Avid walker and keen traveller, Lisa Morgan, 51, from South Wales, was shocked by her lung cancer diagnosis in 2020, especially as she was in the midst of training for a trek across the Great Wall of China, in aid of a cancer charity.
“My cancer journey started in December 2019 but my definite diagnosis for non-small cell lung cancer didn’t come until late April 2020. I didn’t have any obvious symptoms at the time, though with hindsight, there were some signs that I brushed away.
Before my diagnosis, I was actually training for a charity trek across the Great Wall of China. I had noticed I’d been huffing and puffing whilst climbing up Pen y Fan, I just thought I was unfit. At the same time, I was feeling more tired than usual but again, put this down to a busy life with my family and job.
Deep down, I did think something was amiss, I just never would have thought I had cancer.
A slow diagnosis
My diagnosis started with a routine chest x-ray prior to starting a new treatment for psoriasis. The x-ray showed a shadow on my lung and the doctor was unsure what it was at this point, so prescribed me antibiotics and scheduled another x-ray for the new year.
In January 2020, I attended another x-ray which still showed the shadow, and I was referred for an urgent CT scan and given an appointment at the Rapid Access Lung Unit in Llandough Hospital.
When the results came in the Lung consultant said it looked like something nasty, lung cancer.”
I was devastated. I can’t really remember much during that appointment, but it absolutely floored me and my husband.
The consultant was so reassuring, and I had lots of appointments for blood tests, a brain scan, PET scan and bronchoscopy. The results took several weeks and when I went for a follow up appointment with my consultant, she said the bronchoscopy was inconclusive and it didn’t look like I had lung cancer at all. They actually thought it might be organising pneumonia, an interstitial lung disease that apparently mimics lung cancer on a CT scan.
My husband and I were overjoyed to be told I didn’t have cancer and we rushed back to tell our children, family and friends the good news. Of course, I was concerned by the diagnosis but so relieved it wasn’t cancer.
The MDT originally suggested I have a follow-up appointment in six months’ time, but thankfully my consultant insisted on another CT scan in six weeks out of precaution.
When April arrived and it was time for the scan, I was quite apprehensive as we were now in the height of the pandemic. I’d been shielding for a number of weeks by that point but decided I needed to go for the CT.
The following morning, my consultant had rung with the results and wasn’t happy that the abnormality was still there, so I was referred for a CT guided biopsy the very next day. Within two weeks, we had the results, and I was given a definite cancer diagnosis.
The tumour was quite large, however, the doctors said they were taking a curative treatment approach and I would need both surgery and chemotherapy. I was advised that I would need the lower lobe of my right lung removed.
Just three days later I was asked to go to the University of Wales Hospital for surgery. It all happened in a matter of days and before I knew it, I was undergoing a video-assisted thoracoscopy, lower right lobectomy.
Three days after the surgery I went home. I didn’t really have time to process or plan how quickly I was admitted for surgery, but I guess that was a good thing at the time.
The surgery was successful and the 6cm tumour was removed. Several weeks later I met with the oncologist at Velindre Cancer Centre to discuss adjuvant chemotherapy which would zap away any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chances of recurrence.
Due to the pandemic, they were cautious about whether it was safe to proceed with the chemotherapy. I told my oncologist I had to give it everything and underwent three rounds of chemotherapy. By the end of August, I had finished all my treatment.
Of course, it wasn’t plain sailing, I suffered from nausea, upset stomach, sickness and extreme fatigue. I also developed neutropenia which reduced my blood count, and I was given injections to prevent this from happening again.
I still suffer from fatigue but it’s so much better than one year ago and the chemotherapy did trigger the menopause.”
My support system
My family and friends were a huge source of comfort and support. One of the hardest parts of getting diagnosed with cancer is how to tell your family and friends.
Always at the forefront of my mind was my children, I have a son aged 22 and a 17-year-old daughter. It broke my heart to see their reaction. Everyone tries to be positive, but you can see deep down they are thinking the worst will happen.
Sadly, my brother was also diagnosed with lung cancer at the same time as me, and he is still battling his cancer. My dearest Aunt has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer too.”
Naturally, it was overwhelming, but I just thought I was going to kick this cancer where it hurts!
Alongside my loved ones, I had a fantastic team of doctors and nurses who were just amazing. The pandemic meant I couldn’t have my husband there during my appointments, which was tough, but the hospital staff did everything to welcome me and put me at ease. The chemotherapy nurses even made me laugh during my treatment!
I will also never forget the overwhelming power and warmth of a nurse holding my hand tightly immediately after my surgery. I will be eternally grateful to them.
Towards the end of my chemotherapy, I discovered Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I found it a great source of information and guidance. I only wish I knew about it before I was diagnosed.
I joined the forum and found advice from other patients, and advisors at the organisation that were really reassuring when I felt worried and unsure. I also find the patient stories of those living well with lung cancer such an inspiration. It really has made me feel a lot more positive about the future.
In September 2020 I was told there was no sign of cancer and I have since been having three monthly scans and X-rays to check everything is ok. I’m approaching two years since my surgery and all being well, my check-ups will now be every six months. Thankfully I’m still in remission.”
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about the cancer, that it might come back, however, I will not let it define me. I am now feeling so much better in myself, that I now have control of my life again and am so optimistic about the future. I am incredibly grateful that I am still here, that I have my family and friends around me.