Two days after my 34th birthday I woke up with a sore shoulder and arm. I didn’t think too much of it because the pain went away quickly. After I felt a lump on my left collarbone, I mentioned it to my dad and brother because they’re doctors. They said it was probably because I’d had a cough in the past weeks but to get an ultrasound.
After some further scans and tests, it was confirmed to be stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. I was devastated.
When I first tell someone that I have lung cancer, the first thing most people say is ‘did you smoke?’ While I think that people have the best intentions and it’s human nature to want to find the cause of a problem, does it really matter whether I had smoked or not?
I’m a never-smoker, but if I did smoke, even if it was just one cigarette, should I feel that somehow it’s my fault?
I want to reduce the stigma suffered by lung cancer patients and their families who are already going through so much. I use statistics to educate people and raise awareness.
I explain that many other lifestyle choices are linked to cancer and that smoking causes other health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and other cancers. I let them know that one in three women diagnosed with lung cancer is a never-smoker such as myself.
A lot of the people I’ve met with lung cancer, say they’re guarded about their diagnosis. One carer said she didn’t tell anyone for three years that her spouse had lung cancer for fear of being stigmatised.
There needs to be a lot more compassion.
I think that taking away the stigma will lead to greater funding for research. I am feeling hopeful about my future. It’s important to me to stay in the moment and appreciate what I have.