Three years ago, Lana McKenna apparently had the world at her feet.

She was 30 and had just met her future husband, Mitch.

The couple moved to melbournewhere Mrs. McKenna was busy climbing the corporate ladder in her job at a health insurance company.

But Ms McKenna knew something was wrong when she started having severe back pain that wouldn’t go away.

Lana McKenna, pictured with her partner Mitch, was enjoying life and planning for her future before developing back pain and being diagnosed with stage four cancer (Provided: Lana McKenna)

Although she still managed to go to the gym every day, she also felt tired all the time.

Ms McKenna went to see her local GP about her symptoms but said she felt cheated.

“I had back pain and no one could give me a definitive answer as to what was causing it or relieve it in any way,” Ms McKenna said.

“My local GP suggested I try more arm swings, or mindfulness.

“I was getting really angry because in the end I was just being prescribed more pills.”

Six months later, Ms McKenna was still nowhere near finding out what was wrong, so she went to see a second GP, who ordered a CT scan.

Doctors told Ms McKenna she had only two years to live.
Doctors told Ms McKenna she had only two years to live. (Provided: Lana McKenna)

“After the scan the GP called me and said there was fluid in your lungs, I need you to go to hospital now,” Ms McKenna said.

After a few more tests, Ms. McKenna was finally given a diagnosis.

“My nurse said we knew what was going on…it’s lung cancer,” she said.

“She said the reason I had back pain was because the cancer was also showing up in my T4 (vertebrae) in my back.”

The prognosis was devastating – Ms McKenna’s cancer had already reached stage four and she was told she had just two years to live.

Australia’s deadliest cancer

Each year, 13,000 Australians are diagnosed with lung cancer. Like McKenna, 85% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, which means the survival rate is extremely low.

In Australia, people with lung cancer are only 20% likely to live five years longer, compared to 92% for breast cancer, 70% for bowel cancer and 74% for cervical cancer, according to statistics from the Lung Foundation Australia. To display.

Today, Lung Foundation Australia is launch a campaign calling on the federal government to commit ahead of this year’s federal election to invest in key areas he said would help reverse those survival rates.

Lung Foundation CEO Mark Brooke has said Australia desperately needs a national lung cancer screening program that could save up to 12,000 lives over the next decade.

“Without a national testing program Australians will continue to die,” Mr Brooke said.

“We need the support of the federal government to ensure that people with lung disease or lung cancer do not fall through the cracks.”

The foundation is also calling on the government to fund more lung cancer nurses – currently there are only 12 for every 20,000 patients. The foundation is asking for 100 lung cancer nurses, which it says would cost about $15.4 million a year over the next three years.

“Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia, there are far fewer specialist nurses to support these patients, compared to other major cancers, including breast and prostate, all of which have two to at least six times as many specialist nurses,” the Lung Foundation said.

The national “vital” screening program

Sydney lung specialist Lucy Morgan, chair of the Lung Foundation, said lung cancer patients deserved as much support as people with other cancers.

The association between lung cancer and smoking means there is, often unfairly, a stigma attached to the disease, Dr Morgan said.

“In the past, there has been a significant stigma associated with lung cancer, and I think the perception among patients was that they may have caused it themselves,” she said.

“Nobody deserves to get cancer, and even people who got lung cancer after smoking don’t deserve to get cancer.”

Lung Foundation President Dr Lucy Morgan says a national lung cancer screening program is urgently needed.
Lung Foundation President Dr Lucy Morgan says a national lung cancer screening program is urgently needed. (Provided)

Dr Morgan said there was also an increasing proportion of people developing lung cancer who had never smoked.

“One in three lung cancers I’ve seen in the last five to ten years have been in younger women who have never smoked,” Dr. Morgan said.

“It is increasingly recognized that the only real risk factor for developing lung cancer is having lungs.”

Dr Morgan said implementing a lung cancer screening program should be a national priority and would save tens of thousands of lives.

“I think it’s vital that Australians have access to a national lung cancer screening program,” she said.

“Lung cancers can grow very quietly without causing symptoms until they are large enough.

“It’s also not easy to detect these cancers when they’re small, we don’t have the means to look at our own lungs like we do with breast checks.”

A screening program would ideally see people over the age of 50 with another risk factor for lung cancer being offered a test, Dr Morgan said.

“A screening program means that a test could be applied to everyone at risk to find these cancers when they are as small as possible and in the best position to be treated.”

A spokesman for federal health minister Greg Hunt said the minister had been a key advocate for a national lung cancer screening program.

“He led the effort and commanded the case. It’s a deep personal passion,” the spokesperson said.

“It is now in front of the panel of medical experts and if they approve it, we will support it.”

In the 2021-2022 budget, the federal government provided $6.9 million to examine the feasibility of a national screening program.

A potential screening program is also being considered by the Independent Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC).

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said in a submission to MSAC that it “cautiously” supports a lung cancer screening program for high-risk populations.

The RACGP wrote that it was awaiting more details, including how those most at risk would be identified and how costs would be covered.

Responding to questions about the shortage of specialist lung cancer nurses, Mr Hunt’s spokesman said the government had provided $1million for a 12-month trial this year, funding five new specialist nurses in lung cancer in the local health district of Shoalhaven.

Along with the need for more nurses for screening and lung cancer, the Lung Foundation is calling on the government to fund more research into lung disease, increase support for those who have been long-suffering from COVID, and fight the dangers of vaping among young Australians.

Since Ms. McKenna’s diagnosis, the cancer has now spread to her brain and she is suffering from seizures.

When a scan last August showed her brain tumors had grown, doctors advised Ms McKenna and Mitch to bring forward the wedding they had planned for November.

The couple had already returned to Queensland to be with family and were married in a registry in Brisbane, followed by a second ceremony in Coolangatta.

Lana McKenna and her partner Mitch announced their marriage on the advice of doctors last August.
Lana McKenna and her partner Mitch tied the knot in a retro-themed ceremony. The marriage was brought forward on the advice of doctors last August. (Provided: Lana McKenna)

Ms McKenna said she was determined to keep defying the odds against her.

“I remember thinking when I was diagnosed, if anyone’s going to make it, it’s going to be me. If I’m going to be a medical miracle, that’s what I’ll become and I’ll do whatever I can get through this,” she said.

“I know it will be my death, but it won’t be as soon as they told me.”

Contact journalist Emily McPherson at [email protected]

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