When Mary was first diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, she didn’t tell anyone except her husband for six months. Even now, two years on, she has still only told her close family. However, when she saw we were looking for people to help raise awareness of lung cancer, Mary bit the bullet and shared her story, talking openly about her diagnosis for the first time, because as she rightly highlights if it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
“It was just before Christmas when I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I remember saying to my husband – we don’t tell anyone. We are not telling anyone. I’m not spoiling everybody’s Christmas and New Year. We don’t tell anyone because why would I deliberately hurt someone? Why would I deliberately upset someone?
I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy so it wasn’t obvious what I was going through. So I kept it to myself until I had my first scan in May. The results of that scan were very good; the tumour had shrunk by more than half and it was reducing in my lymph glands.
It was at that point I decided I’d tell my children and my siblings. I’ve got six brothers so I had to space it out over at least two weeks because it was just so emotionally draining! And really, they’re the only people I’ve face to face told.
Even now when I go for scans, I never tell anyone. I just have the scan and then when the results are out then I’ll tell my family.
Out of my comfort zone
I don’t want to be that person that people feel sorry for and don’t know what to say to and are uncomfortable around. When you say to somebody ‘I’ve got lung cancer’, it changes things.
I go to work every day. I do all the normal things, so to say you’ve got a terminal disease but also, look at you; that doesn’t match in people’s heads. It’s just such a shock and, of all the cancers, I think it’s the least one you would expect a middle aged woman to get.
I find it really hard to put myself out there, and declare it. It is difficult but that’s why I think it’s more important to do it to raise awareness about lung cancer because, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Really.
I wanted to share my story now to help raise awareness, especially at the minute but also to let people know that whilst you might not expect to be able to live with lung cancer, you can. I want people to focus on living with cancer rather than dying from. I live my life as though I’m going to live. I don’t live my life as though I’m going to die. Because for me, that’s the only way you can do it.
Spotting the symptoms
I’d had what I would call a continuous cough for a couple of years. The strange thing was it wasn’t a cough in the traditional sense. There was no phlegm. It was more like a tickle.
Now I’ve been diagnosed, I understand I had enlarged lymph nodes which were pushing against my windpipe. It was that pressure that was causing that cough.
I want people to understand that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a cough where you’re actually coughing – if that makes sense. People tend to think that if they’re bringing anything up then they don’t really have a cough, certainly not a cough as bad enough to be a symptom of lung cancer. But it doesn’t have to be that sort of cough for it to be something serious. It can still be lung cancer.
I did go to the doctor about the cough the year before I was diagnosed. I had an x-ray and it was clear. That’s pretty shocking when you think, by the end of 2018, I then had two tumours and various enlarged lymph nodes.
I didn’t think it would ever happen to me but, let’s be honest, don’t we all. I think that’s why we often underplay symptoms, dismiss them as not being anything serious.
But I now think we need to be more aware of what our body is telling us. Don’t push it to one side. If you’ve got a feeling about something, it’s probably for a good reason. Listen to what your body is telling you and go and see your GP. Make that contact. Because that could make all the difference.”