Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

15.54 24 Jan 2021


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A man who is living with stage four lung cancer is urging people with a persistent cough to get it checked out.

James Heriot was 38 when he received the very unexpected diagnosis.

The non-smoker who was fit, healthy and exercised regularly said he delayed going to his doctor as he didn't want to "make a fuss" over his symptoms.

James is asking people to not make the same mistake as him, and is raising awareness of the Marie Keating Foundation's cough checker phoneline to help catch lung cancer.

He told Alive and Kicking with Clare McKenna that in 2016, he began to feel slightly wheezy after exercising and accounted the cough to hayfever, which he has always had, getting worse.

He went to his GP to check whether he might have adult-onset asthma and began using an inhaler, but started picking up more coughs and cold than normal and which would linger.

"I put it down to a lot of things, getting older or the kids picking things up from school, but just looking back, gradually I was getting more and more under the weather and not able to shake things off," James said.

"But the fact that I was a non-smoker and I was relatively young, something as serious as it turned out was never on the horizon.

James explained that he didn't want to "make a fuss" or "be a burden" which attributed to his reluctance to go to his doctor.

'My world fell apart'

He started coughing up blood and when he searched his symptoms online and the results showed lung cancer, he didn't believe that could be the issue.

James thought the health problems must be attributed to something more benign and believed it was a chest infection that would clear itself.

"When I did end up going to my GP it was kind of on that basis, and I was expecting to walk away with a prescription for some antibiotics," he added.

"But the minute I mentioned I was coughing up blood, he said no, I'm going to refer you, its probably nothing but I'm going to refer you to a chest specialist and get this looked into."

Following his visit to the specialist, James got the "worst possible diagnosis" that he had stage three lung cancer.

"It was like the world fell apart because it wasn't on my agenda.

Looking back, he said he was the "archetype" of the stereotypical person who avoided doing all the right things when he first developed symptoms.

James was subsequently treated with seven courses of chemotherapy and six months of radiotherapy.

He initially got the all-clear in October 2017 "which was amazing", but when he went for retesting three months later, he discovered the cancer had spread to his brain.

"That was pretty frightening," he said, because although it was always a possibility, he hadn't expected it to spread so quickly.

"To have it again after three months and for it to have gone to such a frightening place, my brain, that was probably the darkest moment and it took a while to get over that."

James said he has been "incredibly lucky" throughout his illness because of the skilled team of doctors and nurses who managed his care.

He was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2018 and is now on targeted therapies in the form of tablets which pursue the proteins that produce the cancer.

This non-invasive, new way of treating cancer has been "fantastic" as it means James can exercise and manage his symptoms.

"I'm doing fantastically well and ironically, I've never been healthier," he added.

Man living with lung cancer: 'I was coughing up blood but didn't want to make a fuss'

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The Marie Keating Foundation's world-first cough checker phoneline to help catch lung cancer can be reached at 1800-COUGHS (1800-268447). More information about lung cancer and the Big Check Up can be found here.

Main image: File photo. Credit: PA

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