"I was tired all the time but didn’t have a clue I had lung cancer’’ –
how spotting minor changes may save a loved one’s life.
Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation urges families to pick up on subtle clues and play a key role in potential cancer diagnoses. (Read their press release below).
Early detection is the most crucial factor when it comes to lung cancer; the sooner it is diagnosed the more treatment options are available.
Pat Tollady is living proof of that. Six years after learning she had the disease, she is now cancer-free and enjoying a happy, healthy life with her family. But it could so easily have turned out differently, as she recalls:
“I’ve always been fit and healthy, rarely visiting a doctor. However, in September 2014, I began to feel extremely tired. I couldn’t understand why – I was working just 20 hours a week; my two children had flown the nest and my husband was working abroad in Qatar, so I was hardly exerting myself.
I’d come home from work exhausted, in desperate need for a nap but feeling no better afterwards. I lost count of how many times the doctor sent me for blood tests, but they kept coming back normal. Eventually it got too much – I knew I shouldn’t be feeling this way. By then I was also complaining of shoulder pain and my breathing was raspy.
At a loss of what to do the doctor sent me for an x-ray. I presumed I was having my shoulder x-rayed but the doctor had actually ordered a chest x-ray. I was about to walk out – my chest felt fine – but the nurse persuaded me to stay. Thank God she did; the results revealed a shadow on my left lung.
On 2nd April 2015 I was diagnosed with stage 1A non-small cell lung cancer in my upper left lobe. I couldn’t have been more shocked. Fortunately, I could have surgery, and couple of days after that, I was home. Six years later, it feels like a distant memory. I feel like I just had an operation. I don't feel like I had cancer, just that I went into hospital, had something taken out, and that was that.”
Pat and her family were fortunate; seemingly small symptoms such as her unusual tiredness can be easily overlooked since often, they happen slowly and insidiously.
Now, as people across the UK begin to re-connect after the pandemic, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation sees an opportunity to notice such subtle changes, and urge loved ones to act on them promptly. They are launching an awareness campaign, Spot the Difference, to capitalise on this rare moment when more people may be able to notice subtle changes in their loved ones.
Paula Chadwick, the charity’s chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, explained:
‘’Not everyone is as fortunate as Pat, and the pandemic has meant even fewer have felt able to act on these subtle symptoms. However, by being aware of the key signs and symptoms of lung cancer and acting swiftly if you notice one or more of them, you increase your chances of a positive outcome.
“We’ve all been apart for many months, but now, with the vaccine rollout progressing well, families and friends are getting back together. We say that provides a real opportunity to Spot the Difference. If you haven’t seen someone in quite a while, you may notice differences in their appearance and well-being. What might go unnoticed in normal circumstances is now much more apparent.
Spot the Difference urges us all to look closely at our loved ones, to spot any differences in health that could be an early symptom of lung cancer. It’s also an opportunity to play a pivotal role in the post-pandemic cancer recovery plan.”
Lung cancer has been one of the cancers hit hardest by the crisis, as referral rates plummeted by 75% during the first wave. Many other cancers have now since recovered, but lung cancer referrals remain significantly below expected levels.
“Prior to the pandemic,’’ continued Paula Chadwick, ‘’UK lung cancer survival rates had risen to their highest-ever levels, and NHS England was rolling out lung health check pilot schemes that could identify the disease at its earliest stages. Together with medical breakthroughs such as immunotherapies and targeted therapy drugs, there were genuine grounds for optimism for those affected by the disease, especially if it is spotted early.”
Now, however, the situation is so dire that David Baldwin, chair of the UK Clinical Expert Group for Lung Cancer, warned that “clinicians are seeing similar late presentations of lung cancer to those that were the norm 20 years ago”.
The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Spot the Difference campaign aims to help reverse this worrying trend. It highlights a range of potential lung cancer symptoms - including a persistent cough, breathlessness, recurrent chest infections, coughing up blood, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and hoarseness – and encourages those with one or more of these symptoms to contact their GP practice.
Added Paula Chadwick: ‘’Spot the Difference is all about helping people to get an early diagnosis and the best possible outcome. We’re now seeing glimpses of normal life again. We need to make sure the same is true for everyone affected by lung cancer, bringing it back in line with where we were before the pandemic.’