'I was determined not to let the diagnosis spoil my life' 

Shirley Smith went to her GP surgery after she had an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. While she was there, she mentioned that two weeks earlier she had coughed up a spot of blood.

She was immediately sent for an X-ray. Within a week, she'd had a scan in hospital and been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Shirley received chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat her cancer. Three years later, she is in remission and living life to the full, playing an active role in the lives of her five grandchildren and enjoying days out in London.

"Two weeks before I went to the doctor, I coughed up a little bit of blood," says Shirley, "but it didn't really worry me. I told my brother, who was with me at the time. He was startled, but neither of us thought about the prospect of cancer.   

"When the scan confirmed that I had terminal lung cancer, it was extremely shocking for me and my family. I don’t think I quite believed it.

"The Macmillan nurse, who was absolutely brilliant, came to see me immediately after the diagnosis. She explained that I may only have 18 months to three years to live.

"When I told my family, there were tears and hugs, but they were extremely supportive."

Shirley began a course of chemotherapy followed by 10 days of radiotherapy.

"Before the chemotherapy, I got my hairdresser, who is also my next door neighbour, to shave my head. I knew I would feel more distressed waking up with clumps of hair on the pillow than by the treatment itself. I then had radiotherapy targeted at my brain, because there was a worry that the cancer could spread there. I didn’t have any problems at all with the chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

"The only thing I didn’t like was having to have a mask on for the radiotherapy. But even that was OK, as the doctors and other staff were absolutely wonderful with me and made sure they did the radiotherapy on the brain quickly."

After the treatment, Shirley went on holiday with her daughter, son-in-law and their three children.

"As we didn’t know what the future held, we wanted to spend some time together," she says. "I was determined that I didn’t want the diagnosis to spoil anything about the lives we had."

It’s now over three years since Shirley found out about the lung cancer. She still has to go to hospital every three months for a check-up and has been in the clear for the last few visits.

"When I found out I could be dead within three years, my biggest fear was not being around to see my youngest daughter have her fourth child. It's now so wonderful to be here, and so wonderful when she went on to have another child. I’m just so glad to be around for them. 

"One of my granddaughters is about to take her 11-plus and I am so pleased I'm here to be involved. It’s all the little incidents in my children’s and grandchildren’s lives that I want to be a part of.

"I have been extremely lucky. But I would say to anyone else who is worried about possible symptoms: go to the doctor, go for check-ups and don’t refuse any help. The sooner you go, the better."

Image of Shirley Smith produced to support Essex Cancer Network activity.

Page last reviewed: 02/11/2015

Next review due: 01/08/2018