How I survived lung cancer
Norman shares his story of overcoming lung cancer.
Just under 3 years ago, I realised my heartbeat was irregular. It had happened 3 or 4 times before, lasting for a few hours, but this time it was longer, lasting until the next day.
I phoned my GP first thing in the morning. A nurse and a doctor tested my heart's activity, gave me a chest X-ray, took blood samples and monitored my heart, and several hours later I was relieved to hear that everything was fine and I could go home.
Later that evening, though, I got a call from the hospital. They wanted to see me again as one of my blood samples was abnormal. They feared I might have a blood clot in my lung. I was given a herapin injection and kept in overnight for observation.
The next day I was given the good news... and the not so good news.
They found 'something nasty'
First up, good news - I didn't have a blood clot. The bad news - they'd found 'something nasty' in one of my lungs. It's funny how people avoid the words lung cancer; I suppose tumour or 'something nasty' sounds less offensive.
Ten years earlier I had visited my GP with an unexplained rash on my back and was sent for an X-ray which showed a shadow on my lung. At first, the consultant thought this might be lung cancer, but after I took a spirometry test I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) instead. I was advised by the consultant to stop smoking and finally kicked the habit four months later.
This time, though, I did have a tumour. I was given an urgent appointment with a respiratory consultant, but still had to wait a few more weeks to find out more. It was a difficult time, with my emotions changing from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.
When my appointment finally came round, I was shown the scan of my lungs and told the options were surgery or radiotherapy. I decided I wanted to go ahead with the surgery. My consultant explained I'd need to be fit enough for the operation, have more tests, meet the surgeon and satisfy his criteria.
Thankfully, it all went well and, after another emotional few weeks of waiting, I was referred to the surgeon who would be removing the tumour. Finally, I felt like I was getting somewhere.
At the end of August I met the surgeon. It would be a risky procedure; we talked about the implications and dangers and I signed a consent form.
I was admitted to Broadgreen hospital in Liverpool for the operation. It took 5 hours. It was a worrying time for my family who waited patiently.
When I came around, the surgeon and 2 anaesthetists told me I'd done well. My first thoughts were, 'I've survived the anaesthetic and surgery - but where's the pain?' I didn't realise an epidural, the anaesthetic that stopped me feeling pain, worked so well.
I was taken to the ward attached the drips, drains and lots of other paraphernalia (most of which I'd rather forget about) and spent another 12 nights in hospital. My treatment was first class.
After returning home, I received plenty of support from health care professionals. I felt really positive, but my progress was slower than I'd anticipated. During the next few days my breathing got worse and I began to feel unwell, but it's normal to have up and down days so I continued as best I could.
However, it soon became clear that something wasn't right. My wife phoned our GP practice. When the doctor came round, he ordered an ambulance as my breathing was so bad. I stayed in hospital for another 3 weeks. One of my earlier memories was feeling cold, and realising there were fans blowing on me to keep me cool. On another occasion my heartbeat was abnormally fast.
I was very weak and needed oxygen. The doctors gave me antibiotics and what seemed like endless tests and scans; X-rays, CAT scans and ultrasound scans. The results showed I had a collapsed left lung and 3 pockets of infection, which doctors attempted to drain unsuccessfully.
It was suggested I return to Broadgreen hospital for further surgery to wash out the infection, but the surgeon wasn't prepared to take the risk. Instead, they changed the antibiotics I was being given by a drip directly into a vein, and hoped to see progress.
It was a frightening time for everyone. All we could do was wait. At the start of November I had a follow-up appointment and my inflammation markers were down to 20. A week later they were down to 8. And by the following week they were so pleased with the results that I was discharged and told to complete a course of antibiotics.
At the end of that month I had my first appointment with the surgeon from Broadgreen since my surgery. I was told that the tumour had been cancerous - and in fact there had been two of them. But then came the great news - I was cured. No more treatment. No chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Of course, nobody can guarantee my cancer won't return, and I was told I'd need to be monitored closely for the next 5 years. But after everything I had been through, it was the best news I could I have received. Recovery has been a long process, but I consider myself fortunate.
Lung cancer discovered by accident and a three week stay in hospital with a post-op infection. What a journey. Sadly I will always have COPD, but today I am a lung cancer survivor.
If you'd like to know more about lung cancer, you can read our lung cancer information online or order our publications from our shop. Or, call our helpline on 03000 030 555, Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.
Do you have a story to tell? It could be about your lung condition, a friend or relative you know who lives with one, or how caring for them impacts your life. We'd love to hear what you've got to say!