Lung cancer real lives
In mid-2002 Sue McCullough, had a really bad case of flu. Sue is also diabetic and because she began vomiting blood she was admitted to Hornsby Hospital.
‘I was told I should have a CT scan because there was concern that I may have damaged my lungs.
Because I’d been so ill, it was a while before my GP sent me to get a CT. It showed a lump, but the respiratory specialist said it was nothing to worry about. I was a 49-year-old, quite healthy non-smoker, but I had lost about 10 kilos in the last six months,’ said Sue.
Initially it was felt that the lump didn’t look dangerous, but following a second scan three months later, Sue sought a second opinion and a needle biopsy showed adenocarcinoma.
‘Within a week I had the right lower lobe of my lung removed. I had a few complications with the operation though and unfortunately ended up in hospital for three months. There were numerous tests and I had to have a major operation to fix a leak in my lung.’
‘I became very ill during this time and almost died. My husband was very worried and it was a very stressful time for him.’
Sue McCullough is a rarity in that she is a long-term survivor following surgery. Fortunately she has not needed chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
‘My step-dad passed away from lung cancer quite a few years ago and my mum has since died of lung cancer – she was a smoker for all of her life.’
Soon after Sue left hospital she became involved in support and advocacy for people with lung cancer because there was so little available, especially when compared to other cancers.
‘There is a need for research into early diagnosis, the different types of adenocarcinoma at the microscopic level and their different possibilities of recurrence, a blood test for detecting lung cancer and the different targeted therapies – all of these research projects are vital. Lung cancer has been the hidden cancer that kills more people than breast cancer, but breast cancer gets so much more attention and funding.’
At 43 Zoey* had always been careful about her diet and taking the time to jog or exercise. Then she became too busy at work and her routine was disrupted. ‘I was so busy that I didn’t care about what I was eating, I didn’t have time for exercise and had less sleep,’ said Zoey.
Zoey began feeling pain whenever she raised her right arm and had a mild cough and colds. ‘I had been going to the GP almost every week for about a month, but then my condition worsened with shortness of breath and the pain got worse, especially when I coughed and even when I laughed.’
A fortnight later, Zoey was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had never smoked in her life.
‘I was EGFR-positive so I was given targeted therapy. I only had to take a tablet once a day but this treatment has a lot of possible side effects and I experienced most of them. Nevertheless I tried to manage them as much as I could, so it wasn’t that bad. After a month of taking the drug, the pain was gone.
‘My family was absolutely devastated. It was so hard especially as I have a young family. I decided to take indefinite leave from work so I can focus on getting well. We had to make adjustments in every aspect of our lives.’
After few months, however, the drug has stopped working.
‘I have started to feel the pain again and am feeling breathless at times. It was confirmed that there was a second mutation and I am about to start on the next line of treatment.’
‘The research which Garvan is conducting is something that we, as patients with advanced lung cancer, are looking forward to. If there is no way to cure the disease, we wish that we live longer at least. Unfortunately, unlike in other types of cancer, not many people survive lung cancer that long, so early detection is also an important area of research.’
*Not her real name.