8th September 2023

Sinéad’s lung cancer story

View all Early detection

At 46, Sinéad wasn’t overly concerned about her persistent cough. If anything, it was more embarrassing than worrying! However, when two people – in very different ways – encouraged her to get it checked, she realised she needed to do something about it.

“It’s hard to remember when my cough started; no-one marks it on the calendar!

“I think I had been coughing for a couple of months. It felt never ending but I was never ill with it. After a while, I became quite embarrassed by it. I remember teaching an accounting course to some adult students and apologising for coughing during the class, explaining that it wasn’t covid.

“Then, two things happened on the same day. A colleague was really forthright with me. He told me how bad the cough was and that I needed to do something about it. His directness shocked me, but I will always be grateful for it. I needed someone else to prompt me to look after my own health. 

“Later that same day, I went on a run with a friend who is recovering from breast cancer. She was really candid about her experience and spoke about the importance of getting things checked out. 

“The next morning, I called the doctor. 

The penny dropped…

“I just expected to get some antibiotics but when I was describing my symptoms to the doctor I

said, “I’m coughing like I have a chest infection, but I feel fine“. The minute I articulated that, I realised that it was odd. We should feel unwell with a chest infection, and I didn’t. I also made sure I was really clear that the cough had gone on for a long time.

The doctor referred me for a chest x-ray that evening. That was a Wednesday. I had a phone call on the Thursday to say that they found a shadow on my lung. On Friday 7th July, just over three weeks after I first spoke to the doctor, I was told I had lung cancer.

“At that same appointment, I was told that a mid-right lobectomy was recommended. I then had surgery on Thursday 3rd August.

“It has been a whirlwind, but it gave me time to reflect on the important things.  My family and friends have been amazing, and I feel fortunate. 

“I also feel lucky that I went to the doctor when I did. The cancer has been caught relatively early (stage 2b) so it was operable. I feel indebted to my colleague who was so direct with me about my cough and my friend from my running club who shared her experience with me. Without them, I would not have gone to the doctor so quickly, so it could have been so much worse.

Looking to the future

“I’m currently waiting to find out if I need further treatment. I want to get back to work. I realise how fortunate I am to have a job that I miss so much. I miss my colleagues and students and the feeling of being useful.  Sick leave is boring! 

“I want to finish climbing the Wainwright Mountains in Cumbria. I am part way ticking off climbing its 214 peaks. I used to run up them, and one day I will do so again. 

“Most of all, I just want to spend time with my family and see my girls grow up and build their own happy lives and enjoy their achievements.”