Inspire SpringSummer15 FINAL PG13 15 .pdf

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Surviving and thriving

Surviving and thriving
Diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2008, Eric Byrne feared the worst.
But now, more than six years on, he is enjoying life more than ever and is a
man determined to do what he can to raise awareness of lung cancer.

Spring/Summer 2015 Inspire

13

Surviving and thriving

“My diagnosis hit me like a
thunderbolt,” says Eric, “But after
my treatment was finished, I was
determined not to waste my
experience and forget about it. I’d
read about how badly supported
lung cancer was in terms of
research and how patients often
didn’t receive the support they
needed. Rather than just thinking
about how I was going to cope, I
began to think about the people
who would come after me.”
This mindset led to Eric
attending a conference at Stirling
University, where top oncologists
and politicians talked about
the great strides that had been
made in the fields of blood
cancers, bowel cancer and breast
cancer. However, Eric noticed
the absence of any mention
of lung cancer, so when the
presentations were over and the
public were asked if they had any
questions, Eric stood up and said:
“Well, what I would like to
know is if lung cancer is killing
approximately 35,000 UK
citizens every year, why is it
only getting the lowest share
of funding for research - 6%
in 2013?” Eric says the first
politician answered, “Well, it’s not
a sexy cancer.’ The next one said,
“It’s largely self-inflicted,” and
another got up and said, “Well,
it doesn’t really affect children.”
But it was when the final speaker
said, “Lung cancer survivors
are their own worst enemies,
because they’re such poor
advocates for the cause,” that
Eric knew he had to take action.

14 Inspire Spring/Summer 2015

Raising awareness
“That was really the big push
that started me doing whatever
I could to raise awareness of
lung cancer and the needs of
lung cancer patients,” says Eric.
“So far, I’ve spoken to doctors
and nurses at Victoria hospital
in Kirkcaldy and given a patient’s
perspective on a document for
healthcare professionals called
The management of lung cancer
and patients. My story has also
featured in many newspapers
and on local radio, while I’ve
been heavily involved in the
Detect Cancer Early
programme in Scotland.”

But the big
difference we need
to make is changing
public perception
of lung cancer and
the attitudes of
politicians towards it.
Eric is also a tremendous
supporter of Roy Castle Lung
Cancer Foundation and has got
involved in many aspects of our
work, as he explains. “A highlight
was giving a short history of my
story as part of a Roy Castle
presentation to the Scottish
parliament. Because of the
charity, I’m also currently part of
a survivors’ volunteer group set
up by the government, which is
looking at the best way to spend
£5 million over the next five
years to support people after
they’ve finished treatment.

“I also really enjoy working with
the charity’s employees,” adds
Eric. “I’ve often stood with them
at Glasgow Central station,
chatting to passers-by and raising
money. Plus, I’ve also volunteered
as a steward and a photographer
at the charity’s Dream Walk
in Glasgow. That’s always great
fun and has a really good
atmosphere. Whatever I can do
to help, I do, because the charity
can make a big difference with
the support of people behind it.”
Improving lives
Asked if he feels his efforts are
making a difference, Eric says it’s
hard to quantify, but he would
like to think so: “When you
talk to somebody who stops
on the street to put money in
the collection tin, you tell them
that if they have any symptoms
or anything like that, don’t
hang about, go and get yourself
checked out. Because I’ve done
that on so many occasions, you
hope you’ve planted enough
seeds that some people will take
action, whether it’s days, weeks
or months later.
“I also hope the media coverage
of my personal story, which
involved my daughter pushing
me to go to the doctor, has
encouraged other people to
do the same and catch any
problems early. Of course, I do
also know first-hand that people
I’ve met in online communities,
such as HealthUnlocked, the
Cancer Buddies Network and
LUNGevity, have benefited from
my words. People who’ve already

Surviving and thriving

Eric Byrne with his daughter, Jennifer

ceremony in May 2012. A typically
unassuming Eric says that this
came as a total surprise, and that
what he gets back from his work
raising awareness of lung cancer
is reward enough:
“Before my illness, before I
started to do all of this work, I
was looking after number one.
Now, I make myself available
to everybody. I’m much more
friendly and approachable now.
My family and friends have
noticed that, and I know they
prefer the new Eric to the one
before my diagnosis.

been through it all really can
show someone who’s in despair
that there is light at the end of
the tunnel.

Whatever I can
do to help, I do,
because the charity
can make a big
difference with the
support of people
behind it.
“But the big difference we
need to make is changing public
perception of lung cancer and the

attitudes of politicians towards
it. That has improved a little, but
much more must happen. We
must get a far greater focus on
lung cancer, because it’s an illness
that really does deserve more
attention and more funding. So
I’ll keep banging my drum until
that happens.”
Personal benefits
Eric’s determination to raise
awareness of lung cancer and
improve the lives of people
diagnosed with the illness really
is inspiring. So much so, that Roy
Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
awarded him our ‘unsung hero’
award at our annual awards

“If something is happening, I
want to be there, I want to
be part of it. I’ve never visited
so many people and gone to
so many parties and events since
I was in my teens. I’m out all
the time now, and I’m having a
great time. So as well as helping
others, there’s a mutual benefit.
I’m surviving and thriving, and
after recently being told by my
doctor that I no longer have to
see him, I feel very confident
about the future.”

Be more Eric
There are many ways you can help
improve the lives of other people
affected by lung cancer, from
sharing your story, to reviewing
patient or carer information, or
raising awareness of lung cancer in
your community.
Call our Helpline 0333 323 7200
(option 2) to find out more, or
visit www.roycastle.org

Spring/Summer 2015 Inspire

15


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