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Total Shock

Hayley’s Story

I had been feeling unwell for a long time. I had a cough that just wouldn’t go away, but I was told repeatedly that ‘it was nothing’, given more antibiotics and sent home.

I had a pain in my leg and then I coughed up a small amount of blood, so I went to see my GP who immediately sent me to A&E. I was kept in overnight and had a CT scan in the morning. Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed what would come next.

A consultant and nurse came to see me in my room and told me that I have stage IV lung cancer, which had spread to my bones. I also had a blood clot in my leg and a pulmonary embolism in my lung, which was brought on by my cancer.

“I started to cry and asked how long I had left. All I could think about was my teenage son and my partner.”

I asked whether I would be having surgery or chemotherapy, but I was told that neither were an option as the cancer had spread throughout my bones, my spine, neck, lymph nodes, abdominal wall, and brain. Thinking of my teenage son and partner, I asked how much time I had left with them.

I was told that I would need to have a biopsy to see if there were any genetic mutations, but I was advised that I was very unwell. Even though I had been complaining of being unwell for so long, my concerns were dismissed because I was a young and never smoked.

“How was this happening? I was 38 years old and had never smoked. How could I be dying from lung cancer?”

I was hysterical and phoned my partner, Steve, who brought my teenage son, Jack, up to see me. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I wanted to be completely honest with Jack as there was no way I could hide it from him.

I was advised that time wasn’t on my side, so I didn’t want anything left unsaid. But how do you tell your child, your everything, that you are dying? It was the worst day of our lives, but there was a moment of joy. Even though it’s not how he had wanted to do things, my partner Steve proposed there and then.

An agonising wait and a wedding…

The following day I had a biopsy taken of my neck where I was told that they were looking to see If I had any genetic mutations due to my age and never smoker history. It would be an agonising three weeks wait for the results.

In the meantime, with the help of family and friends – and even strangers – we put our broken hearts to the back of our minds and got married. It was the best day of our lives, being surrounded by loved ones.

The Result

Three weeks after my biopsy I got the news that I was ALK-positive. This meant that I could start taking targeted therapy, which is four tablets twice a day. I also have to have scans every three months.

I am currently stable, but I know how quickly that can change. This is why I believe that research is so important. I feel there is a lot of stigma around a lung cancer diagnosis, when the truth is that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer – you don’t have to be a smoker.

My advice to anyone who is newly diagnosed is not to search on Google. Just take it one day at a time, have honest conversations with family and friends, and ask for help if you need it. Right now, I am trying to make as many memories as I can with my husband and son.

I will continue to raise awareness for lung cancer, especially in non-smokers, as far too many people are being diagnosed too late. Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

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