Brave Leeds teacher given 'shock' terminal cancer diagnosis vows to help Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

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An inspirational Leeds woman who is battling cancer has taken up the baton to raise funds and awareness of the illness by sharing her story.

Health-conscious Natasha Loveridge had never fit the profile for developing lung cancer – but now she is coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis.

She had first noticed something could be wrong during a Queen’s Jubilee party held in her holiday home in Scotland, with her breathing sounding as if she had “swallowed a squeaky dog toy” and her voice being huskier than usual. As the symptoms faded, Natasha had put it down to stress.

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The symptoms returned in August last year and a strange cough followed. Natasha, who lives in Guiseley, said: “It was just really peculiar. I didn't think much of it. Again, I was just laughing about it because it just seemed to be strange.”

Natasha Loveridge, a primary school teacher, who was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and is now raising money for charity Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.Natasha Loveridge, a primary school teacher, who was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and is now raising money for charity Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
Natasha Loveridge, a primary school teacher, who was recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and is now raising money for charity Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

Within six weeks, she was talking about treatment options after learning that she had developed stage four lung cancer. The 49-year-old said: "When it was first suggested, it was a complete shock – it was like I can’t have lung cancer; 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 go to all these appointments, I was the youngest person there. It was just shock, and it was complete and utter disbelief. It's like ‘It can't be me’. To be quite honest, I still think that's a little bit of that in me now.”

A teacher at Farsley Farfield Primary School, Natasha had been persuaded by her colleagues to visit a doctor about her cough. A few days after her appointment, Natasha received a phone call asking her to come back into the clinic.

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“I didn't think much,” she said. “I thought, ‘That's really good aftercare, you know, how nice of them’. I remember going down to the hospital and remember the guy in the coffee shop at the LGI. He said, ‘Oh, would you like a loyalty card?’ and I was like ‘Oh, no I’m never going to be here again. This is the only time I'm going to be here’.”

Natasha Loveridge pictured with her dog, Olive.Natasha Loveridge pictured with her dog, Olive.
Natasha Loveridge pictured with her dog, Olive.

During her appointment, she was told the x-ray had uncovered a mass on the right upper lobe of her lung. The doctors initially thought it was tuberculosis as Natasha spends a lot of time around children, but further tests returned a negative result for the disease.

A few weeks later, she was told to prepare for the worst and that the mass could be a sign of lung cancer. She said: “My first thoughts were, ‘Oh, God, how do I tell my husband and how do I tell my mum, dad, and what do I say to my children?’”

Biopsies, PET and CT scans confirmed that the abnormalities in her lymph nodes were most likely cancer. Natasha said: “I remember saying to the consultants, ‘I've got two teenagers. We need to get a move on with this.’ At this point, we were thinking it was probably stage two, something like that – although it wasn't confirmed, it was pretty obvious what it was. We just needed the complete diagnosis before we could decide on a pathway forward.”

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On December 8, Natasha was given a diagnosis of lung cancer and told it was most likely the EGFR+ mutation that is most commonly seen in young women who are non-smokers like herself – and she returned to school the next day with the belief it would be graded at stage three.

“At this point, we thought it was still curable,” said Natasha. The plan was to reduce the masses using chemotherapy first and then surgery, but this was no longer possible.

“The thing with EGFR is the progression is very unpredictable, and it can progress very, very quickly, which is what's happened in my case,” she said. “At the time it was devastating, and all I wanted to ask was, ‘Why can't you just put it out? Why can't you just do this? Why can't you just zap it?’”

The rapid progression of her cancer meant that it had reached an incurable stage within weeks. Natasha said: “I already resigned myself. We already knew it was. We just didn't know how bad and how severe.”

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Natasha is currently on osimertinib and has seen her masses reduce in size significantly. While she is feeling the side effects, her hope is not dimmed. She said: “I've got a lot more hope and I live every single day. It's really weird, because even though it's a terminal diagnosis, it makes you reframe everything. I think it's how we should all live anyway.”

While on sick leave and desperate to get back to the job that she loves, Natasha has spent the last few months rekindling lost friendships, spending time with loved ones and doing things she enjoys. She has also begun fundraising for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

Later this year, Natasha will be hosting a 90s disco and a garden party and hopes to do more to raise money for the charity as she also raises awareness of the disease on her social media.

She said: “It's not a sob story. And that's one thing I really want to get over. I want this to be a story of hope and I want it to be a story of the fact that the NHS can be amazing when it works. I mean, there isn't a cure but if it wasn't for these amazing medicines, then my life would be very, very limited – but it's not. It's given me so much hope. Even though your life span is for two years [on osimertinib], there’s no reason why it can't be a lot more.”