11th April 2024

Meme’s London Marathon story

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As a respiratory consultant, Dr Meme Wijesinghe from Truro Cornwall, supports people with lung cancer every day. However, it was only when she went through her own cancer diagnosis, it opened her eyes to the discrepancies lung cancer patients go through.

“Telling someone they have lung cancer is one of the hardest parts of my job. The diagnosis is met with a huge range of emotions: sadness, anger, despair and in some cases relief, as finally there is an explanation for their symptoms. But I don’t think you can ever truly understand how those few words can make your world fall apart, until you’ve been in that position yourself.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 at the age of 44. I underwent a mastectomy and five years of hormonal treatment. I am very grateful for the care received from my breast cancer team and feel incredibly fortunate that I am one of the lucky ones, I am a cancer survivor.

“I learnt a lot in that time, particularly how different patients with lung cancer are treated when compared with other cancers.

“Diagnosing breast cancer is usually much simpler than diagnosing lung cancer. With breast cancer there is largely only one “route to biopsy” whereas with lung cancer there are several biopsy routes including invasive tests, some of which are associated with significant risks to the patient.

“When I found a lump in my breast, I attended a “one stop” clinic where I was seen by a Breast Consultant, underwent a mammogram, had a biopsy and told I had breast cancer all in one afternoon.

“This isn’t the case for lung cancer. Many of my patients wait significantly longer because of the challenges of diagnosing lung cancer and the limited resources which delay testing.

“Lung cancer commonly presents late as the symptoms are often not recognised as being associated with cancer. When the diagnosis is made late, the cancer is advanced and curative treatments are not possible. There is also the misconception that patients with lung cancer have themselves to blame as they are, or have been smokers. Whilst it is now widely known that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, a significant proportion of patients were unaware of the dangers of cigarettes when they smoked or have never smoked. The number of cases of lung cancer we are diagnosing in non- smokers is rising, particularly in younger females. In the UK, more female patients die of lung cancer than Breast and Ovarian Cancer put together.

“Everyone with cancer should be treated equally and that relies on equal distribution of funding into research and treatment. I see Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation as a voice for patients with lung cancer, whilst providing advice and support to my patients and their families.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received during my cancer diagnosis, and I know the support Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation provides is just as invaluable to those with lung cancer.

“The charity has also played a crucial role in securing the implementation of lung cancer screening. The Targeted Lung Health Check programme forms a significant part of my job. In Cornwall, the programme commenced in October 2023. We are thrilled that in just five months of screening we have diagnosed 33 lung cancers, most of which were early-stage and we have been able to offer curative treatment to.

“We’re making huge progress in improving outcomes for people with lung cancer. I am humbled and honoured to be running my first Marathon for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I’d like the money I raise to help improve awareness, aid with early detection and to support patients through their difficult journeys.

“I have been running for many years, but never any distances longer than a half marathon. When I turned 50 last year and finished my cancer treatment, I thought it was now or never!

“It has been hard to fit my training around a busy job and family life, but my family has been incredibly supportive and now I’m just so excited for race day. I would like to finish within 5 hours but, to be honest, I will be just so ecstatic to get over the line and celebrate all that hard work.”

You can donate to Meme’s London Marathon fundraiser through her JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/page/meme-wijesinghe-1708960055717