FIGHTING ON: Mackay nurse Julie Rowen is fighting lung cancer.
FIGHTING ON: Mackay nurse Julie Rowen is fighting lung cancer. Melanie Plane

Smiling through the fight: Julie's lung cancer battle

ONE pill a day keeps cancer at bay for Julie Rowen.

The Mackay nurse is four years into a battle with lung cancer, but if she had a full head of hair, you would never be able to tell.

Despite being told the pill she takes daily to stop her cancer from spreading further could stop working at any time, Julie wakes up every day with a smile on her face and a positive outlook on life.

It's an attitude she has maintained since the day she was first diagnosed and one she believes is vital for all cancer battlers to have.

"When I was first diagnosed I thought 'oh well, it's happened to me' and I wrote my eulogy," Julie said.

"Every day I wake up and think, oh my god, I am so lucky. You just have to be positive. It's not something I am bunging on though, I'm just living my life."

The married mother-of-three's cancer journey began in October 2013 when the then 52-year-old visited her a doctor after developing a cough she couldn't shake. Putting the cough down to bronchopneumonia, her doctor sent her home with Ventalin.

But after using the medication for just one day, Julie developed a horrible headache and went straight back to the doctor who sent her off for a CT scan. When she noticed multiple radiographers crowding around to inspect her results, she knew from experience something was wrong.

"As a nurse I realised that several radiographers crammed around the screen looking at the scan results could not be good news," she said.

"I had a peanut sized cancerous tumour in my lung and it had spread to my brain. It was a big shock."

Julie was rushed to a Brisbane Radiation Oncologist and underwent whole brain radiation, resulting in the tumours in her brain decreasing in size, followed by chemotherapy.

After 18 months of chemotherapy, Julie said she felt terrible and decided not to go ahead with a second round of treatment and started looking for other options.

In 2015, she discovered a drug treatment called targeted therapy, so she had a biopsy of her lung tumour and was fortunate enough to be compatible with the treatment.

"At the moment I am on a tablet, called Tarceva, which responds to the gene in the cancer by blocking it. It stops it growing any bigger and stops anything growing in my brain," she said.

"On average, for a normal person with cancer, the gene targeted treatment last for 8-12 months, but I have been on it for two years.

"My doctor tells me that I have a cancer that doesn't respond and behaves a little differently. I went do to Sydney to get a second opinion and was told by a registrar that they didn't have any statistics about people with cancer like mine because nobody survives."

While there are side effects to the medication, such as her hair breaking off and her eyelashes growing to extreme lengths, Julie is just grateful she is able to wake up every day and spend every time with her family.

She said while her family have provided a great support network, more needs to be done for cancer patients in regional areas. Her greatest wish is for Mackay to have a lung cancer support nurse.

"Something very imperative to my story is that I have had to be my own advocate,' she said.

"I am very happy to talk to people with any cancer because it is such a shock and I find that, because I am a nurse, that has been so advantageous for me on my journey.

"A lung cancer support person here would be amazing because regionally, it is always that bid tougher."

As part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month (November) in Australia, Julie shared her story with Targeting Cancer to help spread the word about available treatments and the struggles those living in regional areas face.

In Australia, it is estimated that almost 12,500 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed during 2017.

The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with lung cancer is about 16%.

It is estimated that it will remain the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2017.

The Targeting Cancer website has a wealth of awareness on lung cancer, including symptoms, causes and treatments.