Avid walker, swimmer and traveller, Kerrie Mitchell was only 45 when she was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer after discovering a lump in her neck in February 2020.
“It was my daughter’s birthday, and we were having dinner and I noticed a lump in my neck. I couldn’t put it out of my mind, as it was odd, I didn’t have one on the other side of my neck and my husband had none. So, the next day, I booked an appointment with my GP who referred me for a chest x-ray and a neck specialist.
“One week later, I was referred to an ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialist who couldn’t find anything despite putting a camera up my nose and down my throat. Unsure, the ENT booked me in for a biopsy that same day.
“Two weeks after that, I had the results. Thankfully, my husband came with me because the doctors told me I had lung cancer. I was referred to a respiratory consultant. That weekend was horrendous, there was a lot of crying and wine as I felt I was in limbo, not knowing what was coming next.”
My diagnosis came as a complete shock, I just kept thinking that I’m 45, I’m too young to get lung cancer.
My treatment journey
“When it came to the appointment with the initial consultant, I was surprised to see how upbeat he was and it was because my cancer was treatable.
“It was then that he suggested that I come out of private care and take the NHS route as they would be able to provide more support and I was referred to an oncologist. I was glad but feeling very anxious as it had been weeks since I was diagnosed.
“We discussed treatment because surgery wasn’t an option and my oncologist organised an MRI to check it hadn’t spread to my brain and for another biopsy to check for any mutations.
“The scariest part was when my oncologist arranged for palliative care as my cancer isn’t curative, however, my opinion of palliative care has now changed.”
I thought I was off to die, palliative care to me, was end of life care, but I’ve since learned it’s not the case, it’s care to ensure all your needs are met, physically and emotionally.
“As the pandemic began to evolve, my results were taking longer but I was pushing for treatment as I was getting worried about my cancer, whether it was growing. During this time, I also had an MRI which did reveal my cancer had spread to my brain and my oncologist team wanted to start cyber knife treatment right away.
“When I was told I was having cyber knife treatment to my brain, I was alright because my sister reassured me having researched the process in advance. I also met a man in the infusion suite when I started treatment and he had just received cyber knife treatment. He talked me through it which put me at ease.
“With the biopsy’s back, I started my combined chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment and I responded remarkably well to the chemotherapy treatment, making sure I followed all the advice from my team.”
Treatment side effects
“Following my cyber knife treatment, I generally felt fine, just tired. The process only took an hour, and I came home and slept and felt sleepy for a couple of days. Now, every three months I have scans and 19 months on, the scans are still good. I am also now allowed to drive again!
“I also responded well to the chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but I did experience a number of side effects from these treatments. The steroids, just before, during and after, I was on gave me ‘false’ energy that always left me tired on the fifth day, I usually needed a nap to get my energy levels back up.
“The tiredness was manageable, but around the eighth course of immunotherapy treatment, I began experiencing really bad diarrhoea. I tried to keep it under control with tablets from the hospital but when it got bad, I had blood tests that found I had developed autoimmune colitis.
“My oncologist wasn’t overly worried by this but did say it needed to get it resolved before resuming my treatment. Sadly, it didn’t get any better and I experienced the side effects for over a year. Now, 16 months on, it’s stable but I’m unable to resume immunotherapy.
“Because of this, my treatment was ultimately stopped which was really upsetting. I remember going for a long walk and cried, fearing the worst. It’s hard knowing you have cancer but there is nothing happening to get rid of it.
“Of course, my health care team continue to take excellent care with regular blood tests and scans. It’s now been 16 months since my treatment stopped and I’m used to being on the watch and wait regime. It’s helped to find other people online in the same situation.”
Despite it the side effects of the treatment, I still would have undergone all the treatment to get the result it achieved. Overall, I had an 85% reduction in my primary tumour, the lymph nodes in my neck went down after the first round and I continue to be stable.
Kerrie also had a huge amount of support both from her loved ones and online. Read more about Kerrie’s emotional well-being during her diagnosis.