Wendy was left devastated after receiving an initial diagnosis of inoperable and incurable stage 4 lung cancer. Remarkably, just six months after diagnosis, Wendy surprised doctors’ expectations and was able to have surgery with curative intent.
She said, “My only symptom was redness of my cuticles. I had been painting my nails at Christmas and just thought it was a reaction to the acetone. I went to my GP in mid-April 2012. I think she knew immediately, as she referred me for a chest x-ray, and wrote on the form, ‘finger clubbing’. She then called me the day after to say the x-ray was inconclusive and that it might be an idea to go to the chest clinic at Whipps Cross Hospital. I did, and was told there and then that I had a tumour in my lung. My right lung had already collapsed, and there was only one type of tumour that could cause that.
They ordered a CT scan and a bronchoscopy, and I was told I’d get the results the following week. My son was just about to turn 11 and we had arranged a massive family party for that weekend to celebrate. It was such a hard time. My partner Lennie came with me to get the results and my world fell apart. I was told it was cancer, very aggressive, and it had spread to my left lung and in my adrenal gland which made it inoperable, so therefore incurable.
I was offered four cycles of chemotherapy; all the side effects were explained to me and I was scheduled to start the following week. The day care unit was exceptional with the most amazing staff who reassured me over and over.
I got through two cycles and suddenly lost all of my hair. I remember going into meltdown because I knew my son’s friends would realise I was ill.
My consultant realised the chemo was hitting me harder than initially thought and they ordered a CT scan. I visited the Registrar in the third week of my third cycle with my sister to get the results of my scan and to be told if I could continue to the fourth cycle. I remember sitting there holding my sister’s hand, just shaking, willing them to give me the news.
She got the scan up on the screen and I turned away. All I heard was, “Oh my goodness, Wendy you have to look at this” I looked at my sister who was smiling and crying at the same time. When I looked, they had both scans up on the screen and the tumour had shrunk by a third.
At the end of my chemotherapy, they referred me to a cardiothoracic surgeon at Barts Hospital. He was adamant that he needed to do something to help me. He said that he would operate in some shape or form.
He checked my latest scan and found that the cancer was also in my heart, of which he’d been unaware. I was sent for an immediate heart MRI, and he agreed to proceed with surgery but made it clear that he had no idea whether he could help me at all. As it turns out, the tumour in my adrenal gland was unrelated.
In November 2012, my ‘knight in shining armour’ performed a right-sided pneumonectomy and repaired my heart as well. Apart from having my son, the elation was beyond anything I had ever felt. I was in the hospital for just five days and then sent home.
My lung cancer nurse, Julia, was a great support from the beginning. After surgery she was in constant touch, advising me on how to get myself back to health.
I started to walk every day, initially just to the first lamp post, and then slowly progressing. I then started a regime where I would leave home two hours before my son was due to finish school, and slowly (really slowly) I would walk the two mile route to school. My partner, Lennie, would then pick us up in the car.”
Highs and lows
Having had some fantastic highs, Wendy began feeling incredibly low, and was diagnosed with reactive depression.
I couldn’t stop crying, I felt so low but couldn’t understand why; because I’d been given this massive lifeline.
My GP told me this was a perfectly normal occurrence, that you just cope while going through the treatment, because you have no choice. But quite often, once everything is over and you come through the other side, the mind needs time to adjust and take in everything that has happened.
In July 2013, I, together with lots of my family members, did the Blackheath Race for Life. We only did the 5k which took me over two hours, but I had such a sense of achievement and great happiness at being able to give back. The support my family gave me throughout my diagnosis, treatment and recovery was truly amazing. I wouldn’t have got through it without them.
Life after treatment
The treatment has had a massive impact on my life. I was told after surgery that I also have emphysema, so I now have only 45% lung capacity. On a day to day basis, everything takes me just a little bit longer. I get breathless if stairs are involved but I’ve refused to give in. My team at Whipps Cross Hospital went above and beyond to support me throughout my journey. Even to this day, I know I can call them at any time, and they’ll help me in any way they can.
I’m back working, commuting to London, but now work a four day week, having Wednesdays off to give myself a day to recover. I can no longer run but my fitness routine has changed to yoga, walking and swimming.
I’m here and I’m breathing, at the end of the day, that’s all that counts.
My life is good. We’ve had some fantastic holidays and life experiences since my diagnosis, and I’ve realised how precious life is.
I’d tell anyone diagnosed with lung cancer to never lose hope. With other cancers, there is always someone who has fought it and come through the other side, but with lung cancer there didn’t seem to be anyone who had achieved that, and you just cling to the hope that you’re going to be that one person who can get through it.”