FIGHT FOR LIFE: Sarina Beach woman Terri Byrne has lived with lung cancer for nearly 12 years.
FIGHT FOR LIFE: Sarina Beach woman Terri Byrne has lived with lung cancer for nearly 12 years. Contributed

Sarina Beach mum opens up about brave lung cancer battle

TERRI Byrne lives her life with only a quarter of a lung.

After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, she has undergone four lung removal surgeries and multiple chemotherapy sessions.

Ms Byrne is one of 12,400 Australians currently living with lung cancer.

On Wednesday she travelled from her Sarina Beach home to Canberra to help launch a newly released Lung Foundation Australia report.

It highlights disjointed care, mental health issues and stigma, which it claims plagues Australians diagnosed with lung cancer.

The findings of the report came as no surprise to Ms Byrne. With no 100 per cent bulk-billable medical centres in Mackay and specialist treatment centres based in Brisbane, she estimates her family has spent just under one million dollars on treatment.

"We've sold cars, we've sold houses, we've sold anything that wasn't nailed down just to pay for treatment," she said.

The Lung Foundation report estimates that out-of-pocket expenses for lung cancer patients in regional and remote areas can total $1.5million. And it suggests the distance between regional communities and medical centres can be deadly.

Almost a third of people with lung cancer live in regional areas, yet almost half of them are diagnosed with advanced stage tumours, the report points out.

The Lung Foundation estimates that, over the next 10 years, out-of-pocket travel costs for these regional and remote Australians will reach $36.3 million.

Ms Byrne said she began smoking before the dangers were known.

"I grew up in a generation where the information wasn't there," she said.

Sneaking cigarettes on her lunch break, not even her husband realised she was a habitual smoker.

That ended when she received her diagnosis. However, she says her history as a smoker means she is unfairly judged.

"The first thing when you tell someone they ask, 'Oh did you smoke?'," she said. "Hang on. I smoked so I deserve to die because I have lung cancer?"

"Cancer is cancer. It doesn't discriminate. It just chooses whoever its wants."

Unlike breast cancer and prostate cancer, Ms Bryne said lung cancer patients were left without support.

"It's a solo fight. There's no support groups.

"You go to Cancer Council and they give you a quit smoking program like you didn't s--- yourself and give up on that day anyway."

The report claims the stigma is stifling lung cancer patients. It says half of lung cancer patients suffer from depression, anxiety or distress, which is 30 per cent higher than the average rate of mental health issues for other major cancers.

Like three in 10 lung cancer patients, Ms Bryne blames herself for her illness.

"That bothers me quite a lot. The fact that I smoked and I've done this to my family. I have taken so much just to have that cigarette - it's so selfish."

Ms Byrne says her main concern throughout her journey had been her husband, five children and grandchildren.

"How do you tell them 'I'm not going to be around?'

"The hardest part is when you are looking into your husbands eyes - and you married this man for life - and tell him you're going away," she said.

She said she felt guilty about the cost of her life-saving treatment.

"I feel I've taken so much from my family, because I'm spending all this money that should be spent on the retirement fund for my husband and the house paid off."

Having lived with lung cancer for nearly 12 years, she said her doctors called her a "miracle" case.

For the average patient, life expectancy is 18 months. Lung cancer has the lowest rate of survival within a five-year period of the five most commonly diagnosed cancers. The Lung Foundation says one Australian dies from lung cancer every hour.

This year, about 12,741 Australians will be diagnosed with lung cancer. It's estimated 9198 will die from the disease within five years. The report estimates that within 10 years there will be 160,000 new diagnoses of lung cancer, creating a health bill of $6.6 billion.

The Lung Foundation is calling on Australians to "give everyone a fair go" to reduce the stigma and isolation of lung cancer patients.