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Catherine’s story

Catherine PearceThat first few minutes in the morning when you open your eyes and your mind is clear and you haven’t yet remembered what’s happening in your life. That everything is ok, normal and how you dreamed your life would be… And then you wake up.

In September 2014 I had the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had. It rocked me. I had a week off work. I am a teacher’s aide and bless those little angels they love to sneeze and cough all over you. I ended up on a course of antibiotics and slowly improved but I was left with a cough that was stubborn and dry. By late November the cough was still hanging around and I was tired. After a visit to my GP and a chest X-ray I was treated for pneumonia. This continued through December. Then in the first week of January I started coughing up blood and was admitted to hospital. Following a bronchoscopy on the 9th January 2015 I was diagnosed with lung cancer. A following pet scan confirmed stage 3b.

The shock I felt upon hearing this is indescribable. How could this be? I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked. I had no idea at this time how many people affected by lung cancer are non smokers. Am I going to be ok? What if I’m not? What about my family. I am a mum of four.  They are my life. I was terrified.
So in Feb and March I had a course of chemo and radiation and it was hard but I did it. And I was going well.

During this recovery time from chemo and radiation my children raised money for Lung Foundation Australia by shaving their heads so that they looked like me. They are amazing individuals and I am so proud of them. They are so strong, confident and compassionate.

I have struggled with the stigma attached to lung cancer. People look at you differently when you say lung cancer and then their first question is how long you’ve smoked for. Lung cancer does not just affect smokers. It does not discriminate. It is the biggest cancer killer in Australia and the survival rate is poor.

I am a mum I am a new grandma I am a wife. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunty and godmother. All these things I want to continue to be. But that will not happen. In August 2015, my cancer metastasis to my brain. In December 2015 I had brain surgery to remove one of the tumours and in April this year more surgery to remove another two, yet they continue to grow. I am now stage 4, terminal. The hardest thing I have ever done is to tell my children that I’m not going to survive this.  But I will not give up. I have started a new drug treatment which we hope will slow the growth of the tumours and further radiation is planned. I have an incredible oncology team at the Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle. Together with my medical oncologist, my radiation Oncologist and my specialist lung cancer nurse I know I’m receiving the very best of care.

I have found the Lung Foundation to be an amazing support facility through their website, group discussions and counselling services. We as a community and affected by lung cancer are very lucky to have these services available. To have the one on one access to their clinical nurse Claire has been such a support and offered piece of mind an understanding.

I’ve been through all the emotions. The sadness, the grief, the anger, the frustration, and the heartache of what I have to leave behind when I go.

I find it difficult to deal with the way cancer has changed me. I don’t look like me. Each morning when I look in the mirror I don’t recognise that person and need to remind myself that it’s still me on the inside. Steroids and other medications have changed my appearance, my face, my weight. It upsets me. But they are also keeping me well at this stage so have become my necessary evil.

But the most important thing I want to say is that out of this journey there are also so many positives. I have been surrounded by so much love and generosity that it overwhelms me and brings me to tears. Such amazing friends and family. Such support and compassion. Such love.

I have had the privilege of seeing my children grow, of being there when our grandson entered our world.  This year I have seen our eldest daughter get married and become a mum herself. An incredible experience I am so grateful to have been here for. Our eldest son and his partner have bought their first home. Our youngest son became school leader and our youngest daughter has achieved wonderful goals with her dancing. I am totally in awe of each of them. They are my greatest achievement in my life. Each day is filled with new memories.

The love of my life amazes me everyday. He has been by my side this whole journey, caring for me, supporting me, picking me up when I crumble and loving me even more than I ever imagined possible.

I have good and bad days and some days struggle with my emotions. But other days are filled with such joy, happiness and laughter.

And I have discovered just how strong I am and how much determination I have.

Each day is a gift I am truly grateful for.

I am blessed.