’s early diagnosis meant she could have curative surgery
I had received a standard letter and information leaflet about the Liverpool Healthy Lung Project via my GP surgery. I wasn’t hesitant about going. My attitude was that it can never hurt to have your health checked out, and so I made an appointment at a local clinic.
I was surprised to be invited back to have a CT scan after the initial check-up. However, the nurse explained that this was pretty common, since the approach taken in the project was to err on the side of caution if anything looked as if it might warrant investigation. I felt reassured and I honestly didn’t think anything untoward would be found.
But it was. The CT scan revealed a nodule in my left lung. That was a bit more unsettling, but cancer still hadn’t really crossed my mind. It was only when I was offered a PET scan during the first week of lockdown that I finally realised this was potentially something serious.
I was terrified to find myself being referred for surgery. I was also reluctant to tell my daughter who was self-isolating in Glasgow. I didn’t want her to worry, especially as she would not be able to visit me in hospital or at home afterwards. So, my initial impulse was to postpone the surgery.
However, within few days my surgeon called and said I could be admitted that very week. He explained that the pandemic made the future very uncertain, whereas as things stood I could both avoid unnecessary delay and be kept safe. I realised I was being given a gift, a huge chance to be free of this unexpected threat to my health and my life. I couldn’t pass that up so, as scary as it was, I decided to go for it.
I was admitted a few days before my surgery so that I could be tested for COVID-19. Believe it or not, I found this was a very comfortable and relaxing time, maybe because I still hadn’t realised just how major the operation would be or that they would actually be removing a lobe of my lung, rather than just the 3cm growth within it. Perhaps I also allowed the notion of video-assisted surgery (VATS) – commonly known as ‘keyhole’ surgery – to lull me into a false sense of security. Reality hit me only when I woke up after my operation in quite some pain. However, I was well enough to be discharged just 48 hours later.
It doesn’t matter who you are. No one is immune and the aim of the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme is to pick up cases such as mine at the earliest possible stage before symptoms have even appeared.Jo was diagnosed through the Liverpool Healthy Lung Programme
Recovery has seemed longer and more difficult than I anticipated – again, I was perhaps a little unrealistic about this. The pandemic made it difficult to access support once was at home and shielding. When I needed different pain relief, for example, it had to be sorted out via telephone consultations with my GP.
However, it was also in a phone call, from the hospital, after less than two weeks, that I was told my operation had been completely successful and I was free of cancer. What a boost to my recovery! With the support and help of my friends, I am now – less than two months later – feeling stronger every day and getting back into my old routines and activities. I feel as if I’m re-joining the world!
I count myself extremely lucky. Without this intervention, my story would probably be very different. I would have known nothing about the cancer in my lung until the appearance of symptoms, quite possibly at a stage when treatment would be much more difficult. The care I received – from the initial health check appointment to the subsequent scans, the surgery and the recovery – was amazing and I am so grateful to the NHS.
I know, because of the current situation, lung health checks are currently on pause. I hope they can start up again as soon as possible. If, when they do, you are fortunate enough to be invited, please go! This is an opportunity, at no cost to yourself, to have an expert lung health check-up. Remember that early diagnosis is the key to a full recovery. I am living proof of that!”