When Tom met Sir Alex...

Sir Alex Ferguson with Tom Hart at the launch of lung cancer awareness campaign
Sir Alex Ferguson with Tom Hart at the launch of lung cancer awareness campaign

A Larbert man who beat cancer three times after seeking early help has shared his experience with soccer legend Sir Alex Ferguson in a Scottish Government film promoting Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Tom Hart (62) was first diagnosed five years ago after a persistent cough led him to his local GP surgery for a check-up – and the shock discovery of a tumour in his right lung.

Doctors later dealt with two other tumours.

In the film Tom chats with Sir Alex who fronts the Detect Cancer Early (DCE) campaign over a cup of tea in a Glasgow cafe.

The former Manchester United boss and star forward with Tom’s favourite team, Dunfermline, talks about how far treatments have come since he tragically lost his own parents to the disease and praises Tom for setting a “great example to everyone in Scotland” by speaking about what happened to him and urging others not to ignore similar symptoms.

For Tom, early diagnosis in 2011 led to successful treatment, allowing him to return to work. When his lung cancer returned twice, the last time in 2014, his quick decision to visit the doctor again meant smaller tumours were also detected early and successfully dealt with.

Tom said: “I was diagnosed the first time because my wife gave me a bit of stick about getting a persistent cough I’d had for around five weeks checked out.

“Our daughter, Emma, was getting married and we were going on holiday after that so I didn’t want to put a spanner in the works.

“But when I was told it was a tumour in the centre of my right lung and surgery was not an option because of where it was located it was a complete shock. The news really took the wind out of my sails.

“Luckily my cancer was found early and I was eligible for an innovative radiotherapy treatment at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow. I was given three dozes a day for 12 days which worked and I had no side effects. After a period of recovery I was able to return to work. It’s amazing what can be done nowadays.

“I feel very fortunate that I sought help when I did as the outcome could have been very different. I’m now looking forward to meeting my first grandchild due to arrive early next year!

It’s important people get checked if they have any symptoms. Hopefully it won’t be cancer, but if it is, the sooner the treatment begins the better.

“Right now I’m focused on getting on with life and looking to the future. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I never thought for a moment, for example, I would be meeting Sir Alex Ferguson for a cuppa in Govan. As a life-long Dunfermline fan that was a real honour!”

Latest statistics show that since the launch of the government’s £30 million DCE plan in 2013 the percentage of patients in Scotland diagnosed with the earliest stage of lung cancer (stage one) has increased by over a third to 35.8 per cent overall.

The DCE lung campaign which will run throughout November aims to drive awareness of the fact that a cough for three weeks or more could be a vital sign of what could be happening in a bid to encourage those with the symptom to visit their GP sooner rather than later.

Other things to look out for include:

* Feeling breathless for no reason;

* Coughing blood;

* Unexplained weight loss;

* Tiredness or lack of energy;

* Chest or shoulder pains;

* A hoarse voice.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Scotland with around 5000 new cases diagnosed every year.

But there is some good news - more people than ever are surviving the disease - 250 more a year compared with 25 years ago - thanks to improved treatments and more people getting checked earlier.

The five year survival rate for those diagnosed at an early stage is almost 20 times higher than for those diagnosed at a late stage two.

When he agreed to be the ‘face’ on the campaign three years ago Sir Alex, who also played for Falkirk and managed East Stirlingshire, said: “I know the devastating impact cancer can have on families. But cancer’s not what it used to be and there are now treatments that can save or extend your life. So rather than do nothing about it, I urge anyone who is worried to get checked as early as they can.”

Dr James Cant, head of the British Lung Foundation in Scotland said: “Lung cancer is a disease which can develop slowly over a number of years. Often it causes no pain, so it’s important to be aware of warning signs like a persistent cough and act quickly to have them checked. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them.”

Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, said: “It’s encouraging to see the recent increase in the percentage of lung cancers being diagnosed at the earliest stage when treatment and survival is highest.

“There’s lots that can be done to treat lung cancer and as a result of better treatments and increased rates of early detection more people than ever in Scotland are surviving.

“As Tom’s story illustrates, seeing your GP when you notice a persistent change in your health is worthwhile. If you’ve had a cough for three weeks or more it’s probably nothing to worry about, but if it is something that needs treatment, the earlier you go the better.

“So, don’t get scared – get checked.”