May 13, 2015

Liz’s story

34 days from diagnosis to the “all clear”

I’m a 56 year old professional woman and a former smoker in good health.  I was incidentally diagnosed with lung cancer (non-small cell adenocarcinoma) early this year. By sheer luck, the ‘mass’ in my lung was discovered when I had surgery for an unrelated issue (a total hip replacement) and the surgical team had difficulty getting me to breathe after the anesthetic which prompted them to take a chest x-ray and CT scan.

In just 34 days, I was diagnosed with lung cancer, received curative surgery and got the “all clear” from my surgeon.

I received my lung cancer diagnosis in May 2014 after a particularly unpleasant lung biopsy the week before. I was hoping for a better outcome however it didn’t really come as a great shock as I’d been a smoker for many years and had often considered this scenario.

My respiratory specialist pointed out some positives in my favour

  • At 56 I was considered young – go figure!
  • The cancer was in an early stage.
  • I had above average lung function/capacity due to my aerobic fitness
  • I had quit the dreaded cigarettes five years previously – four if I’m completely honest.

After a PET scan for staging and a week long wait, it came to light that on a scale of 1-4 (with 4 being the most advanced cancer) I was staged with a 1B lung cancer which in the whole scheme of things meant that:

I had lung cancer but it appeared to be contained

  • There was a strong possibility the tumour could be completely removed with surgery
  • My respiratory doctor said that my chances of making the five year mark (the best they can offer for a cure) were 95%.

This was absolutely wonderful news for my husband and I.

I went to see the cardiothoracic surgeon and he advised me that I would have an upper right lung lobectomy (i.e. removing the upper lobe of
my right lung) in three days. My surgeon performed the surgery two days after my visit and pronounced the magic words “we got it all” the day after my operation.  

Physically I wasn’t on top of the world but, I didn’t feel as bad as I’d expected and even managed to complain about the hospital breakfast menu. Within a few days, I was walking around the hospital corridors with a gentleman that had a triple bypass before my operation.

I was discharged one week after my admittance and that day, nature turned on the most glorious autumn day with the sun shining on Perth’s Swan River. Sitting in the car with my husband driving across the Narrows Bridge I felt like I’d won the lotto. I was day-dreaming of my future life and everything was sparkling!Liz1 JPG BEACH

After a couple of weeks at home with some good days and some not so good days but with general improvement every day, I returned to work just a little over one month after my lung cancer diagnosis.

The following day, I got a call from my surgeon and he ‘oh so casually’ informed me that my tumour was 18mm in size and that everything was clear and I didn’t have to have chemotherapy! Apparently, my tumour was 12mm under the requirements for chemotherapy.

I have a small spot on my other (left) lung which is too small to biopsy but will be scanned in six months. I’m not worried about this because I understand that in 99% of cases, early detection results in the best possible prognosis.

While I understand that I still have a long way to go, I look forward to being able to achieve my goal of getting to the Tibet side of Mt Everest Base Camp at 5200 meters in November 2015!

My husband and I are so thankful that my lung cancer had been discovered in the early stages, while I was ‘young’ and fit, and had the lung capacity to cope with the major surgery and the drive to get myself back to good health!