It’s safe to say when you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, you are cast into a whirlwind. That has certainly been the case for Vickie who, for the last 12 months, has been teetering between curative and palliative treatment. She is now enjoying a hospital-free summer before her next scan to see what happens next:
“It was a colleague who insisted I go and see my doctor about a persistent cough. Having lost her mother-in-law to lung cancer, she was knew an ongoing cough must not be ignored, so I went. I went every couple of months for around a year.
I was given antibiotics, sent for blood tests. At one point, doctors thought it could be whooping cough. I had x-rays but they were clear. Finally, after my second course of antibiotics, I was sent for a CT scan. This was back in July 2019 and, it’s safe to say, I’ve been on a rollercoaster ever since.
I remember that day so vividly. I was in a meeting at work and, when I came out, I had a message from the doctor at 3pm saying they had made me an appointment at 5pm and it was really important I attended. I went to pieces and started imagining all sorts as I waited in the car park for those long two hours to tick by.
Fortunately, the doctors felt they had caught it early, and I was booked in for surgery. I was meant to had video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) in September. However, that wasn’t possible in the end and I ended up with a 10cm cut so they could remove my lobe. Unfortunately, one of the lymph nodes was too close to the vena cava to remove safely, so I was sent for chemotherapy.
I had four cycles of chemo. I coped with the first two okay, but the third cycle hit me hard. I was sick for 8 days. It was awful, but I kept focusing on getting to the end of it, then everything being ok. Except that wasn’t case.
When I went to get the results of my latest scan, I knew instantly it was bad news. We walked in and there was a row of people in the room. The treatment had not been successful and now palliative care was my only option. My husband passed out.
Looking back, maybe I was quite naïve about the severity of things. I believed they would just remove it, that I might need some mop up chemo, and everything would be back to normal by Christmas. Now, I was living with the reality that I wouldn’t see my son grow up.
However, just as I was getting my head around this, the rollercoaster took another sharp turn and curative-intent radiotherapy was put on the table and with it more hope.
I started radiotherapy as we entered lockdown and, for me, it was much easier than chemo. I even drove myself to my appointments for the first three weeks, although by week four I was feeling pretty wobbly and was too tired to drive.
The hospital was set up really well and I felt incredibly safe. In fact, I almost enjoyed the situation. With everyone else forced to cut interaction, I was seeing three people every day. There was one time when the machine was acting up, so my appointment was delayed. As a mum of a very active 7-year-old, I thoroughly enjoyed an hour of peace and quiet whilst I waited!
Three and a half weeks after I finished my radiotherapy, I had a scan. This felt very soon, especially as I had been told that they would need to wait a few months before they would know if the treatment had worked. So it wasn’t that surprising when the scan showed no shrinkage of the remaining lymph node. Despite this, it was then agreed that I would move onto a palliative targeted therapy.
It just didn’t sit right with me, and I don’t mean the terminal diagnosis, so I challenged the decision. The scans were reviewed, and they decided to delay any further treatment as it was in fact too early to see if the treatment was successful.
And that brings me to now, with my next scan in September. You might say I’m living in limbo but I’m just not thinking about it. I’m taking each day as it comes and enjoying them. Fortunately, with my son, Ben, I have no time to sit and think. He is the best possible distraction and we are having a wonderful summer together.
Last summer, I was in and out of hospital. I remember being on the Night Garden Boat in CBeebies Land, being told about all the rules for having a PET scan, so now I’m looking forward to a hospital-free existence for a month or two, enjoying days out and socialising the park with friends.
It’s been hard, and the back and forth between curative and palliative care has been incredibly emotional, but I’m choosing to be positive. What else can you do?”