A mother-of-two with Stage 4 lung cancer who has never smoked has spoken of her diagnosis as she welcomed the Scottish Medicines Consortium decision to approve groundbreaking immunotherapy treatment.
Joanna Marshall who was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in March 2015, said the treatment had “given me back a future” and welcomed the drug Pembrolizumab to be used to potentially treat over 150 patients.
The 39-year-old, from Bridge of Allan, thought she simply had a cold, compounded by her busy lifestyle raising her two young children and working as a regulatory affairs manager for Diageo.
However, after a cough forced her to return to her doctor, tests later confirmed that she had a tumour in her right lung and cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Ms Marshall has undergone a similar immunotherapy treatment to Pembrolizumab but is not eligible to receive it as she is already well into her treatment.
She said: “Immunotherapy in general is definitely a game-changer, it’s amazing – it matches, the therapy to the cancer, to the patient. 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.
“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. 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.”
Ms Marshall said her “sole aim in life” is to bring up her children and the illness has brought that into a really clear focus. She is receiving treatment at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the Western General Hospital and has returned to work after having just six weeks off for treatment.
She added: “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.”
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in adults in Scotland and is the biggest killing cancer in the UK.