Leigh Webber, 60, from Trafford in Greater Manchester, underwent life-changing surgery in 2017 after a CT scan revealed that she had a 1.5cm tumour in her lung.
Fortunately, it was caught early and following a lobectomy – to remove the tumour and lower half of her left lung, she made a full recovery.
Leigh has now been clear of cancer for more than five years and is sharing her story to warn other smokers of the risks of developing a smoking-related illness like cancer, and to urge them to quit before it’s too late.
Leigh says: “I had been smoking for 40 years, and after a persistent bad chest infection in 2016, I started thinking that it was time for me to seriously think about quitting to improve my health and wellbeing.
“So, I started running, doing something positive instead of reaching for a cigarette. I honestly felt great – the best I’d probably felt both physically and mentally.”
It wasn’t until January 2017 that Leigh received the devastating diagnosis that she had lung cancer.
“My chest had cleared up and I was feeling much better so when my CT scan came around, I was in two minds whether to go or not and considered cancelling my appointment. Thank goodness I didn’t. The CT scan revealed a 1.5cm tumour in my lung. I never thought that I would get cancer from smoking. It was awful. I just thought: I’ve got lung cancer, oh my god, am I going to die?
“We’re coming up to six years since my diagnosis. I feel so lucky that it was caught at the early stages. The doctors told me, it was a slow growing cancer so could have continued for another ten years before being detected, which may have been too late to do anything.
“I was also fortunate that I’d already given up smoking before the diagnosis and my surgery as I couldn’t have coped with quitting smoking and dealing with the operation. I’m so grateful I went ahead with my scan, and I would encourage anyone with persistent symptoms to get checked out.”
Leigh has now been in remission for over five years. She urges people who smoke to keep trying to quit to reduce their risk of developing a serious illness.
Dr Matt Evison, Respiratory Consultant at Wythenshawe Hospital and Clinical Lead for Greater Manchester’s tobacco control programme Make Smoking History, was Leigh’s consultant at the time.
He said: “I remember Leigh’s consultation well. It was a positive one because yes, we’d found something awful, but there was something we could do about it. Not least because of the dramatic changes and benefits to her life that had happened in the months leading up to that diagnosis.
“Stopping smoking reduces the risk of developing 16 different forms of cancer. There’s no greater thing that someone can do for their health than stop smoking. So much so that helping someone to be tobacco-free is part of the treatment plan for anybody diagnosed with cancer.”
While not all cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, it still remains the biggest risk factor for lung cancer – responsible for seven in ten cases.
There are a wide range of symptoms of lung cancer, including coughing, breathlessness, and unexplained weight loss. While many of these can be caused by other reasons, it’s important that persistent symptoms are checked thoroughly.
Dr Evison added: “The earlier we find lung cancer, the more chance we have to treat it and to cure it – and many people are cured if we find it early enough.
“So, if you’ve had a cough, a change in your breathing, or there is pain in the chest or shoulders for three weeks or more, it has to be investigated so please go and see your GP.”
For free, personalised support to stop smoking in Greater Manchester visit www.MakeSmokingHistory.co.uk or call the NHS Stop Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044.If you have symptoms of lung cancer, please speak to your GP.