With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Tabatha Fabray looks back on her father’s fight against this ruthless disease.
When you’re young, you feel like your parents are invincible, but cancer has other ideas. I will never forget the day my father told me he was not ready to die.
The only reason that my father even found out that he had cancer was due to a routine heart scan that showed a shadow on his right lung. And he kept that from me for a whole year. I was furious, as you can imagine, when he eventually told me.
“How can you be so bloody selfish dad??!!” Is what I said.
“I can’t believe you have kept all that worry and fear to yourself for a whole year.” Is what I secretly thought.
I was relatively young, only 25 years old, when my father was diagnosed, but being a child to an older parent, my father being 72 at the time, I was not unfamiliar with the prospect of him succumbing to age-related illnesses. Hardly living a life of virtue and clean living, my dad was a working-class builder through and through, who worked hard and played harder.
In his youth he would hit the pub straight from work, buy 10 pints for a pound and sprint the mile home after. He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish
He often told me of the days in his youth when he would hit the pub straight from work, buy 10 pints for a pound and sprint the mile home after. He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish for most of his younger years until he met my mother aged 44, had me and resolved (somewhat successfully) to be better behaved.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
Did you know that lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer? I know I didn’t. Breast cancer, I though, probably. Prostate cancer maybe. But lung cancer? It was barely on my radar.
But this horrible disease kills more than 36,000 people every year. Affecting both men and women, young and old, smokers and non-smokers. The main reason for the shamefully low survival rate?
CATCHING IT EARLY
Not only does lung cancer have no physical form, well not that the eye can see or feel, but the symptoms can easily be mistaken for other lung or chest problems.
My dad’s persistent cough? Well love, I was a smoker for 30 plus years.
Shortness of breath or wheezing? What do you expect at my age?
Perhaps we should go to the doctors just to be on the safe side Dad? Stop fussing. Why would I waste their time?
Men in particular, much like my dad, can push health worries or concerns to the back of their minds. They make excuses or feel like they don’t want to be a worry to their kids, so they keep schtum. My father had already had two heart valve replacements by this time of his diagnosis, both of which came with notable risks, but there was something about the reality of him having cancer that sent an icy cold shiver down my spine.
Men in particular, much like my dad, can push health worries or concerns to the back of their minds
To me cancer meant death, or at the very least a close encounter with it. I couldn’t even moan ‘why him?’ What had he ever done? I knew. He had smoked 40-60 Marlboro Red a day for the best part of his life, worked on building sites with no protection from dust and dirt, and even had a nasty encounter with asbestos which has not exactly left his lungs in good condition even without the cancer.
I remember going home from the hospital on the day he was diagnosed and spending hours on Google looking for natural remedies that could help him. I was convinced that a bucket load of spinach and kale would somehow fight off this ruthless disease.
But of course, he ignored my research completely. I don’t think he ate as much as one extra carrot.
But he fought, in his own way. He did what his doctors and surgeon suggested. He put his faith in their hands and ultimately, they were right.
Yes, there were horrible, traumatic, and damn right terrifying times during his treatment (no chemo but laser treatment and surgery). One in particular is forever stained in my mind. I had snuck into to the intensive care unit after one bout of surgery, unable to wait a moment longer to see how he was, to see my father looking drugged, dazed and inexplicably vulnerable. And old. I remember above all else how old he looked at that moment.
Our fight – and it is very much our fight, as cancer affects families not individuals – is not yet over
For an only child whose father had always appeared strong and somewhat omnipotent, this was a massive shock. But, true to form, he was back to his old self in a mere two days; flirting with the nurses on the ward and asking for extra ice cream.
Our fight – and it is very much our fight, as cancer affects families not individuals – is not yet over. My dad still has cancerous cells in his left lung which are too small to be lasered off and as he is not strong enough for chemo it is now simply a case of being vigilant and hoping they do not spread anytime soon. But unlike many others, he has been given a second chance.
The experience has definitely brought us closer together and made me, if possible, even more fiercely protective of him. I am also even more aware of how precious the time we have together is; even more so since the arrival of my son. And oh my god how he loves his grandad! It has definitely given him something to fight for, something to live for.
I still catch glimpses of the vulnerability that the cancer has brought upon him. Only the other day, he started coughing uncontrollably, unable to catch his breath. And I can’t help thinking that’s the cancer. It’s back. I’m done for now. The cancer will always be in the back of both our minds, but at least now we know its there and we can do something about it.
If you do one thing this month, speak to your loved ones about lung cancer. Help them recognise the early signs and urge them to seek medical advice if needed. Remember early detection can save a life. There’s a stigma around lung cancer too – something about how people must deserve it, maybe they smoked, they’ve asked for it. 1 in 4 people admit to feeling less sympathy for lung cancer sufferers than those with other cancers.
But it can hit anyone, and nobody deserves cancer.
Early signs of lung cancer
- A persistent cough that does not go away or that gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-coloured phlegm
- Pain in the chest that becomes worse with coughing and/or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Regular, persistent infections such as bronchitis and/or pneumonia
National Lung Cancer Awareness Month is throughout November
The event aims to encourage people displaying the common symptoms of lung cancer, such as a persistent cough, breathlessness or unexplained weight-loss, to visit their GP
It also works to help remove the stigma around lunch cancer with the campaign #HeadHigh