Fit and healthy 30-year-old's lung cancer shock: 'Given three months'

·Lifestyle Reporter
·6-min read

At just 30 years old, Lana thought she was fit and healthy. She was working full-time exercising regularly, and had a healthy lifestyle.

Yet, as she, and partner Mitch, were busy planning their dream wedding, the onset of severe back pain led to a life-changing diagnosis.

Lana  shock lung cancer
As Lana and Mitch were planning their wedding, severe back pain led to a life-changing diagnosis. Photo: Supplied

After six long months of back pain, and being shrugged off by doctors who told her nothing was majorly wrong, one doctor decided to order a scan.

The scan showed the devastating reality, that Lana was actually living with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.

Lana spoke about her journey with Yahoo Lifestyle, in the hopes of helping other Aussies to access earlier diagnosis and have better treatment outcomes in the future.

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Being diagnosed with lung cancer at 30, ‘the shock of my life’

“My initial tests showed no sign of cancerous cells in my fluids, so my GP turned to me and said ‘at least we know it won't be cancer’. Obviously we now know that was a sad irony," Lana tells us.

“Upon my final round of tests, I felt confident I would finally get an answer, but never thought it would be what I heard, 'Stage 4 Lung Cancer'.

Diagnosed with lung cancer at 30, 33-year-old Lana McKenna is raising awareness about the disease -
Diagnosed with lung cancer at 30, 33-year-old Lana McKenna is raising awareness about the disease - "If you have lungs you can get lung cancer." Source: Lana McKenna

“The nurse who broke the news to me was about my age and I could just see the disbelief and sadness in her eyes – no one could believe it.

“I remember turning to my now husband (boyfriend at the time), Mitch, for comfort. Telling him was extremely hard and we just sat with the news and cuddled, both totally blindsided by this life-altering news.

“I then went through the process of telling my family which was very emotional, I had been given three months to live and after a few days the fear of dying hit me. I was frozen with fear and started to shut down. It was such an overwhelming diagnosis to digest, and I knew my life would never be the same.

If you have lungs you can get lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia, with 13,000 Australians diagnosed with lung cancer every year.

And, as Lana discovered, no one is immune. If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer.

“I never thought I would get lung cancer. Even my doctors didn't consider me as someone who would be at risk of lung cancer, because I was so young and lived a healthy lifestyle," she says.

“There is still such limited awareness out there about lung cancer, despite it being the leading cause of cancer death in Australia. My dad has smoked a packet a day his whole life and he doesn't have lung cancer – it just shows you, no one is immune.”

Lana’s life turned upside down by diagnosis

“Due to the severity of my condition, Mitch and I completely changed our lives – we relocated from Victoria to Queensland to be closer to family," she recalls.

For 30-year-old Lana McKenna, life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. An interstate move, and a rushed wedding were required as she faced intensive cancer treatments. Source: Lana McKenna
For 30-year-old Lana McKenna, life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. An interstate move, and a rushed wedding were required as she faced intensive cancer treatments. Source: Lana McKenna

“And then, ahead of some of my most intense treatments that my doctor thought would really knock me down, he advised me to bring forward our wedding. That was a scary thing to hear as it put things into perspective that my condition may only worsen from there.

“Despite this, we planned the most special day. It was such an emotional day, but I was just so happy to celebrate our love in the midst of all the adversity.

Treatment has left its own mark - seizures and memory loss

Lana initially went through four rounds of combination chemotherapy and started immunotherapy.

“After four months of treatment, I had a month or two of pure bliss - I even enrolled in uni. I was feeling stronger and finally thinking I may have been out of the woods but then I started getting headaches and panic attacks, which was very unlike me.

“After another series of tests and appointments, it was then detected that my lung cancer had caused brain tumours. There were so many and they kept showing up - aggressively - so I had to undergo whole brain radiation.

“Understandably, this was extreme therapy and the impact on my body has been rough. After a while, the radiation brought on epilepsy and memory loss. Fast forward to today, epilepsy is ongoing, and I am now on my tenth round of combination chemotherapy.

"If this doesn't work, my clinical team will likely move into experimental phases and clinical trials.”

Unfortunately Lana's lung cancer had spread to her brain, requiring whole brain radiation, which has left lasting consequences. Source: Lana McKenna
Unfortunately Lana's lung cancer had spread to her brain, requiring whole brain radiation, which has left lasting consequences. Source: Lana McKenna

More support needed

Alongside support from husband, Mitch, and her family, Lara credits support received from Lung Foundation Australia, as integral to her journey.

“The work they do, and the support they provide for patients like me, is extraordinary. They are currently lobbying the Federal Government to take a stand for the lung health of all Australians this Federal Election, which is something every individual should be supporting because it can well and truly affect any of us.

“I am living proof that anyone can get lung cancer. We need to eradicate the notion that only smokers can be impacted, because it's just not the case.

“But organisations like Lung Foundation Australia can only do so much with the limited funding and attention that lung cancer receives.

"We need the Federal Government to take action and fund more nurses, greater research, a national screening program, and so much more to protect future generations and help everyday people like me live better with lung cancer.

“Sadly 85 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage which makes treatment options and survivorship much more limited.

“This is why I am passionate about supporting Lung Foundation Australia in their call for the implementation of a national screening program, because so many of these cancers could have been detected earlier. They are saying this could save 12,000 lives within a decade which would be an enormous step forward for patients.”

Find out more about Lung Foundation Australia’s campaign here.

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