WHEN Joanna Marshall went to the doctors with a bad cold that wouldn’t shift, lung cancer was the furthest thing from her mind.
The mum-of-two, from Marchmont, had put her lingering cough down to her busy lifestyle and was horrified when medics found a tumour in her right lung – which had already spread to her lymph nodes.
The 39-year-old, who has never smoked, spoke candidly about her own diagnosis as she welcomed the approval of a groundbreaking new treatment in Scotland.
Pembrolizumab, which was approved for use in Scotland this week, is an immunotherapy treatment which can reduce the risk of disease progression or death by 50 per cent in lung cancer patients.
Joanna says thanks to immunotherapy she can now look forward to enjoying key moments in the lives of her young children.
“Lung cancer is surrounded by a stigma of smoking and the fastest growing subset is young women and we need these personalised therapies both for the cancer and for the patient to give us a future, so that we can bring up our kids,” Joanna said.
“That is my sole aim in life and it’s brought it into a really clear focus, that I am on this planet to bring up my children. I wouldn’t have had them if I couldn’t bring them up myself. The thought of my husband having to bring up the family by himself is just awful”.
Joanna, who lived in the Capital for 17 years and receives treatment at the Western General Hospital, said the approval of Penbrolizumab, gives new hope to lung cancer patients.
“I’ve never smoked in my life but it doesn’t matter because even if you have smoked you don’t deserve to die at the age of 37. It helps to explain why this kind of research into lung cancer hasn’t happened earlier.
“For me, I’m just permanently grateful that I still have options and they’re not exhausted yet.
“That’s why the introduction of Pembrolizumab is so important because that means there are other young women like me who are getting a future instead of a death sentence.”
Joanna said she was enjoying spending time with her two children and watching them grow up.
“A key milestone for me is my daughter’s front teeth – she knocked them out really early because she fell off a tractor tyre and I thought I wouldn’t live long enough to see them grow back. But now she’s got two adult front teeth and I’m hoping to live long enough to see her with a full set of molars.
“The doctors cannot tell me how long I’ve got because they don’t know what’s going to work.
“That really helps because it puts me on the same footing as other people who don’t have cancer because they don’t know how long they’re going to live either. It’s a perfectly normal way to live – not knowing how long you’re going to live.”
Joanna admitted she had felt suicidal when she found herself in the limbo period between the original diagnosis, where she knew things were serious, and seeing an oncologist at the Western General.
“There’s a real gap in between the original diagnosis and seeing an oncologist. Patients are so vulnerable in that three weeks,” she added.