Michele McMahon is a special person. Everyone who meets her knows that straightaway. She seems to shine with a warm glow. Spend five minutes in her company and you’re bound to feel uplifted.
In short, she’s an inspiration, and all the more remarkable when you learn that she was diagnosed in October 2007 with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), stage 3b.
Michele was then just 39, and a nurse working at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. She also had two young children – and she was determined to see them grow up.
Ten years on from her diagnosis, she’s among the patients who have volunteered to help with our 2017 Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM) campaign.
Michele with her granddaughter, Alexa
Amidst the seemingly-chaotic bustle of the photo-shoot, Michele recalled how her family and friends reacted when she told them of her diagnosis.
“I think everyone was pretty shocked, even though I was sort of expecting it – I hadn’t really prepared them. Obviously, they were devastated, but they’re really supportive. I’m really lucky.
“Because I was a nurse, I did have some awareness of lung cancer. But my view was probably much the same as everyone else’s, that it affected older people who’d smoked all their lives, and not young women. Even though I had smoked in the past – I’d been an ex-smoker for maybe ten years at that point – I never thought it would affect me.
“So now I know better. Now I understand that as long as you have lungs, you can get lung cancer, whether you smoke or not. You don’t have to be a certain age or a specific gender, it doesn’t matter where you come from – you can get lung cancer”.
"We need to raise awareness – not just of the symptoms, but of what it’s like to live with lung cancer. It can affect anyone, nobody’s immune."
Michele was only 39 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer
Michele has a clear and personal understanding of the assumptions surrounding lung cancer and the links with tobacco products.
“Yes, of course, when I say I’ve got lung cancer, people ask ‘are you a smoker?’ It’s that stigma that’s attached to it, that people think, ‘oh, you smoked, then you deserve to get lung cancer’, when really you don’t. If you sunbathe, nobody would say that you ‘deserve’ to get skin cancer, would they? So we really need to break down those barriers, that stigma. It’s really important.
“We need to raise awareness – not just of the symptoms, but of what it’s like to live with lung cancer. It can affect anyone, nobody’s immune.
“Still more needs to be done. We’re putting a face to lung cancer – in fact, we ARE the face of lung cancer. It’s happening now, and the present situation is not good enough. We need more funding, we need more research, we need more drugs, and we need a cure.
“I will always try to speak out, to give the public a better perspective and understanding. I know my mum and dad would be really proud. It’s just to make things better especially for people who have been diagnosed.
“I’m ten years down the line now, which is great – but really, things aren’t changing fast enough. That’s why it’s so important for me to do this.