Beating lung cancer

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

It took the death of a close friend from lung cancer for Monica Murphy to discover that she too had the disease.

Monica, who is 78 years old and lives in Portmarnock, Co. Dublin, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010 and is now free of cancer. Her road to recovery, however, has been tough.

"I had a very good friend who had a cough which she didn't get investigated and who subsequently died of lung cancer. This frightened me, so I felt I should get a check up. I went for an x-ray to Beaumont Hospital and a nodule was found on my thyroid. This turned out to be benign and was removed."

Following this, Monica was sent for a PET scan at the Blackrock Clinic, which detected a nodule on her lung. After a biopsy at Beaumont, she was referred on to St James's Hospital.

"The consultant at St James's told me it had been confirmed that I had lung cancer and I would have to have an operation on my right lung., which, of course was a huge shock. I had had absolutely no symptoms - no cough, no pain or anything, I was in St James's for two weeks after the operation, followed by two weeks in Clontarf hospital for rehab."

The experience of diagnosis and treatment of the lung cancer was physically as well as mentally difficult for Monica.

"The lung biopsy was awful. They insert a needle into your breast. While they give you a local anaesthetic you can still feel it. I thought I was dying in the bed afterwards."

On top of this, Monica had a bad reaction to the surgery.

"The whole surgery experience was very frightening. I had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic and medication, so much so that they thought at first they had overdosed me."

Happily, Monica recovered, both from the post-surgery reaction and the cancer itself.

She was given the all-clear after her treatment and has been cancer-free since. She did not require chemotherapy.

"I go to the consultant twice a year for check ups and also to my GP. I'll be four years cancer-free in June. I've been very lucky."

"I feel fine now. I've been to Australia three times to visit my eldest son who lives there and I'm going again this year. I lead a fairly active life. I still drive, I love music and playing cards and I regularly go to the cinema. I think for my age that's pretty good."

Monica used to smoke 20 cigarettes per day but had given them up in 2005.

"I gave them up after my youngest son, who was also a smoker, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was successfully treated. I said at the time that if he can give up cigarettes then so can I."

"My advice to people would be definitely don't smoke. It's just not worth the risk I now find if I'm sitting beside someone who has smoked I can't stand the smell."

Lung cancer is Ireland's fourth most common cancer, with 2,213 people diagnosed with the disease in 2012.

This month is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

The Irish Cancer Society says Monica's case was an unusual one, in that she was able to present to her GP at a very early stage before any symptoms were obvious.

However, the Society stresses that anyone who starts to get symptoms should attend their GP for a check-up as quickly as possible.

The Irish Cancer Society has stressed that with early detection there is a real chance of effective treatment and potential cure.

People who present to their doctor as early as possible have a greater range of treatment options and better outcomes than those who present with late stage lung cancer, the Society says.

The signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:

* A cough that doesn't go away or a change in a long-term cough.
* Feeling short of breath or wheezing.
* Repeated chest infections that won't go away even after antibiotics.
* Coughing up blood-stained phlegm (sputum).
* Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in.
* Feeling more tired than usual and/or unexplained weight loss.
* Hoarse voice, problems swallowing or swelling in the face or neck.

Anyone who is concerned about cancer should contact the Irish Cancer Society's National Cancer Helpline Freefone on 1800 200 700 to speak to a specialist cancer nurse who can offer information, advice and support or visit

The Society also runs the National Smokers' Quitline in conjunction with the HSE. Smoking cessation counsellors are on hand to offer one to one support to those who wish to stop smoking. More information is available by calling Callsave 1850 201 203 or visit


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