1st November 2020

Lung cancer is Still Here: Paul Kirkcaldy

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Paul had a cough for over eight months before going to the doctor. Sadly by then it was too late; his lung cancer was terminal. His wife and daughter join our Still Here campaign to urge others to not ignore a cough, especially at the moment.

“That’s big question – should we have bullied him into going to the doctor more? Should we have told him to get to the doctors after two months?

Paul basically had a cough for quite a while. He was also very tired but we just thought he was just run down. We put that down to him working too hard, not sleeping well. I thought maybe it was the stress of work.

It was the tiredness that I noticed the most. The cough was persistent but he had good days and bad days. That’s why we thought it was just something that he just couldn’t shift. Eventually, after a lot of nagging, he went to the doctors. He must have left it a good 8 months though.

He’s not the sort of person who would have gone to the doctors. I think men just don’t want to be seen as weak by going to the doctor. It’s just this whole persona about not being healthy and ‘I’m ok’ and let’s not speak about it.

Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. We were told at the start that the prognosis wasn’t great. That it was five years at the most, possibly another couple of years if you were lucky, if the treatment worked. But I don’t think anything prepares you for that.

The consultant there was very blunt, just told it as it was. They basically said that Paul needed his lung out ASAP. They didn’t really think there was any other choices. We could have gone down the chemo route but, if he did that then, the chances of it spreading to the other lung and through his body were very high.

Further treatment

The surgery went well and life actually went back to normal but a year and a half later, we discovered that there was something in the other lung. It was devastating.

He had chemotherapy which he really was not well with. He ended up in hospital because he was so ill from the chemo. He wasn’t eating. He’d lost copious amounts of weight. But then he perked up a bit. He had a round of chemo which seemed to have shrank the two pieces that were in his other lung, so that was a bit more positivity and kept on going for a little while longer.

Then, at our six monthly check, it had come back again and it had come back in various places. They then suggested radiotherapy which, looking back, was when everything went downhill. It just totally wiped him out. The first rounds he was fine, and then 6 months later, there was more signs of more activity and it had come back in another few places. They wanted to totally zap him. It was intense for two weeks and then he ended up in hospital. He just couldn’t cope. That was when the depression hit, and that’s the first time that I’ve ever actually seen him be honest about the way he felt.

It’s really hard to see someone go from being such a dry sense of humour to just, this constantly 24/7. And him saying he doesn’t want to be here anymore. It just wasn’t my dad.

His first wish was to die here, which in theory seems like a nice thing. When you think of a death at home you think of a peaceful death but it was the most horrific experience that we’ve had whereas, I feel if he’d been up at the hospital under medical supervision, I would have felt that I had done everything I could because the nurses were in control of the medical side of stuff.

After Paul died, I changed everything in the room. That was the first thing that I had to do in order for me to get back in there. We spent the first month sleeping on a mattress downstairs because we couldn’t go upstairs. The memory of being in that room… I couldn’t think of anything happy or anything like that within the first 18 months. That’s all that would come back to me.

It’s still hard to believe this happened to us. Paul was the healthiest, fittest man. He never smoked. He was probably the opposite of what people stereotype lung cancer to be like.

We are left with those what ifs. What if he had gone to the doctor sooner? Who knows. In some ways I’m not sure because he reacted so badly to the chemo and other treatment, but he might have been stronger to have dealt with that earlier on. We’ll ever know. All we can do now is share our story to try and stop another family going through it.”