With Michelle’s partner classed as critically vulnerable, she understandably took extra precautions during the pandemic. This included disinfecting everything with strong cleaning chemicals so when she started to cough, she consulted Dr Google and diagnosed herself with cough-variant asthma. However, a second opinion saw to it that Michelle was set on the right path…
“It was the beginning of February 2021 when I first started with my cough. It was a dry and persistent cough, which just wouldn’t go away.
“I wasn’t worried about it. Ever since the start of the pandemic, I had been using these very strong chemicals to clean anything from the outside – the shopping, the post – and I remember these chemicals going up my nose and down my throat. I did some research online and self diagnosed myself with cough-variant asthma so I called up the doctor to ask for an inhaler.
“He prescribed me an inhaler but, fortunately, he also sent me for a chest x-ray which ended up showing a mass. Once again, I looked up what it could be online and found it could be due to many lung conditions. That did include lung cancer but I didn’t think for a million years that’s what it could be. The doctor clearly didn’t either as he prescribed me some antibiotics and told me to come back if I was still coughing, which I did. I was given more antibiotics and sent for a second chest x-ray.
“The second x-ray showed that the mass had not shrunk. This seemed to really confuse the doctor, especially because by the time I got the results, I had stopped coughing. Unsure what to do, he prescribed me a third set of antibiotics because the mass was still there.
“About 10 days later, the cough returned. It was bad, perhaps worse than before and was keeping me awake at night. However, it was the Easter bank holiday weekend and my surgery was closed. Fortunately, there was a private medical centre around the corner from where I live. I was desperate, and so tired so I made an appointment with the aim of getting more antibiotics.
“The doctor I saw said he would give me more antibiotics but he said he was also going to write me a letter which he wanted me to give me to my GP after the bank holiday. The letter said “Michelle is over 65. She is an ex-smoker. I suggest she has a CT scan under the two week rule“. Ten days later, I had a CT scan and everything from then was a whirlwind.
“I had a body scan which confirmed it was cancer. I had a biopsy which confirmed it was stage one EGFR+ lung cancer. My consultant then confirmed I could have surgery and I was so relieved. I know not everyone is able to have surgery.
“I had my operation on 8th June. I was really worried about the pain I would be in afterwards. I told my medical team that I had a low pain threshold and they were brilliant. They gave me strong painkillers to take when I got home but I didn’t need to take them.
“Because of my type of lung cancer, I was referred to a specialist for additional treatment. However, as I was diagnosed so early, I didn’t need any further treatment. This treatment is only for people with stage two cancer, and mine was only stage one, so I was told to go and get back on with my life and that’s what I am doing. It’s reassuring though to know that, should my cancer ever come back, then this treatment is there waiting for me.
“I try not to think about the future though. I try to practice mindfulness. After my diagnosis, my twin sister brought me a book about cancer and mindfulness and I found it really helped.
“It encouraged me to live in the moment and try not to think about the past or the future, to just focus on the present moment and live day to day. It’s obviously not easy, but I think we should all be living day to day. We can’t be constantly thinking about the past and worried about the future because what’s the point. That’s the way I look at things now and how I intend to live my life.”