After being diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), Gaynor Wall understands the importance of looking after yourself first hand. Thank goodness she does because it saved her life.
“Spring 2015 and all was rosy. We’d just moved into our beautiful new house, enjoying time with our two sons and lovely granddaughter and planning holidays. It was normal. Little did I know that soon life would never be the same again.
For some reason, I decided my husband and I should go and have a full body MOT. To this day, I’m not sure why; we don’t smoke and only drink in moderation. I guess being diagnosed with CVID just made me more aware of my health. Anyway we had the scans and tests then packed up and headed to Abersoch for the bank holiday weekend without a second thought.
Less than a week later and I was being told they had found a tumour, around 3.5cm in my right lung. All I remember saying was ‘is it serious?’ The radiologist wouldn’t say either way, only that I was very lucky. After a series of tests my worst fear was confirmed – adenocarcinoma in my right lung. All I could think was I won’t be here for Christmas.
I was given three options, all with varying risks and prognosis; one – do nothing (survival rate six months), two – aggressive hospital based chemo (survival rate 4 to 5 years) or three – surgery (survival rate forever, all being well). For me, there was no other option other than surgery. I was booked in for a week later.
Due to the position of the tumour, the surgeon needed to remove my right lung. I was aware that that could happen before I had the operation but just hoped it wouldn’t be the case. The immediate threat had been removed but I was now faced with a slow and painful recovery and a life very different to the active one prior.
On a daily basis I experience breathlessness and tiredness. I get frequent chest infections and I’m unable to stand for long periods of time. It took me quite a long time before I could drive my car again and we can’t walk as much as we used to. Worst of all, I’m not able to pick up my granddaughter or play with her the way I used to. I miss all the things I took for granted – even working! I really enjoyed my job and loved meeting new people.
I vividly remember my first chest x-ray after my pneumonectomy, seeing an empty and void space where my lung used to be. It’s an image that will always stay with me. I was left terrified about what if something was to happen to my other lung. What chance would I have if anything else should happen? The never ending fear as your next check-up approaches. I now know that I have already been given the best possible chance of survival.
I’m sure there are many people out there reading this and getting very angry. At least you’re still here, they’ll be staying. And they’re right. I am incredibly fortunate; if I had taken the traditional GP route and not paid for a private scan, there’s every chance I wouldn’t have seen Christmas.
Guilt is something I’ve battled with throughout. I’ve felt ashamed and awful to have such thoughts as why me? because I knew I should be so grateful for the chance I’ve been given, something far too few lung cancer patients get.
However, I now understand your cancer story is completely unique to you, how you deal with things is unique to you. I stopped comparing myself to books and leaflets telling me I was taking longer than others to recover. Lung cancer is bigger than anything I have ever had to overcome. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate what it took from me – physically and mentally. Now I do.
I still have darker days. There are highs and lows, tears and sadness. I go through quiet periods not wanting to talk to anyone and then times when all I want to do is talk. I let myself go through it all and, when I’m out the other side, I start to look forward again.
If my lung cancer hadn’t been found early, I would not be here. That’s a fact. I was told I wouldn’t survive past that first Christmas. I would have missed my son’s 30th birthday, my granddaughter’s first day at school, our pearl wedding anniversary. Most of all I would have just missed living life to the full.Early detection of lung cancer is vital.
I always remember something my dad said to me after my mum died, also of lung cancer, never think too long about doing anything you want to do – just go out and do it. And I intend to.”