Lung cancer: real story

Lorraine Williamson, who was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was 46, knows that her successful recovery is due to the tumour being removed at an early stage. She shares her story.

“I had a dull, nagging pain in my shoulder that grew worse over several months until I couldn’t lift my arm above shoulder height. I was aware, too, that I was increasingly tired. However much sleep I had, I felt as if I lacked energy. 

“After short, sharp exertion, like running up the stairs, I was breathing far heavier than I used to. A friend also mentioned that I had an irritating cough. I put it all down to the stresses and strains of my busy lifestyle and the general aches and pains of getting older.

“I saw a physio for treatment on my shoulder, but after three sessions there hadn’t been much improvement so he referred me back to my GP for steroid injections. My gut instinct was that it was something more serious than a simple shoulder injury, so I requested an X-ray. That was the start of my diagnosis of lung cancer."

Finding out bad news

“After the X-ray, I was told that my shoulder was fine, but there was a shadow on my lung. Further tests confirmed that there was a tumour in the centre of my right lung. In November 2006 I had surgery to remove the tumour and receive a lobectomy (removal of the top third of the lung and the nearby lymph glands).

“I was lucky. Two weeks after surgery, tests showed that my lymph glands were clear and the tumour had been completely removed. I was told I didn't need chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

“To need no further treatment after my operation was remarkable. I know that my survival is due to the early diagnosis. I'm now fully fit, swim three times a week, do 20-mile bike rides and I've climbed Mount Snowdon for charity.

“One thing that struck me when I learned more about lung cancer was how many sufferers have never smoked: one in six according to some sources."

Lorraine's mission for the future

“I’m on a mission to raise awareness about lung cancer. There's a stigma attached to lung cancer, which is naive considering that so many people who have it have never smoked. I'd like to remove that stigma and let it be known that this disease can affect anyone.

“In my mind, lung cancer is no less deserving than any other type of cancer but, mainly due to its poor survival rates, it has a much less developed support network for patients than, for instance, breast cancer.

“The NHS is very practical and efficient when it comes to appointments, tests, advice and so on. The Macmillan nurses and other specialist lung cancer nurses are fantastic for helping with practical and emotional issues, as well as giving nutritional advice.

“But there’s still a gap for lung cancer patients when it comes to aftercare. Having cancer changes you and it’s often crucial to become involved in a personal support network to help you decide how to plan your life after cancer, consider your options for returning to work, and to help you manage, change and move on with life.

“I left my job as a senior manager for a career management consultancy. I'm now devoting part of my time to helping local support services for cancer patients, particularly helping people return to work.”

For more information on the support services available if you have lung cancer, and how to access them, read our article on living with lung cancer.

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