Lyne lung cancer awareness morning tea was held at Taree Visitor Information Centre on Thursday October 10

Breaking the stigma: Lung Foundation Australia general manager development Ros Irons, Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie, Pastor Dave McDonald and Graham McDean spoke about the disease in Taree.
Breaking the stigma: Lung Foundation Australia general manager development Ros Irons, Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie, Pastor Dave McDonald and Graham McDean spoke about the disease in Taree.

Pastor Dave McDonald is a cancer survivor.

A husband and father of four children, Dave has battled lung cancer since 2011.

Dave was part of the Lyne lung cancer awareness morning tea, held at Taree Visitor Information Centre, where he shared his story of recovery and survival.

In the midst of a move from Canberra to Darwin in 2011, Dave felt the left side of his body go numb while with friends.

He was rushed to hospital, thinking it may have been a heart attack. Dave had felt pain in his chest and back for a few weeks.

"I put that down to packing up the house and saying goodbye after living in one place for 20 years," he said.

A CT scan later revealed three litres of fluid on his left lung.

"They looked more closely and found a lung tumour that had ruptured and spread," Dave said.

After a few days in hospital he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and was given 10 to 13 months to live.

"I hadn't been a smoker and I presumed you had to be one to get lung cancer," Dave said.

"I was 49 years old with four children and thought I was having a mid-life crisis.

"All of a sudden I'm being told I've got an end of life crisis."

With next to no hope of a positive outcome given the severity of the diagnosis, Dave still underwent chemotherapy.

He was thankful of his wife, who was a general practitioner (GP), who wasn't convinced that a fit middle-aged man would be diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

Speaking with colleagues who completed research, it was discovered a number of genetic mutations could trigger the disease.

Pastor Dave McDonald (with microphone) spoke about his battle with lung cancer.

Pastor Dave McDonald (with microphone) spoke about his battle with lung cancer.

Further tests revealed Dave had a mutation that occurs in about three per cent of lung cancers, known as ALK.

He began taking newly tested drugs, which set him back $7000 every three weeks.

"I'd spend a week in bed feeling like I'd been hit by a truck and then have two weeks of recovery," Dave explained.

This treatment wasn't suppose to be a cure but rather improve Dave's quality of life. But as doctors would soon discover, the cancer began to shrink.

In 2015, a scan showed there were no signs of the disease.

"I liked to think I was in remission or even cured but the doctors said 'it doesn't mean you're cured, it means we don't have the technology to see the cells if they're there'," Dave said.

Now living in Bonny Hills, Dave was told in July this year the cancer had returned. He is currently undergoing new treatment.

About 18 months ago, the drug he is currently prescribed would have cost between $80,000 and $100,000 a year. With it's recent addition to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) it now costs $40.30 a month.

"The PBS is a good scheme in Australia but when it was brought in, it was dealt with what I understand were immunisations," Dave said.

"Now we're discovering things that are happening at the genetic level at a rapid pace and so there is a need to speed things up."

He believed lung cancer is the 'poor cousin' to other forms of the disease.

"I'd love to see the same volume of lung care nurses in the lung cancer world as the amount of breast cancer nurses in the breast cancer world," he said.

Graham McDean

Graham McDean

Fellow survivor Graham McDean, from Laurieton, was diagnosed with grade four lung cancer in 2015.

"I was told by two GPs I had three to six months to live," Graham explained.

"I was very lucky that I had a good GP who wouldn't take no for an answer."

After an observation of his neck and throat, a follow up CT scan revealed the cancer.

He saw a specialist in Port Macquarie who suggested radiation chemotherapy.

"I couldn't get out of bed, that's how sick I was but as the saying goes there is light at the end of the tunnel," Graham said.

"Here I am today three years later all but cured."

His recovery was based on the sentiment to "surround yourself with good people."

"I was lucky I had a good doctor, a good GP, good nurses and people at Port Macquarie Base Hospital, the oncology unit was marvelous," he said.

"I really think that if I didn't have these people I wouldn't be here today."

Graham acknowledged his wife for being part of his 'rough journey' to recovery.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie spoke at the event about key lung cancer facts in Australia and the work of the government with the PBS.

With his own experiences as a health professional, he also provided insight to treatment from a specialist's perspective.

"Lung cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in Australia. It is estimated that over 12,800 Australians will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, the equivalent 35 Australians diagnosed every hour," Dr Gillespie said.

"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. On average one Australian loses their life to lung cancer every hour, and each year lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and ovarian cancers combined.

"The Federal Coalition Government has recently announced $960,000 of research funding into new diagnostic imaging technology to allow accurate assessment of lung function in patients, as well as a review by Cancer Australia of the potential for targeted lung cancer screening to be the next national cancer screening program.

"These are important measures in working to counter the inequities in health outcomes that currently exist for people living with lung cancer."

Lung Foundation Australia's Ros Irons spoke about the organisation's work to create awareness, reduce stigma and advocate for access to treatment.