In July 2020, thirty-one year old Bronwyn Carpenter began experiencing persistent severe headaches that would wake her during the night. In addition to this, Bronwyn began suffering from a painful, stiff neck and problems with her sight.
Bronwyn went to her GP, initially her symptoms were put down to migraines however as time passed and nothing changed, she was booked into Cork University Hospital to undergo further tests.
Bronwyn ended up being admitted on the spot as they discovered a large brain tumour was present “I was in hospital for three weeks and required emergency surgery to remove the brain tumour. Over this period they learnt that my lung, liver and spine had also been affected. It turned out to be stage four lung cancer.”
She recalls her initial reaction to her diagnosis: “It was a massive shock. I was young, pretty healthy, I had never smoked...lung cancer was never even on my radar. It turned out following further tests I had a particular genetic mutation, so my lung cancer was most likely not related to environmental factors.”
Due to her genetic mutation, Bronwyn was suitable to begin targeted therapy known as Tagrisso.
“The oncologist was delighted that I could avail of targeted therapy as it’s a huge advancement in the treatment of some types of lung cancer. If I had gotten the same diagnosis a few years ago, things would be very different and the prognosis certainly wouldn’t have been as good.” She states.
The treatment is taken in pill format and Bronwyn says she feels lucky that many of the side effects are not quite as severe as more traditional chemotherapies.
“I will have to take the treatment every day, until it stops working and then I will have to try a different treatment. However, Tagrisso will lengthen my life substantially. You could look at me and you wouldn’t realise at all I am going through treatment for cancer.
This has positives and negatives. At times it can be difficult for people to understand where I am at or how I might be reacting to the treatment. On the other side, it is nice to live my life without people always knowing exactly what is going on.” She adds.
Among the side effects from the treatment are digestive issues, weakened immune system, fatigue, brain fog, brittle nails and skin rash but Bronwyn says she feels lucky they are mostly manageable.
Bronwyn adds she would love her story to highlight how important it is to be aware of any changes to your body that are unusual or persistent “It really is so important to get checked out and get to the bottom of anything unusual. I didn’t experience very many of the typical lung cancer symptoms besides weight loss, which could have been attributed to a multiple of things at the time.
There are so many diverse symptoms of lung cancer, not just coughing or shortness of breath. Like so many people, I associated lung cancer with the elderly or perhaps people who had smoked their whole life. Smoking is of course still a major risk factor for lung cancer. However at the end of the day, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer. Unfortunately, because the symptoms can be vague or brushed off easily, most people end up being diagnosed at an advanced stage leading to lung cancer being the most common cause of cancer death. However, if caught early the chance of survival increases substantially.
As a thirty-two year old, the things I had envisioned for my life have changed in many ways.
“A cancer diagnosis of any type, stops you in your tracks. It makes you think about life differently. Like so many others, I live life from scan to scan. Luckily the treatment I am on currently has kept my cancer stable and even reduced the size of some of the tumours.
When you live life in these short time spans, it can be difficult to plan things. As a thirty-two year old, the things I had envisioned for my life have changed in many ways. I have had to completely alter my priorities and what I want to achieve.
It has taught me how important it is to live in the moment, even if you haven’t got a diagnosis like mine. Enjoy what you have now, instead of thinking ‘I will be happy when I have this, or achieve this.’ Enjoy those small things, I know it sounds cliché but it’s true.”
Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line
If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.
Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm
For more information
1800 200 700