'Maybe they had made a mistake' One lung cancer survivor on her long road to recovery
"The judgement and stigma is awful."
Miriam Payne was diagnosed with lung cancer in November of 2015 - almost by accident.
She had been diagnosed with epilepsy a few years before when she was 38-years-old. After receiving the proper treatment and medication, she returned home from hospital and continued on with life relatively normally.
Some years later, however, she started to experience a severe throbbing pain in the side of her face.
She thought that she might have toothache or an infection, and although she would usually go to Beaumont hospital for her epilepsy treatment, she decided to go to her local hospital, Naas General, instead.
It was this decision, Miriam says, that most likely saved her life.
Doctors in Naas General give her a full MOT as well as a chest X-ray. They soon informed her that they could see a shadow on her lung - one that would need to be investigated further with more tests and biopsies.
A few weeks later, the results confirmed what Miriam had feared. "It's cancer," doctors told her.
"It was much harder telling my mother then hearing it myself, saying it out loud made it real," she says. “Even though I knew, I thought just maybe they had made a mistake."
Following a life-saving operation, Miriam was left with just half a lobe in her right lung. Doctors told her she was lucky to have caught the cancer so early, or the result could have been a lot worse.
"After being through brain surgery [for epilepsy treatment] I thought I’d be grand," she says, "but I couldn’t get over how hard it was to get over the lung surgery."
“I sometimes feel like I have to apologise, as the first thing I get asked is if I smoke or smoked. The judgement and stigma is awful."
Now on damp or cold days, Miriam notices that she gets breathless a lot more frequently and that she has to take it easier. She also finds herself trying to explain her lung cancer to other people, as if it is something that needs to be explained.
But despite all of this, she says she still knows how lucky she is.
Today, Miriam was one of seven lung cancer patients and family members who came together to fill a memento jar full of some of the special moments they had experienced in life since their diagnosis.
The project, run by the Marie Keating Foundation, is called Making Moments Matter and it illustrates the extra time that survivors have gained as a result of early intervention and treatment - as well as some of the special moments that family members recall from loved ones who may have passed away.
Miriam experienced many special moments before her cancer diagnosis - and she has experienced many since then too.
Becoming a mother to three children, a grandmother to three more, getting numerous piercings, tattoos, and dyeing her hair bright red, purple, pink, or whatever colour suits her in the moment.
Participating in the annual Dip In The Nip event, appearing on Ireland's Got Talent, and becoming a member of the Sea of Change Choir. They're just some of the things Miriam has achieved in her life prior to, and since, her diagnosis all those years ago.
“Getting diagnosed early means I am here for my kids and grandchildren and also to really experience life," she says.
"My memento jar tells the story of my time in the choir and the positive impact it has had on my life. Time is so precious and is something I will forever be grateful for."
You can find out more about the Marie Keating Foundation's Make Moments Matter campaign here.