‘Nothing could have prepared me for the news that he had stage 3b lung cancer’
After her husband Martin died from the disease just five months after being diagnosed, Venetia Quick is urging people to be aware of the symptoms of lung cancer
Venetia Quick: ‘My advice to people who are worried about symptoms is don’t be scared to hear bad news, give yourself the best chance and go and see your doctor.’
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide and more than 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease in Ireland ever year, with figures rising steadily for the past three decades.
The Marie Keating Foundation is urging people to become aware of the symptoms and has just launched new research which aims to highlight the difficulties faced by lung cancer patients and the prejudices many face because the majority of people affected are or have been smokers.
But the disease can also strike non-smokers – and regardless of lifestyle choices, no one chooses to get cancer.
Venetia Quick and her three sons – Felix (14), Arlo (9) and Casper (7) – know only too well the devastation a diagnosis of lung cancer can bring as they are still grieving for the loss of her husband and father to the boys, Martin Thomas.
The 49-year-old died suddenly at home with his two eldest sons in February 2018, just five months after being diagnosed with the disease and Venetia, the Q102 Drive@5 presenter, says they are all still reeling from his death, having never properly processed the initial diagnosis.
“In hindsight, I can see that Martin was probably showing signs of illness for at least six months before he was diagnosed,” she says. “He always had a bit of a beer belly and in around May of 2017, he began to lose weight for no reason. He was also more tired than usual and while he always had a bad cough, he also complained of feeling nauseous most of the time.
“I remember going to a 50th birthday party and meeting a friend who we hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks and she was shocked by the amount of weight Martin had lost and told him he should go to the doctor.”
As with many things in life, the trip to the GP was put off and the family went on holiday, where Martin’s cough got worse until one day he started coughing up blood – so immediately on his return, the music promoter decided to seek medical advice.
He was referred to hospital where several tests needed to be run so he was admitted and remained there for several weeks until both he and Venetia were summoned to hear the results of the examinations – it was the worst news possible.
“When Martin was first admitted, doctors thought he might have had TB so there were lots of scans and tests to be done,” she says. “Then when I was asked to come in to hear the results, I started to get worried. But nothing could have prepared me for the news that he had stage 3b lung cancer. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie where you would watch someone hear devastating news – it was like it wasn’t actually happening to us.
‘It couldn’t be cured’
“The doctors said they could treat and manage the cancer but it couldn’t be cured and due to the size and location of the tumour, it was inoperable. I felt totally numb but went off to work and then to Tesco to get the shopping, with no idea what I was doing or buying. I suppose I was trying to carry on as normal without admitting what was going on.”
Straight after the diagnosis, Martin began chemotherapy and radiotherapy. With their eldest son having just started secondary school, the couple tried to keep life as normal as possible while working on the belief that because he was a fairly young man, the treatment just might be successful.
“We tried to carry on as normal and keep things on an even keel for the boys,” says Venetia. “Martin gave up work as he was extremely tired all the time, but he still managed to do stuff with the kids while I carried on with my job, did the school run and tried to remain calm. We knew we didn’t have a huge amount of time left, but there was nothing indicating any immediate danger.
“Then the night before he died we talked about taking the boys out of school and going on a month-long holiday together. Martin was in flying form and even joked about the possibility of him not dying at all after making the kids miss so much school.”
The next day – February 11th, 2018 – Venetia took her youngest son to his first football training session in Herbert Park in Ballsbridge and was passed by several emergency vehicles as they walked. Little did she know that they were attending her husband, who she had only said goodbye to a short while earlier.
“Martin wanted to drive Casper to training but I said it would be better to walk as he would expect him to do that regularly and we didn’t know if this would be possible in the future,” she says. “While we were walking, an ambulance and a fire engine screamed past and Casper commented on the fact that they were in a big hurry.
“My phone was on silent as I liked being present with the boys on the weekend so it was only when I looked at it a short while later that I saw several missed calls from home.”
Rushing back to the house, Venetia was faced with the tragic reality that her husband had collapsed and died instantly in the short time she was out. Her two eldest boys had been with him when it happened and were understandably completely traumatised by the event.
Now, 18 months later, the family is still trying to come to terms with their unimaginable loss and the mother of three says people need to be aware of the signs of lung cancer as early detection could mean more quality time spent with loved ones.
“If Martin had gone to get checked earlier we might have had more time together as a family and may have had time to say goodbye,” she says. “My last text to him was to ask him to empty the dishwasher and that is definitely not what I would have wanted to say if I had known.
“When we were given the diagnosis, we thought he might have had at least 18 months or two years but the reality was just five months, which was far too little. We are now into the second year without Martin and I am finding the grief so much harder as I think it has really hit home that this is reality and he is actually gone. I regret so much not spending more time together just hanging out as a family and I wish I hadn’t gone into work mode when I heard the terrible news, but it was just my way of coping.
“Being aware of the early signs might give someone that extra time – so my advice to people who are worried about symptoms is don’t be scared to hear bad news, give yourself the best chance and go and see your doctor if you have concerns. And if a cancer diagnosis has just been received, make the most of the time you have left – it is tempting to run away and put your head in the sand, but whether the cancer is incurable or not, don’t waste any time with your loved ones.”
Keeping her husband’s memory alive, Venetia is helping to promote a fundraising evening at the Sugar Club in Dublin in aid of the Martin Thomas Trust.
Strictly Handbag will take place on September 21st and all proceeds will go to the trust, in association with mental health charity Jigsaw.
About lung cancer
– More than 2,500 people in Ireland are diagnosed with lung cancer annually
– It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Ireland and worldwide
– The five-year survival rate is only 17.9 per cent
– The incidence of lung cancer has been rising steadily over the past three decades and is projected to increase by 141 per cent in women and 61 per cent in men by 2030
– Ninety per cent of all lung cancers are due to smoking and the risk is directly linked to the number of cigarettes smoked every day and the years spent smoking
– Abstaining from or quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to avoid getting lung cancer
– It is more common in those who are over 65, in fact, 75 per cent of lung cancers occur in those 65 and over
– Chronic lung conditions can cause cellular change and increase the risk of lung cancer
– Exposure to radon, (a natural gas that can be found in the air or trapped in buildings) increases the risk, especially in smokers
– Exposure to asbestos and some chemicals, employment as a painter, indoor emissions from household combustion of coal and a family history of lung cancer can also increase risk
– The majority of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage, which is why awareness of the symptoms and early detection is vital
1. A cough that doesn’t go away or a change in a long-term cough
2. Feeling short of breath or wheezing
3. Repeated chest infections that won’t go away even after antibiotics
4. Coughing up blood-stained phlegm (sputum)
5. Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in
6. Feeling more tired than usual and/or unexplained weight loss
7. Hoarse voice, problems swallowing or swelling in the face or neck