Maureen's wake up was fear. And realising her biggest asset was her life.
Just over a year ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer.
I coughed up some phlegm as most smokers do but this time the phlegm had a streak of blood in it. I ignored it because cancer was something that happened to other people and not me. It couldn't happen to me. A couple of months later I coughed up my usual smokers’ phlegm and there again was a thread-thin sliver of blood, but this time it had the tiniest dark speck that looked like a blood clot. I already had an appointment with my doc for my annual check-up and I thought I would mention it to her while I was there. She sent me for an x-ray and told me not to worry as it could be anything. I’m sure she suspected it was the ‘dreaded C’ but like me she was in denial. Cancer – nah that wasn’t going to happen to me. I was and am invincible. Me? No – it can’t happen. I will die in my bed in my sleep, peaceful, like everyone wants to die. I will not go screaming in to the grave.
I was fortunate enough to have private medical cover and I found myself being x-rayed, CT scanned, PET scanned and having a bronchoscopy all within a fortnight. To hear the words ‘you have lung cancer’ was the worst experience of my life. I was going to die. I had to have tests to see if I could be operated on and luckily enough I could. The tumour in my left lung was 90mm and was classed as ‘massive’. The cancer had gone into the nodes which meant the whole left lung had to be removed if I wanted any chance of living.
The doctors could not understand why I had no other symptoms other than this little spot of blood in my ‘smokers’ phlegm’. I walked up hills on a regular basis, I felt healthy and ate healthy. I had no reason to think I could be a candidate for cancer other than my addiction to ciggies. Cancer was something that happens to other people and not me. I’ve had over 12 months of surgery, chemotherapy, recuperation and the biggest psychological trip of my life. This confident woman that has raised two children and had an amazing strength to face whatever life has had to serve her, has looked the grim reaper in the eyes and challenged him.
The reaper has reduced me to a midget. It has made me feel as if I am a nothing – it has thrown the gauntlet down to me and given me the challenge to pick it up. I miss my ciggies but I miss my lung so much more.
I want my lung back. All because of the temptation of fitting in with the crowd – being part of the in-crowd – being cool, I lost my lung. It was a part of me, a part that was going to be with me for the rest of my life. It was a part of being a human being. I was born with two lungs and I never thought ever of being without one. I was only 57 when the surgeon told me that I would have to lose my lung if I wanted to live.
I’m alive but I will never be the person I was before. I will never climb the hills the way I did before. I loved walking and climbing but now I can do neither without puffing and panting. For the rest of my life I will have to use the disability parking spots because I have to consider my ability to walk from one end of the parking lot to the other.
The biggest asset I have today is that I am alive. If luck had not been on my side then I would not be typing this letter. Every morning I awake and stop and think how lucky I am. There is never a day when I don’t stop and think that this is another day when I could not have woken up. I have spent most of my adult life trying to stop smoking. Now I feel scared when I see someone smoke and have a fear in me when I think of smoking. I wish I had never smoked. 3 months before I was diagnosed with lung cancer I had stopped smoking. 3 months! I’m glad I had stopped even though it was too late for my lung but at least I could have treatment without having cravings from the addiction that put me in that situation in the first place.
If a smoker could feel what I have felt for this past 12 months they would never put another cigarette near their mouth again.