1st November 2019

Nick Whitehead

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Since undergoing surgery for lung cancer, scuba diver Nick has completed his 150th dive and now has plans to qualify as a rescue diver – one of the hardest diving qualifications – all without the upper lobe of his left lung.

Nick shared his story as part of our Follow my Lead campaign

“I was working away from home in London when I coughed up two blood clots, about the size of a two pound coin.

I knew something wasn’t right and I knew that something was probably quite serious and being there alone was quite tough and quite frightening.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 and I had to go through many tests before they would start any treatment. One test I had to do which was quite worrying was to have a brain scan.

Fortunately, my brain scan was clear. They couldn’t find anything at all there!

They decided to go ahead with surgery to remove my left upper lobe of my lung, and follow that up with chemotherapy after about three months later.

The surgery, initially, I recovered from really well. It was a six-hour operation and I was discharged within six days of that. I got back to relatively decent fitness levels following the surgery. I didn’t really feel a lot of impact from that.

The highs and lows of chemotherapy

Nick, on the set on the Follow my Lead photoshoot

However, the chemo probably caused me more problems. Around three quarters of the way through the treatment, I developed lung embolisms (blood clots on my lungs) and suffered from shortness of breath.

Before I started chemo, I talked to a friend who had been through it. I remember him telling me that nothing would prepare me for that moment when I started losing my hair.

So, I decided to be proactive in that department and got sponsored for a head shave for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I raised quite a bit of money and it meant that I wouldn’t have to face losing my hair in the shower.

I went for my first course of chemotherapy and told the nurses what I’d done. They then explained to me that the chemotherapy that I was having, nobody ever lost their hair through it! However, I met a great team of people at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation so it was all worth it in the end.

When you first go onto the chemotherapy ward, it’s quite frightening. But the nurses are really a breed unto themselves. They know when to leave you alone. They know the people who like to have some banter. They know the people who want to sit in a chair, receive their treatment, maybe even say a little prayer.

I personally had a lot of banter with the nurses, that’s the way I deal with things and that’s the way I wanted to be treated as somebody quite normal. But there were others who wanted to be sat in a corner quietly and the nurses knew just what to do.

Under the sea

It’s hard to believe it’s only two years since I was first diagnosed. So much has happened in that time.

Nick on holiday with his wife, Paula

About four or five months after chemo, I had the opportunity to go on holiday. Being a a scuba diver, I badgered my surgeons, my doctors, my oncologists and assured them that diving was the best way for me to move forward! Fortunately, I was signed off.

So, less than 12 months after my surgery, my diagnosis, I was scuba diving again.

I’ve just come back from another holiday where I did 18 dives over a two-week period, and I’m hoping next year to go and do my rescue diver somewhere, maybe Egypt.

Before my diagnosis, I was very work driven. My career was very important to me, sometimes to the extent that my home and family life would maybe suffer.

I’m back in full time employment now and I’m glad that I am. It allows me to do other things in my life like the scuba diving and I now feel like I have a better work life balance.

I know that some friends have spoken to my wife and said I seem to be like the old Nick, like somebody from maybe 20 years ago. Not taking life quite so seriously anymore, just enjoy it a lot more.”

Nick shared his story as part of our Follow my Lead campaign for Lung Cancer Awareness Month 2019. Follow my Lead aims to improve conversations around lung cancer and help those affected to address and deal with a diagnosis.