A chance invitation became my lifesaver

Former JC women’s editor Judy Miller had her lung cancer diagnosed after volunteering to take part in a medical research project


Judy Miller portraits for Cancer Collaborative, 04-11-2020

Former JC woman’s editor Judy Miller had her lung cancer diagnosed early after volunteering to take part in a medical research project without knowing she had the disease.

Ms Miller was one of 25,000 ex-smokers who took part in the study, run by University College Hospital.

For Judy, 74, who smoked from the age of 17 until 60, her decision in January last year to take part was literally life-saving.

She now “thanks Hashem every day” as a result.

“I went first to Finchley Memorial Hospital and had an X-ray, various tests and filled out a thorough questionnaire,” she recalled of her experience taking part in the study.

The tests revealed a lesion on her right lung, which led to further breathing tests carried out at the Royal Free Hospital.

“They said my breathing was fine, but they asked me to go for a CT scan at Barnet General,” she said. The scan, which she said was not a comfortable experience, showed that the lesion contained presently dormant cancer cells.

“Of course, I was quite shattered, being a 74-year-old at the time, in reasonably good health. We were just going into [the first] lockdown, and when I was told that I would have to have an operation, I wasn’t sure about it.

“But Mr Martin Hayward, the lung cancer lead surgeon for the Summit study, told me that I had to have an operation straight away — if the cancer cells spread to my lymph nodes, it would be too late, I would be inoperable.

“So, cancer or Covid, no contest in my opinion”.

One week later a friend took her to the thoracic surgery centre on Westmorland Street in Marylebone, which is under the supervision of University College Hospitals.

Her operation was successful and she was discharged after a week’s stay.

“I know that if I hadn’t been offered the opportunity to participate in the study, I wouldn’t have known about the cells.

“Apparently they had been quietly growing for a number of years. With lung cancer, you often feel no symptoms, and this was the case with me — I’d felt nothing.”

After her operation the Summit study was suspended because of Covid priorities. As a result, at Martin Hayward’s urging, Ms Miller wrote a strong letter to Professor Marcel Levi, chief executive of UCLH Trust, saying she considered it “a travesty” for the vital work of catching cancer early not to continue. “It has been incredibly effective at detecting tumours at an early stage, and has now been reinstated. I think screenings should never be paused when people are dying for no reason.”

The Summit study, the largest lung-cancer screening of its kind in the UK, worked on the simple proviso: “The earlier that cancer is found, the better the chance of successful treatment and survival.”

Ms Miller, who has worked for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue and the Jewish Deaf Association as well as Wizo, added: “Martin Hayward and the NHS saved my life. If cancerous cells can be detected early, people can be cured.

“I thank Hashem every day that the invitation to join the study came to me and that, having found something, they whisked me off into hospital a week later.”

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