A great-grandfather who was diagnosed with lung cancer during the pandemic says he owes his wife and daughters his life.
Gerard Greene, from Lurgan, supports Cancer Research UK’s ‘Spot Cancer Early’ campaign encouraging people to contact their GP if they have worrying symptoms.
The 73-year-old says he will be forever grateful to his family for persuading him to contact his GP.
The retired bricklayer, who has eight children, 22 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, believes he wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn’t taken the advice of his wife Margaret and of his daughters.
Not one to “bother” his GP, Gérard had been feeling unwell for some time before deciding to speak to a doctor in March 2021. Transferred to hospital, he was shocked when after a series of tests, he was said he had lung cancer.
Fortunately, after intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Gerard’s cancer is stable and he regains a normal quality of life.
He says: ‘I owe my life to the fact that I contacted my GP when I did. I now know that unusual changes for you could be signs of cancer. Finding it early saves lives.
Prior to his diagnosis, Gerard was a fit and active man who played golf weekly and continued to lay bricks for his son three days a week.
It was in the midst of the Covid pandemic in November 2020 that he started to feel bad.
Gerard said: “I’ve never been one to run to my GP. I don’t know if it’s out of fear of what people might say to me or simply because I didn’t want to disturb them. My doctor immediately knew that it had to be serious for me to come to his office.
“The day I went there, I had no energy and I felt like I was going to collapse.
“I came home at night and felt like I just needed to go to bed. I had been helping my son and there was going to be another lockdown over Christmas, and I told him I wasn’t going back. back to work after that.
“It got worse – I could have slept 12 hours and still felt tired. I had no pain or other symptoms. My wife and daughters could see the change in me and wanted me to go to the doctor.
After being referred for tests, Gerard spent time in the hospital while doctors tried to find out what was wrong.
They initially thought he had tuberculosis, but that was quickly ruled out before a large cancerous tumor was discovered in his lung.
Gérard recalls: “A nurse came to my bed and told me that they were asking my wife to come for a meeting the next morning. I knew then that it was something serious. I asked her to tell me what it was and she told me I had cancer.
“The strange thing is that I never let it get to me. I didn’t lose a minute of sleep and was happy when my daughter came with my wife the next day for the meeting.
“They said I had a very common type of lung cancer, it was stage four and the tumor was big, about three and a half inches by four inches. It was quite an emotional encounter.”
Gerard was discharged from hospital to strengthen in preparation for the start of chemotherapy two weeks later. He had three treatment episodes and when scans revealed that his tumor had shrunk considerably, he was given a fourth round of chemo followed by two weeks of radiation therapy.
His treatment ended on August 27 last year.
He says: “All this time I was determined to stay positive and my oncologist, Dr Uprichard, was wonderful. He was very encouraging.
“I never got sick with the treatment and when it was finished the consultant told me the tumor had shrunk tremendously. He said it was amazing.
Gérard undergoes regular scans to ensure that the tumor does not grow back. He now feels healthy and is playing his beloved golf again.
He adds: ‘I wish I had gone to my GP when I started feeling unwell in November because maybe the tumor was much smaller at the time. I think I’m not the only one postponing their GP appointment and I urge anyone with any symptoms not to ignore it, you could be risking your life.
That’s why Gerard is supporting ‘Spot Cancer Early’ – a new early diagnosis initiative for the over 50s.
The campaign follows a survey in February 2022 which found that 40% of people in Northern Ireland who experienced a possible symptom of cancer did not contact their GP within six months.*
Taking place in September and October, the campaign uses a powerful TV ad, which features a man in his 50s who has unexplained weight loss and a cough that won’t go away. He wonders if he should have his symptoms checked and finally decides to call his GP.
The ad ends with the charity’s vital message: “Changes that are unusual for you, such as unexplained weight loss or a persistent cough, could be signs of cancer. Finding it early saves lives.
The campaign is funded by the Department of Health Cancer Charities Fund and supports the Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy. It includes TV commercials, posters, social media and newspaper advertisements.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “We know early diagnosis is key in the fight against cancer, but the pandemic has meant that fewer people are coming to their GP. Therefore, for anyone who is concerned about their health or if you have noticed a change in your body which is not normal for you, contact your GP. Do not minimize the symptoms and do not delay talking to your GP. The earlier cancer is detected, the sooner it is treated, which can lead to better outcomes.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “It is important for Northern Irish people to know that their doctor wants to hear from them if they have any symptoms that are unusual or persistent for them. In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out, because diagnosing cancer at an early stage means treatment is more likely to be successful.
“We know it can sometimes be difficult to get an appointment with a GP, but it’s essential that people come forward so that if they have cancer they can get their diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible. as possible.”
The charity is urging all political parties in Northern Ireland to commit to investing in recruiting and training more primary care staff, including GPs. A survey carried out in February 2022* found that the most common reasons people in Northern Ireland do not seek help with their health are:
Difficulties getting an appointment (18%)
Concerns about wasting a healthcare professional’s time (16%)
Worried about putting extra pressure on the NHS (13%) and
· Not wanting to be seen as a fussy person (12%)
Although GP surgeries are facing unprecedented workloads, Cancer Research UK is urging people not to delay contacting their doctor as early diagnosis can save lives. Cancer does not stop and although it may take longer than usual to get an appointment, it is essential that people come forward, because catching cancer earlier means that the treatment is more likely to be successful.
Each year, 9 in 10 cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK are in people aged 50 and over** and around 9,600 people in Northern Ireland are told they have the disease***
Cancer Research UK’s work in preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer has been at the heart of progress that has seen survival in the UK double over the past 40 years.
If you have noticed any change in your body that is not normal for you, contact your GP.
For more information, visit cruk.org/spot-cancer-early-NI
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