It’s Time to Talk

It’s Time to Talk - about lung cancer and mental health.

Today, Thursday 2nd February, is designated ‘Time to Talk Day’ The aim is to get people across the UK talking to break the silence around mental health problems.

It’s a great idea, and we’re fully behind it.

One person in four will face mental illness at some stage – it can happen to anyone, just as anyone with lungs can develop lung cancer.

At Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, we recognise the striking similarities between mental illness and lung cancer itself. Both carry a heavy burden of stigma, ignorance and prejudice.  Both can be scary – and hard to discuss openly.

For many people living with lung cancer, there’s often a more direct relationship with mental illness, as many will experience a range of psychological challenges. It’s the worst of both worlds – serious physical AND mental illness, all in one grim package.

So it can be vital to talk – to open up and share fears and anxieties. Just taking that initial step can seem so daunting – but so very worthwhile when you do.

Eric Byrne, a Further Education lecturer from Newmains in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, knows the value of talking. It may have saved his life.

He had a persistent tickly cough which just wouldn’t go away. He dismissed it as ‘just one of those things’ – but his daughter Jennifer didn’t. She arranged an appointment with his GP, and told Eric in no uncertain terms that he had to go. And when that initial consultation didn’t clear up the issue, she persisted. Eventually, after a series of tests, Eric underwent chemotherapy to shrink a tumour in his upper right lung, followed by surgery.

Eric readily admits he was unprepared for the psychological impact all this was to have on him.

He says: “It was like I’d entered a long dark tunnel in which there was no light at all. I couldn’t sleep – my brain was racing, wondering what would happen if the treatment didn’t work – what would happen to me and to my family. I got more and more anxious, until eventually I realised I was becoming depressed. I simply couldn’t do anything. I would just sit in front of the television, not taking anything in.

“I feared I wouldn’t survive it. Not the lung cancer, not the treatment, and not the anxiety. All of it.”

Eventually, he sought help from his GP, who prescribed him something for his depression and to help him to sleep. It took a while to take effect, but after two or three months, Eric was much more like his usual self.

The doctor and the medication – and the talking – had helped him through his worst patch. He was on the mend. Eric had his surgery in January 2009. Eight years later, he’s still with us – telling anyone and everyone he can about his story. About his hesitant progress through that long dark tunnel of mental distress – and out into the light he hadn’t realised was still there, waiting for him.

When fear, anxiety and depression were crushing the hope out of him, Eric reached out. His doctor and his family were there to help pull him through. It wasn’t easy – but he made it. 

Nowadays, Eric loves to talk. There’s a lesson there for all of us, whether we’re living with lung cancer or mental illness - or both. 

Our nurse-led helpline can provide vital support when it’s needed – and it’s free. Call on 0800 358 7200 (UK only). Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm

Or you could chat online with others who will understand what you’re going through on our Lung Cancer Forum at

Go on. It’s good to talk. And it’s good for you too. Just ask Eric. 

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