15th September 2020

Lung cancer is still here: Anne Ward

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Symptoms for lung cancer can seem mild and vague. They can be easily dismissed as something else, especially in the current situation. This was certainly the case for Anne who, despite having a cough for several years, was only diagnosed after a trip to A&E.

“I had a cough on and off for about three or four years. It feels crazy to say that now; it’s such a long time.

I kept going back and forth to the GP. They diagnosed me as asthmatic and gave me lots of different puffers. When they didn’t work, I’d go back and they’d up the dose, try a different one or add another medication.

In the end, I just accepted the cough. It was unusual if I didn’t cough. When that happened, my friends would comment. “Did you know you haven’t coughed this whole time?” they’d say. It’s pretty bad when your friends notice things like that.

Despite having a cough all that time, I was still diagnosed via A&E. One night, I started suffering from severe chest pains. It hurt every time I breathed or coughed. The pain was so bad I thought I was having a heart attack.

I went to A&E where I eventually had a chest x-ray. That showed something suspicious, so I had a CT scan. A few weeks later, I was sat in front of a doctor who said, ‘I’m not really allowed to diagnose from a CT scan, but I think it’s going to be cancer.’

Just 10 days later, lung cancer was confirmed.

Hopes dashed

We thought we had caught it early and I was scheduled to have half of my lung removed, but they then discovered it was in my lymph nodes in the centre of my chest and curative treatment was off the table.

I was devastated. It was just before Christmas and, whilst no one wants to be in hospital at Christmas, I desperately did. I wanted to be in hospital. I wanted them to do the surgery. I wanted it taken out. I knew it would be a long recovery, that I may have been off work for months, but it would have meant it was gone. Instead, they sent me home and I spent Christmas thinking “What now?”.

It’s been an incredibly difficult and emotional time, made even worse by the pandemic. Just before we went into lockdown, I was given a trip by a charity that helps people with terminal cancer. I sat on the beach in Hastings thinking ‘Is this the last time I’ll see the sea?’

It wasn’t and I am now on a targeted therapy. It took some time to get used to the treatment. I suffered with quite bad side effects when I first started treatment. I’m now on a different drug and am tolerating this one much better, which is good.

In hindsight

Looking back, I wish I had been more insistent about my cough, insistent that it wasn’t asthma. I should have kept going back to the GP instead of just accepting the cough in the end. After all, clearly something wasn’t right.

Chances are there are many people in my position, who have had a cough for a while and who may be reluctant to go to their GP, especially at the moment. You’ve got to put that fear – fear about covid, fear about being a nuisance, fear of what the cough could be – behind you and be persistent. Take it from someone who knows.”

Lung cancer is still here and the longer you take to get your symptoms checked, the smaller your chances of being diagnosed early.

If you are experiencing symptoms, including a persistent cough like Anne, please contact your doctor. If the symptoms continue, don’t be afraid to ask for further investigation like an x-ray or CT scan.