January 29, 2016

Helen Irving

Helen’s Story.

I was about to leave home to take my granddaughter to playgroup when the telephone rang. It was my GP. “It’s not emphysema, its cancer,” she said. I was stunned. How could I have lung cancer when I’d never smoked even one cigarette? My enjoyable retirement life had suddenly crashed.

I was diagnosed at the end of August, 2011 which then followed the most frustrating and worrying time. It seemed to take forever for a definitive diagnosis to be made and for my treatment to begin.

A friend who had cancer herself advised, “Try to be patient. The doctors have to get it right.” My cancer is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), stage four, meaning that the cancer had spread, in my case to my bones, and that it couldn’t be cured.

Initially I felt numb and then sick. This couldn’t be right. I’d presumed I’d inherited a longevity gene. Upon hearing the news, our two adult sons rushed over to our place, and as a family we discussed the diagnosis and its consequences. Our extended family and friends were similarly shocked and in disbelief.

The tests revealed that I had EGFR, a lung cancer gene mutation that responds to a targeted therapy for my cancer type. This therapy is designed to prevent the cancer cells from growing and spreading. My targeted therapy involves taking one tablet each morning.

The side effects, while annoying, are manageable. For me these include dry and itchy skin, skin eruptions, nail problems and a change in hair style. One of the major problems I have had is weight loss. With the aid of a dietitian, I regained most of the weight I lost however lost it again, so I am trying to be more diligent in keeping to a high protein, high fat diet.

So far, I’ve maintained a good quality of life and have been able to continue with most of my activities, including minding my grandchildren, choral singing, some volunteer work and exercise. Recently I walked six kilometers with our walking group!

My husband and I have also travelled to the UK and undertaken some interesting trips within Australia. My oncologist said that those who keep busy do the best. I’ve been fortunate in that my type of treatment has enabled me to do this.

My continued survival has been due to a number of factors including the wonders of medical science, a compassionate medical team and the love, prayers and support of family and friends.
Keeping my “hope and healing” diary has enabled me to identify my emotional and physical feelings and to put things into perspective.

Becoming a member of Lung Foundation Australia’s Lung Cancer Network has been a source of great support and hope. I’ve received research, information, support and discussions with the lung cancer nurse as well as participating in the regular telephone support group.

I seek to find joy in the simple pleasures of life, try to keep a positive outlook and “look ahead and keep pedalling”. This motto originated from a comment made by our gym instructor and I thought it was a good motto for a cancer journey. My mother who lived with a malignant melanoma for over a decade was inspirational. She kept on pedalling until she was 98.

Regards, Helen.