21st September 2020

Lung cancer is STILL HERE: Stephen Massingham

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When Stephen was diagnosed with lung cancer aged just 46, he made it his mission to raise awareness and challenge the misconception around the disease. After he passed away in 2018, his wife Hannah took up the mantle on his behalf.

“Stephen was the most fun person I have ever known. He was incredible sociable, and everyone loved him. We lived in a smallish town and I think he knew just about everyone in it and loved nothing more than a good chat!

Stephen ran his own plastering business. He was great with his hands. In fact, we had just finished building our own house when he was diagnosed.

It all started with a cough that wouldn’t shift. He also felt really tired, which was strange as he was such an active person. His job kept him very busy. He was an excellent golfer and, surprisingly for a man of his size, he was a skilled squash player.

I now know these are two common symptoms of lung cancer but, given his age and the fact that he was a non-smoker, no one put it together. The doctors weren’t concerned. They just kept saying it was a chest infection (that’s another symptom). As a result, it took five months for him to be diagnosed.

Unlike me, Stephen took the diagnosis in his stride. He used to say was “it is, what it is”. He accepted that this was his life and he was absolutely determined to enjoy every day with lots of laughter along the way.

He was very open about his diagnosis and passionate about sharing his story. He wanted to challenge people’s perception about the disease. I always found it hard to talk about without getting upset but Stephen was always happy to talk to people about it. He always said that if talking to people helped just one person get an earlier diagnosis than him it was worth it. 

I remember this one time when we were fundraising for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. We held a bake sale at our local Tesco. My daughter has a cake business called The Fat Fairy, so Stephen donned some pink glittery wings.

He stood in the entrance with a tray of samples and told everyone who came in that he was raising money for Roy Castle because he had lung cancer. He told them he wanted to make a difference to the way lung cancer was diagnosed and treated, so that in years to come people would have more options than he had. I never failed to be inspired by him and you could tell others felt the same.

Stephen passed away in 2018 and life is still so hard. It feels like all the fun and laughter has left my life, never to return. I miss his silly comments, laughing till I cried and spur of the moment trips.  Most of all I miss my cuddle in bed last thing at night and my good morning kiss.

This is why I wanted to be part of the Still Here campaign. There’s lots of what ifs when it comes to lung cancer. Most of all there’s the what ifs around his diagnosis. What if he’d been diagnosed when he first started having symptoms. Would he still be here to give me that morning kiss?

I don’t want people to have what if because of the pandemic. Would my loved one have gone to the doctors sooner? Would they have been diagnosed earlier? Could the treatment have worked better?

I am sad every single day that I never got to share this with Stephen.  I certainly never expected to be a widow at 47. But as Stephen would say “it is, what it is” and now all I can do is try and stop someone else from going through what I am.

I would definitely have pushed the doctors more. I was relieved when they said it was nothing serious but, as time moved one, I knew deep down that it was something serious. The cough wasn’t going. Stephen was getting more and more tired to the extent he could barely get out of bed in the morning. That’s not a chest infection but I wanted desperately to believe it was. I wish I had trusted my instincts and challenged the doctor’s opinion earlier when it could have made a difference.

So now I’m urging others to do what I didn’t. If you have a persistent cough – even in these strange, strange times. If you are tired, really tired and there’s no real reason why. If you are just feeling unwell and out of sorts, then go to your doctor. If you don’t, you could lose so much time, priceless time, with your loved ones. You could lose your life.

Stephen’s story is a stark reminder that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

If you are experiencing symptoms, including an ongoing cough and lack of energy like Stephen, please contact your doctor and don’t be afraid to be persistent. The NHS is still here and, if you are unwell, they want to see you.