Lung Cancer

Reporter: Mark Gibson

Christal Parkinson cherishes every step she takes. She knows what it's like to no longer take life for granted.

Four years ago Christal had everything to look forward to. The 24 year was enjoying the first months of marriage to husband Stephen. But then came the shock of her life... Tests for suspected pneumonia turned up a wild card.

Christal had stage four lung cancer. She'd never smoked, rarely drank. "I thought you only got lung cancer if you smoked, so I was like, mm, no one ever tells you this. It's coming out now, which is good."

Respiratory physician Prof Martin Phillips from Sir Charles Gairdner hospital says a third of women diagnosed with lung cancer are non-smokers. "A fall in the incidence of cancer, of lung cancer in men, but there's been an increase in the incidence of lung cancer in women and so it is actually increasing and will continue to increase for some time"

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Australia. It claims more lives than breast cancer yet diagnosis isn't necessarily a death sentence. Prof Phillips says "Well it certainly isn't a death sentence. I mean clearly we've got a long way to go and one of the problems is that it's often detected relatively late"

Christal says "I thought it meant a death sentence to be honest. You think of cancer you think, ok you're not going to survive. That's how I took it initially" After diagnosis Christal underwent surgery to remove part of her lung, followed by chemo and radiation therapy.

She was told the treatment meant she couldn't have children. But then came another shock. "We found out on my 26th birthday that we were pregnant with my first daughter. The oncologist was shocked, he didn't believe me. When the GP told me I was pregnant, I didn't believe him. No, I can't have children."

Christal and Stephen now have two little girls. And next year Christal will celebrate five years of being cancer free. Christal says "It doesn't really mean much, but getting to that 5 year mark to a cancer patient means so much. We're actually going to celebrate with a family holiday. No more visits to oncology" Christal has defied the odds. But she says her story should act as a warning to others "If something's not right, go to your doctor. Even if it's only just a cough or something silly. The little things can turn into big things."

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