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6th November 2017

Terry Kavanagh

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“I was born in Broadgreen hospital Liverpool, on Monday 13th February 1989. Unlike most newborns there was no nurse’s slap to help bring me into this world – just a shout instead.
‘Wake up Terry’, she called – and so I did!

Terry took part in our HeadHigh campaign for lung cancer awareness month

The blur of diagnosis may cause you to struggle to remember the exact details of what was said to you, but you never forget being told you have cancer.

Like any cancer patient, I experienced all the emotions that occur when ‘the beast comes to call’; and it really is a beast – it takes lives and wrecks families.

I remember when I was diagnosed; my consultant’s advice was to ‘be positive’. “Be positive?’ I thought, ‘That’s it, I’ve had it!”

For me, ‘being positive’ was only an added burden to deal with; being diagnosed with an illness that’s so negative it took me a while to get my head around ‘positive’ and ‘cancer’.

I was fortunate in having my wife Anne as my carer; she is the most positive person I know and never allowed me to feel sorry for myself – and sometimes I cursed her for that. She was empathic rather than sympathetic, but with her support gradually I grew more optimistic and focused on the future.

‘Being positive’ for me was being as normal has my health would allow me to be.

I was initially told by the ward doctor that I had an aggressive form of lung cancer with a possible survival time of just three months! Despite this, I was recommended for surgery and referred to Broadgreen Hospital, and placed in the skilled hands of Professor Ray Donnelly and his team.

And that was where I had half of my left lung removed.

While in hospital waiting for my operation, in the bed next to me was a man who was having a hernia operation. He asked me what my problem was, and when I told him, he said that he’d had lung cancer 22 years ago!

Right away, I thought ‘That will be me.’ I latched on to him like a limpet and found out everything he could tell me about the disease; and that’s how I have lived my life since, seeking out inspiration and gaining knowledge along the way. Knowledge is power.

A short time after my operation, I went to see my oncologist regarding further treatment. He told me that the pathology department, who analysed my first biopsy, had made a ‘mistake’ and my cancer was a less aggressive type. I had a stage 2 cancer, localised, with no sign of spread giving me a better chance of survival.

Support work

One of the most positive things that came out of this for me was the setting up of the Liverpool Patients Support Group.

“I believe there is a reason for everything that’s happened to me, and look for the good in every situation. Things that would have meant nothing to me before I had cancer, I now consider important and have happened for a reason”.

Terry on his new perspective of life.

Through the Roy Castle Patient Network, what I see now is a world of information about lung cancer far removed from when I was first diagnosed. I was the facilitator at the support group and soon realised that I needed to have more skills than just my experience as a cancer patient. To this end I took a basic counselling course and got hooked. I followed this by taking an intermediate course, and later was accepted by Liverpool Community college to take a diploma course. I graduated in 2008.

A few years after my diagnosis, I became a fundraiser. Along with Anne and several good friends we built up a small team of fundraisers and covered numerous events. We did walks, climbed mountains and several charity nights, raising a lot of money in the process. Later I became an advocate; a role which took me all over the UK and to America.

I believe there is a reason for everything that’s happened to me, and look for the good in every situation. Things that would have meant nothing to me before I had cancer, I now consider important and have happened for a reason. There is always something good or at least something useful to learn, even in difficult or unpleasant situations. I took this philosophy with me when I became a fundraiser, deciding then that no door would be closed to me.

I’d like to think that, in some ways, through my voluntary work, I’ve made a life for myself from having lung cancer. I see it as one of the most profound and positive events of my life. I see the doors which have opened, the depths of insights I’ve gained, the friends I’ve made, and seeing answers in it that may have been elusive before.

I see it for putting me on a learning track; it’s enabled me to come into association with tremendous professionals and patients, wading through this process called cancer.

It is, in its best form, a jumping-off place from which to enter a world of knowledge, insight, diversity and consciousness. I see cancer for the tremendous positive contribution it has had on my life. But of course, I wouldn’t want it to find me again!

So in a way, February 13th 2009 was my 20th birthday (I wish!), and for my wife Anne and me a time of reflection.

We weren’t letting the day go by, so we decided to commemorate it rather than celebrate it. We did this in the most positive way we knew, with a takeaway Indian meal and a bottle of wine (Shiraz) and some beers. Then, with hundreds of photos spread around the floor, we recalled all we had done. It was a really nostalgic night with a few tears and lots of laughter, and it was long gone midnight before we called it a day. Next year it’s my 21st – and you’re all invited!

‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.’