Petra is passionate about raising awareness after her lung cancer diagnosis came completely out of the blue. She joins our Be Unforgettable campaign to help shine a spotlight on the lesser-known symptoms of lung cancer and the importance of biomarker testing.
“My primary symptom was shoulder pain – only I had no idea that this could be a sign of lung cancer.
“I was an avid swimmer and was training for a long-distance swim so when I started to get an ache in my shoulder, I naturally attributed the pain to this. I thought maybe I had a poor technique!
“The pain persisted for about three months when I finally relented and went to see my GP. I was given painkillers and naproxen to ease the pain. I also started seeing physiotherapist but a couple of months later, the pain intensified.
“My GP still thought it was muscular. The physio sessions weren’t helping so a friend suggested I book a private MRI scan. The results indicated I had a secondary cancer in my shoulder. Then everything sped up.
“When the primary cancer was confirmed as lung cancer, I was in shock. At 54 and someone who exercised, ate well and didn’t smoke, it was not a cancer I thought I was ever likely to experience.
Testing for genetic mutations
“I had a biopsy and then the tissue was investigated. The results found out that I’ve got the specific gene mutation – EGFR positive with exon20 insertions – and this is really important because certain mutations can open up a range of new targeted treatments.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to share my experience. I want to make sure that everyone who is diagnosed with lung cancer has these tests. If they are not offered, then push for them because they can dramatically change your treatment path.
“Unfortunately for my very specific mutation, there is not a targeted therapy at the moment, which could be used as a first line treatment, so I started on chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy and radiotherapy.
“I was really scared about having chemotherapy because I just pictured my image of chemotherapy was being really unwell and being very nauseous. This was compounded when I read the long list of potential side effects. I was horrified and had the worst nightmares.
“However, I actually tolerated chemo quite well. I felt very tired for the first couple of days so I allowed myself to rest. Then I felt ok. I actually managed to go out for walks and meet people. It really surprised me.
“After the treatments kicked in and I started to feel less pain and generally much better, I suddenly realised how fatigued I had been. I hadn’t paid much attention to it because all I could focus on was the shoulder pain. This, coupled with the fact that everyone is tired – it’s just one of those things!
“After all, I am a 54-year-old woman going through menopause. I had a full time job, a husband, three sons and a generally busy life so I wasn’t surprised that I felt tired. When I spoke to my friends, they would say how tired they were too!
Looking back now though, I can see that this was another symptom and want to make others aware of it and not overlook it like I did.
“It’s really important that people realise you don’t need to have a cough or other respiratory symptoms to have lung cancer. I think this is a common misconception because so many of the awareness campaigns for lung cancer focus on a persistent cough, or shortness of breath. But there are many other symptoms than could indicate lung cancer, like the shoulder pain and fatigue I experienced.
“It’s my hope that by sharing my experience could make someone more aware than I was that lung cancer could be a possibility and that they will then push and make sure it’s investigated properly.”