If it matters to them, it matters to me
Karen Macrae is a lung cancer nurse specialist from Edinburgh. She sees the devastating effects of lung cancer on a day to day basis, how it tears families apart, leaves husbands and wives widowed, leaves children without mums or dads. It's a hard job but it's one that Karen simply loves:
"Friends and family wonder how I can do what I do. The general thought is how depressing it must be, probably because of the prognosis lung cancer typically brings. However, my job is one of the most fulfilling parts of my life. To meet patients at one, if not, the worst times of their lives and to then to be able to help, reassure and advise them, to be there for them and their families is a feeling second to none.
"I have had, and continue to have, the privilege of meeting some truly remarkable people and, despite the stereotypes of a person with lung cancer, patients vary greatly. Young and old. Male and female. Smoker and non smoker. Lung cancer affects them all.
Lung cancer nurse, Karen, is supporting our #HeadHigh campaign
"As a nurse, you will always get attached to patients and there will be patients who gets to you that little bit more. I had one patient who was given a stage IV diagnosis 18 months ago. He has his own business and a young family of three and was really worried about being able to support and look after them. He struggled with treatments initially, suffering badly from side effects but, thanks to new treatments for lung cancer, is now stable and is living with the disease.
"I had another patient who was a huge heavy metal fan. I remember meeting them for the first time and I couldn't help smiling at the thought of them headbanging to a bit of ACDC! And that's what's often forgotten. They aren't simply a lung cancer patient, they are people with families and lives and passions.
"People do have the common thought that lung cancer is a smokers disease. I've known some people who truly think they are immune to lung cancer because they have never smoked. As a result, they dismiss signs and symptoms and then it's too late."
Karen is concerned a lack of awareness is preventing people from being diagnosed earlier
"Part of what I do is provide support to the patients and their families, both in person and over the phone. I'm with them right through their pathway, from initial presentation and pre-diagnosis, through investigations, then diagnosis, treatment and supportive care. If it matters to them, it matters to me.
"Whilst all patients are different, with different concerns and worries, one common fear is lack of time. Lung cancer is often, too often, diagnosed at a late stage, when treatment isn't curative. Due to this, many patients die very quickly - the average prognosis of the disease is 200 days - so it's no wonder many are fearful about not having time to do the things they wanted to do, about leaving their wife, their husband, their children and their grandchildren behind, of not even having enough time to get their affairs in order. Sometimes it feels like they are here one day, and gone the next. Just like that.
"People do have the common thought that lung cancer is a smokers disease. I've known some people who truly think they are immune to lung cancer because they have never smoked. As a result, they dismiss signs and symptoms and then it's too late.
"Patients who smoked do tend to blame themselves. They believe it is their fault. They are then surprised when they hear the percentages of non/never smokers who get lung cancer.
"The never smokers are usually much more angry at their diagnosis, like lung cancer shouldn't have happened to them. I guess it's human nature to need to be able to explain why something as devastating as lung cancer happens. But the truth is, lung cancer can, and does, affect anyone. I know. I see it every day."