By Niall Reynolds, Ireland
It was 2007, I was 41 years old and training for my black belt in Taekwondo when I found out I had lung cancer. After spending weeks trying to get rid of a cough, I went to my doctor. A few weeks later I had a chest x-ray followed by a CT scan which confirmed I had lung cancer, a disease I could never have imagined dealing with, especially at my age. Treatment began quickly with a lower lobectomy on my right lung followed by four months of chemotherapy.
I was determined to continue to live my life, even throughout treatment. The way I did this was not to plan for anything beyond three months. We took vacations, but only booked them a month or two in advance. As time went on, I could extend that time to six months and then a year. I love to travel and since my diagnosis have been to most places I’ve wanted to see, such as Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Paris and London.
I frequently used the Lung Cancer Alliance website and community for information and support throughout my journey. It was a massive help! After my operation and chemotherapy, I felt like I was sent home to deal with what had been left (e.g. chest pain, drug side effects, etc.). The website offered me the reassurance and information I needed, while the lung cancer community provided me with a platform of support and hope.
Although we never met each other in person (some people being an ocean away from my home in Ireland), I felt a bond with the lung cancer survivors I connected with online. There was a sense that we were all going through this together, on different scales with good and bad outlooks, but all supporting each other through it. One lady told me her goal was to see Ireland before she died, which she did. She loved it and loved the music. I sent her a CD of Irish music, which she loved and played many times before she died.
My advice to those newly diagnosed is to take it one day at a time, until you can take it one week at a time, and so on. Be good to yourself and do what makes you happy. Make time for family and try not to get bogged down by too much “cancer talk.” Make a point to live with awareness, noticing and loving every moment, rather than getting caught up in the “rat race.” Try not to hold grudges or get bothered by silly annoyances; it is a waste of precious time. If you received help, let those people know how much you appreciate that help.
Be sure to thank and have patience with your caregiver(s). Whether that person is your spouse, partner, family member or friend, they hate that you are sick and some would rather take the illness from you than see you suffer. They are the true heroes in my book.
Finally, give back if you can; sharing your experience can make a world of a difference for someone newly diagnosed. It is likely you will benefit just as much as the people you help.
Since my operation I have gone on to get my second and third black belts in Taekwondo, started my own Taekwondo school with a few other friends and completed numerous cycling tours for a local cancer charity which I have now joined the board. I also teach self-defence to women once a week. There is life after lung cancer, enjoy it!