Pamela Morrison, 39, is a primary school teacher from Youghal Cork, she is engaged to a wonderful partner and has added a new puppy to the family!
She is also living with stage IV Lung Cancer.
Pamela is supporting The Big Check Up 2023 to help the Marie Keating Foundation “Change how we see lung cancer”.
This is her story.
Last year I developed a recurring cough that came and went for months, but I fobbed it off as seasonal allergies, or maybe something to do with long covid symptoms. As a healthy, 38-year-old non-smoker, I never would have dreamed of lung cancer.
The cough became really persistent around Mid-August. I booked into see my doctor at the end of September. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my GP, but a locum and he seemed generally uninterested in what I had to say and didn’t take the cough too seriously, even though I told him it had been coming and going for at least a year. I was told to go home, steam, gargle and take cough bottle 3 times a day. Even when I said I had been doing this all along, I was still sent away with no further support.
The cough got worse and I was developing awful pain in my ribs. I returned, and unfortunately saw the same doctor, who again wanted to send me away with codeine and a cough bottle. I cried and begged for further investigation, not just cough suppressors, but I was not listened to. I rang the surgery and requested my own doctor the next day, and when I finally saw him I was experiencing breathlessness and chronic fatigue. He sent me for an x-ray and tried me on various medications to see if any would work and seemed to take things a bit more seriously.
The x-ray showed up anomalies and I was referred on to get a CT. Another wait and confusion with my files occurred. While I was waiting, my struggle to breathe and the exhaustion worsened. I also lost a stone in a month. The doctor told me he had to wait until after the CT results to do anymore, until some blood spotting started when I coughed. He brought me straight in and kept his clinic open late to see me. I saw his worry when he realised how much weight had been lost. He referred me to the Rapid Access Respiratory Clinic, the appointment for which was another month’s wait.
Just days later I coughed up a lot of blood overnight. When I rang my doctor in the morning, I was told he wouldn’t be in for 4 days. When I asked what I should do, I was told he would ring me back when he came in. Looking back, I find this disregard so shocking, when clearly I was in such a dire situation. It had been ingrained in me that accident and emergency was for very serious cases like car accidents and heart attacks or other near-death situations, and in spite of all that was happening, I didn’t see myself in that category.
The blood came up again 2 nights later and when I rang South Doc and they heard the history of the case, they told me to go to A&E immediately. Even then, I was ringing my sister and my friend who are nurses asking them if it was a bit melodramatic to go to A&E. As you can imagine, they were quite forceful about telling me to go. I drove up on the 24th of November 2022, thinking it would maybe be an overnight stay and they’d find something like pneumonia, put me on antibiotics and send me home. Looking back, what I would love other people to take from this story is to trust yourself. You know when something isn’t right. Ask for a second opinion, be forceful, advocate for yourself, don’t worry about causing a fuss. You’re not causing a fuss; you might be saving your own life!
I will forever be grateful to the staff in the CUH A&E. The first member of staff I came into contact with, the triage nurse, was so kind and compassionate. She was shocked at all I’d been through and said the words, “You’ve really been through so much!” and just having someone take me seriously brought me to tears. From there, everyone was incredible. I was so cared for, in spite of the clear under staffing and pressure they were all under. The compassion that was shown to be was second to none. I will never be able to speak highly enough about them all, the nurses, doctors, consultants, porters, cleaning staff, electricians. It was like everyone was on a mission to either cheer me up or make me feel more comfortable.
At first, I was isolated as they investigated for TB. Never would I have thought I’d be hoping for TB. When they cleared me for that, I was still in complete denial. My friend and I were even googling Legionnaire’s disease and became absolutely convinced this must be the cause!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was stage 4 lung cancer with a metastasis to the brain. I’ll never fully be able to describe how that lands and the difficulty in moving forward after it, but somehow you do! Receiving a referral for psycho-oncology was key in supporting this. Mental health support is essential for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis.
In some ways I’m lucky, as its type EGFR I get to use targeted therapy which I’ve responded well to and I’ve largely been unaffected by side effects. The downside is, they just don’t know how long it will stay effective for. It varies greatly from person to person. I have searched online and have found people who have been using targeted therapy for anywhere between 7-16 years. I print those people out and stick them up on my walls to remind myself what can be possible. I was also put in contact with a wonderful woman in the USA who has been on the EGFR journey for 10 years through a great charity called Immerman’s Angels.
Thanks to the support of my incredible fiance, friends and family, I’ve found my way through this past year and have surprisingly had a lot of fun and adventure while doing so. I’ve done a lot of firsts this year, from skiing, taking part in a musical to buying a campervan and getting a puppy. There was a lot of laughter, joy and awe. I’ve pushed myself to complete a 10-mile hike challenge and a Quest adventure race. The people in the town I’m from, Youghal, have been nothing short of incredible. Shortly after I was diagnosed, the community rallied to raise nearly 14.5k euro for the CUH oncology unit through a raffle of prizes by local businesses and a yoga event in the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage. I’ve really seen the meaning of community and I’m so appreciative of every well wish, positive shout from a car window, prayer, bag of organic veg left at my door and every other way people have shown me that they care. My work colleagues in Douglas Rochestown Educate Together NS have also banded together to support me in so many beautiful ways. There are some very dark days too, and they like to sneak up on you when you least expect them, but overall, I feel positive, hopeful, and strong. The Youghal Cancer Support Centre has been a great support to me. I’ve had therapy, energy work, reflexology, art classes and a sound bath there. It’s been a real haven for me.
Receiving the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer – everything stops. All those exciting life plans you imagined for yourself just evaporate. It feels like everything is just snatched away from you. Life is lived in 3 monthly blocks. However, I also see the beauty in things more clearly, the value in the great people in my life and the importance of a really good conversation.
I want to see awareness of lung cancer as a disease that can affect anyone of any age spread. More screening, more awareness, less stigma. I would also encourage people to advocate for themselves, to know when things don’t feel right and to push to be heard.”
Click here to learn the facts about lung cancer, its signs and symptoms and read other real stories and experiences. The Big Check Up 2023 from The Marie Keating Foundation.