A woman who doesn't smoke was shocked to be diagnosed with incurable lung cancer and is now on a mission to raise awareness that young, fit and healthy people aren't immune from the disease.
Natasha Loveridge, 49, was astounded when she was told she had stage four lung cancer despite living a healthy lifestyle.
The primary school teacher has called for the screening of non-smokers and young people to help detect the disease sooner – especially given it's the most common cause of cancer death in the country.
"I want to push for a national universal screening programme," she says.
"We need to put it down in people's consciousness that if you've got lungs, you can get lung cancer.
"It's raising the profile and getting rid of that stigma as well.
"I still find myself, even now, saying, 'I've got lung cancer, but I don't smoke!'"
Loveridge first noticed that her breathing sounded like she had "swallowed a squeaky dog toy" and her voice was huskier than usual last June.
As the symptoms faded, Loveridge put what she had been experiencing down to stress.
But when a strange cough hit her in August, she went to the doctors who referred her to hospital where an x-ray uncovered a mass of tissue on her lung.
Further tests and scans confirmed the abnormalities she also had in her lymph nodes were likely to be due to cancer.
In December, Loveridge was given the devastating diagnosis of lung cancer.
With more than four in 10 people in the UK diagnosed with the disease being 75 and older, and the cancer being closely associated with smoking, this came out of the blue for Loveridge.
She was told it was most likely due to what is known as the EGFR+ (a type of gene) mutation (change) –more commonly seen in young women who are non-smokers like herself.
"When it was first suggested, it was a complete shock. It was like, 'I can't have lung cancer,'" she recalls.
"I am too young, I don't smoke, I don't know people who smoke, I am really fit, I used to run, I do lots of hill walks, I ride my bike, I do loads of yoga, and I eat predominantly a plant-based diet.
"Whenever I'd go to all these appointments, I was the youngest person there. It was just a shock, and it was complete and utter disbelief.
"It's like, 'It can't be me'. To be quite honest, I still think there's a little bit of that in me now."
But while hoping to raise awareness that despite the odds, anyone can be affected by the disease, Loveridge is determined to live a full life with the help of the cancer growth-blocking drug osimertinib (sold nunder the brand name Tagrisso).
While there is no exact prognosis for how long she might have left, she says people on the drug have gone on to live for years.
And Loveridge's future is looking promising – recent results showed a 25% overall reduction in her primary (original) tumour. She is keen to remain optimistic and doesn't want to be told how long she has left, explaining, "You can live with stage 4 cancer.
"Nowadays, the treatments are sometimes so good that, actually, you can live a normal, happy, full life doing everything that you love.
"Just because you've got cancer it doesn't mean to say that your life has to stop, because it really doesn't.
"I don't want to look over that cliff. As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be here in 10 years' time.
"Since having this diagnosis, it's completely reframed my life."
Despite the challenging situation, she adds, "You are grateful for every single day and you live every single day as much as you can. You find so much enjoyment even out of the smallest little things."
Loveridge is raising funds for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and has organised events such as a sponsored walk up mountain Scafell Pike in Cumbria and a 90s disco.You can donate to the fundraiser here.
For more information on lung cancer, see our useful guide on the UK's four most common cancer types and the signs and symptoms to be aware of.
Additional reporting SWNS.
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