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After three years of bravely battling lung cancer, 33-year-old Lana McKenna was out of options.

Given three months to live, the Australian was told to get her affairs in order.

But there was just one thing she wanted to do before she died – marry the love of her life.

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“Thinking of your own mortality is a real motivator,” she tells 7Life.

In 2019, Lana was 30 and driving.

She and partner Mitch had moved from Queensland to Fitzroy in Melbourne and were loving life.

“I became a coffee snob way too quickly,” Lana laughs.

“Melbourne just felt like our place, we fit in.”

The young woman lived a relatively healthy life, including exercising at the local gym.

But she was popping pain medication every four hours.

When Lana was given three months to live she moved her wedding forward. Credit: Supplied

“I had severe back pain and I had no idea why,” she says.

“I was going to my GP constantly. Sometimes I would go in crying but he would just prescribe pain meds.

“I tried physio, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor – everything.”

breaking point

After five months of excruciating pain, Lana reached breaking point – the pain was not subsiding.

“I decided to change GPs and went in looking for a psychologist,” she says.

“It was just wild back pain, I was hurting so much it started to impact my mental health.”

That second opinion saved Lana’s life.

At just 30 years old, Lana was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
At just 30 years old, Lana was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Credit: Supplied

The doctor was instantly concerned with the symptoms the young woman presented, and referred her for scans on her back.

He also arranged a mental health plan.

The scans revealed Lana had fluid built up in her lungs, and the GP told her that doctors would need to drain the fluid and test it.

“He didn’t seem concerned. He said, ‘It could be cancer or could be an infection’,” she said.

“I wasn’t worried though.”

A total of 200ml was removed from both lungs and, as the fluid was drained, Lana instantly felt better.

Her back pain remained but it was tolerable and she was able to go about her life as normal.

But the relief was short lived – just two weeks later, she was back in the respiratory ward.

Her lungs had filled with fluid again and, with it, her debilitating back pain had returned.

This time, 800ml of fluid was drained from her lungs.

The young woman underwent full brain radiation in a bid to stop the aggressive cancer from spreading.
The young woman underwent full brain radiation in a bid to stop the aggressive cancer from spreading. Credit: Supplied

“I was told to call my partner,” Lana says.

“They had the results of what the fluid was and I guess they didn’t want me to be alone.

“I think part of me already knew – I knew it was going to be life-changing, s***** news.”

‘I knew it was cancer’

Mitch climbed into the hospital bed and held Lana.

The couple spent most of the night cuddling and talking until hospital staff asked Mitch to leave.

But Lana didn’t sleep a wink.

The next day, an oncologist broke the news that she had stage four lung cancer – which had spread throughout her body to her brain and spine.

Even though her grandmother, Carole, had lung cancer, and her grand aunt died from the disease, Lana’s cancer was not genetic.

Nor was it due to lifestyle.

It was a tragic case of “bad luck”.

Lana jumped straight into treatment – from chemotherapy, radiation and brain surgery, she fought hard.

She moved back to Queensland, and friends and family rallied behind her.

Alongside chemotherapy and radiation, Lana underwent brain surgery.
Alongside chemotherapy and radiation, Lana underwent brain surgery. Credit: Supplied

“Mindset is a huge part of it,” Lana says.

“From day one, I told myself I was going to beat it.

“And I truly believed that.”

One thing Lana struggled to wrap her head around was that cancer was a lifelong diagnosis.

She would never be in remission – if her treatment went well she would be classified as “steady”.

Essentially, the cancer cells would stop spreading throughout her body but they would still be present.

Lana kept positive, and moved her goal post to “steady”.

Living with cancer was tough, but the young woman tried to keep life as normal as possible.

wedding bells

And in 2020, Mitch asked Lana to marry him.

“It was perfect,” she says.

Lana split her time between wedding planning and treatment, and was looking forward to her big day.

She also began blogging about her ongoing treatment.

But after three years, her cancer was more aggressive than ever.

In May 2021, the Queenslander was given the news that changed her life again – the cancer was rapidly growing in her brain.

“It was the first time I actually felt a little bit of fear,” she confesses.

“I was told the doctors couldn’t do anymore – they told me I might have three months.”

But Lana was due to walk down the aisle in six months time, on November 25.

In August 2021, Lana wed her long time boyfriend Mitch.
In August 2021, Lana wed her long time boyfriend Mitch. Credit: Supplied

With deposits paid, and the dress hanging in her wardrobe, she jumped on the phone and fired off emails, moving the big day forward.

Kind and understanding vendors came to the party, helping Lana move heaven and earth to re-organize the wedding.

With their mothers as their witnesses, the couple married – springing the surprise official ceremony on them.

“The four of us were out at a restaurant and I just ducked off and got changed into a white dress,” Lana smiles.

“My mum knew exactly what was happening when she saw me.”

Two weeks later, the reception was held.

But the guests were told they were gathering for the wedding – having no idea the couple had already been legally married.

The couple staged a ‘mock wedding’ for their friends and family, with Lana wearing her dream gown.

Only later, as guests moved into the reception hall, did the couple reveal that they had already formally tied the knot.

Lana and Mitch played a recording of the ceremony, as family and friends danced into the night.

Experimental treatment

As the sun rose the next day, the newly married Lana jumped into experimental cancer treatment.

“In the past, I had radiation on certain areas of my brain,” she says.

But now, Lana’s entire brain was subjected to radiation.

Several months later, Lana heard the single word that changed her life – her cancer was officially “steady”.

In a special retro-themed wedding, Mitch and Lana said 'I do'.
In a special retro-themed wedding, Mitch and Lana said ‘I do’. Credit: Supplied

Lana rang in the new year with a very large smile on her face.

She will have constant scans and checkups for many years but says she is moving on.

Desperate for air

Lana is one of the lucky ones.

According to Lung Foundation Australia, 13,000 Australians are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.

With no screening program, 85 per cent of lung cancers are diagnosed at a late stage, with a 20 per cent five-year survival rate.

“Over seven million Australians are living with lung disease or lung cancer and a fair investment in research is non-negotiable,” Lung Foundation Australia CEO Mark Brooke says.

“Prevention and early detection is key, and a research-driven advancement in treatment could give countless Australians their breath back.”

Lana and Lung Foundation Australia are calling on more funding and education to help early detection.

Lung Foundation Australia is calling on the federal government to fund their Six Calls for Support this federal election to help Australians live with #StrongerLungHealth. Find out more at lungfoundation.com.au/strongerlunghealth

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