“Compared to other people, my experience with cancer has been a walk in the park. It’s not been easy, but you have to count your blessings.”
John Fell is thankful every day that his lung cancer was found early. The 71-year-old was diagnosed after taking part in the Leeds Lung Health Check, a pioneering lung screening programme funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research.
Following an invitation from his GP, John visited the programme’s mobile unit at Costco, a five minute drive from his home in Hunslet.
John, who worked in the printing industry until retirement, had been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) two decades earlier.
He’d quit smoking and, thanks to inhalers and tablets, the illness was under control.
“I didn’t have any symptoms but I thought if they’d gone to the trouble of inviting me, I should go,” John says.
“It was very convenient. I watched a video explaining what would happen and then I had a breathing test and a scan. It didn’t take very long at all. It was all very efficient and laid back.”
John was due to go on holiday the next day. When he returned three weeks later, he found out that he needed to go to hospital for a follow-up appointment. He went alone while his wife Hazel went to work. “I thought they were going to tell me my COPD was okay and that they’d see me in 12 months’ time. You don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. At 71 years of age you think they’re not going to find anything now. I thought I’d gone past the danger point,” John admits.
“Then they gave me the bombshell: you’ve got cancer. I was in shock. But they were very positive and hopeful right from the beginning.”
John had a full body scan to determine the exact size and location of the cancer and the type of treatment he should receive. He also had tests to ensure he was fit enough for surgery.
The operation to remove the tumour – carried out using cutting-edge robotic surgery - took place just six weeks after John’s first appointment at the respiratory clinic. Thanks to his early diagnosis, he didn’t need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
John said: “When someone tells you you’ve got cancer, you don’t think you’ll just have a five and a half hour operation. You don’t think you’ll be in and out of hospital in three days and that will be it. The care and support we received was excellent. We can’t praise it enough.
“I felt a bit sore afterwards, and apprehensive thinking about what the final result would be. During the surgery they had removed some of my lymph nodes and had taken other tissue samples around the lung to see if the cancer had gone anywhere else. It was difficult waiting for the results of those tests, and a huge relief when the nurse rang to say they were all clear.”
John and Hazel had cancelled a holiday with their family to celebrate Hazel’s 70th birthday after finding out about the cancer.
But in a moment of good fortune, the results of the tests came back just in time for the couple to re-organise their plans and spend a week in Spain with their two children, their partners and three young grandchildren.
Hazel explained: “It was a celebration of my birthday but also the end of the nightmare we’d been through. John had to be careful as he was still recovering from his operation, but we were able to have the time together and that was really important.”
John is now looking forward to the future. His passion is amateur rugby league, and he’s looking forward to watching matches every Saturday afternoon when the 2020 season begins.
He and Hazel are also making a conscious effort to improve their health, including walking more regularly and eating a healthier diet.
Hazel said: “Going through something like this makes you reassess things. It’s had a big impact on our lifestyle. We’re both aware of looking after ourselves a bit more. We’re eating more fruit and veg and we’re trying to do more walking.
“Thankfully, John lost less than 10% of his lung capacity, so he doesn’t feel any more out of breath than he did before his operation. We make a point of going out each day, even if it’s just to the shops, and we often go to Middleton Park. It’s beautiful there.”
Since his diagnosis, John has become much more aware of the disease and conscious of other people who have it. “I’ve got a lot more emotional,” John says. “I just think how lucky I am. It could have been a very different story if it had been found two years down the line. There have been lots of advancements in cancer treatment, but early diagnosis is a huge part of the secret to survival.
“People invited to take part in the Leeds Lung Health Check should go. They should put their faith in the doctors and nurses who offer these checks because they’re only trying to keep us fit and healthy and make us better. People shouldn’t be afraid, because if there is anything wrong, it’s better to catch it early.”
About Yorkshire Cancer Research
• Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
• Current statistics show that 594 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week.
• Our mission is for 2,000 more people to survive cancer every year in Yorkshire.
• There are lots of cancer problems across the region that need to be tackled on a local level. We work in partnership with researchers, clinicians, the NHS, public health bodies and other charities to fund innovative work in four key areas: prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and clinical trials.
• For more information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org