- Alix Burnard came down with a nasty cough in 2021 that turned out to be lung cancer.
- As her cancer progressed, she became so short of breath that she couldn't climb stairs.
- She's receiving targeted therapy to keep her cancer from spreading further, but it's not a cure.
A 29-year-old woman in the UK was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after months of struggling to breathe and coughing up phlegm.
Alix Burnard, a sales manager from Newbury, Berkshire, was sent home with cough syrup and no diagnosis the first few times she contacted her doctor, she told the Mirror.
She said she started feeling ill in March 2021 but repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19. Her cough persisted and she developed swelling around her neck and lymph nodes, so her doctor prescribed antibiotics and recommended some tests. However, they wouldn't see her in the office "because of COVID," she said.
Burnard's symptoms worsened throughout the spring, the Mirror reported. By May, she said she had lost so much weight that her clothes didn't fit, and she would often cough until she vomited.
"I was struggling to breathe and couldn't talk without running out of air," she told the British media outlet. "I was coughing up phlegm constantly, and couldn't leave the house without a cup to cough up into."
When she was finally seen by her doctor in person, they sent her straight to the emergency department and tested her for tuberculosis. The test came back negative. But at her next hospital visit, Burnard got a CT scan that would reveal something more "sinister" in her lungs, she said.
She was treated for pneumonia, but her cancer was deemed incurable
After Burnard's CT scan, doctors began speaking to her differently, she told the Mirror. They admitted her to the hospital and told her she had cancer, but they didn't know what kind yet.
At the same time, Burnard was suffering from pneumonia, which took an extra toll on her lungs. Physicians pumped her full of IV antibiotics for the infection, but the cancer would prove trickier to treat.
She was sent home from the hospital for two weeks between her initial scans and official diagnosis.
"In those two weeks things got really, really bad," Burnhard said. "I was sleeping all the time and I was so weak I couldn't really stand. My boyfriend had to carry me up and down the stairs because it was too difficult for me to do."
When she returned, Burnhard was told that she had adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that forms in the glandular tissue. The cancer started in her lungs and had spread to her liver, lymph nodes, shoulder, spine, and pelvis. Since it was at such an advanced stage, doctors told her the cancer was incurable.
"I was heartbroken at the news," Burnard recalled. "I remember telling a friend and saying to her that I'm likely to die of this disease one day."
She's on medication to keep her cancer from spreading further
When she came back to the hospital, Burnard was shuttled between the cancer ward and intensive care for targeted oral therapy and occasional stints on a ventilator. She also took some time to process her situation.
"Eventually over time, I learned to understand that I am, and would be, living with incurable cancer," she said. "I would be too unwell to look after my dog. I couldn't walk myself, let alone a strong bulldog."
A cocktail of chemotherapy and targeted cancer drugs may give Burnard some time back, or so she hopes. She said she started a new treatment called crizotinib in June 2022, and IV chemotherapy would be next.
"I can only hope that this gives me much more time than my previous two treatment lines. All I want is to stabilize my cancer and live my life as well as I possibly can," she told the Mirror.
In the time she has left, Burnard said she plans to travel, spend time in nature, and surround herself with loved ones. She's also spreading the word about preventive screenings.
"I think it's clear anyone with lungs can get lung cancer, and if you have a persistent cough, please don't ignore it. Speak with your GP and get it checked, it could save your life."