International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the achievements of women, challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions and improve situations.
In April 2019, we launched our lung cancer awareness campaign, LikeMe. It too aimed to do much of the above.
We wanted to challenge the misconceptions around lung cancer and increase awareness as to who it can affect in order improve the current landscape.
We chose to focus on women under 50 to provide the sharpest contrast to who many perceive to be a ‘typical’ lung cancer patient. Ten incredible women shared their stories. Many of them are living with an incurable diagnosis. Two of them are heartbreakingly no longer with us. All of them wanted to highlight the fact lung cancer can affect anyone. People like you. People like me.
And so today, on International Women’s Day, it felt right to check back in on some of our original LikeMe women and celebrate their achievements over the last 12 months.
“The only way I describe my life since the #LikeMe campaign is ‘a mixed bag’.
My cancer has progression twice and I’ve had two lots of radiotherapy – the last lot over the Christmas period. I am off sick at the moment, as being a busy senior medical officer in the Army was just not a good way of prioritizing my health.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I feel well, go to the gym regularly and I have travelled extensively – Las Vegas, San Diego, LA, San Fran, Venice and Paris. I have more holidays planned this year too, kicking off with skiing in a couple of weeks.
I have also been renovating a derelict cottage I bought 8 weeks before I was diagnosed and I am pleased to say I will be moving into my dream home in April, something I never thought would happen in the dark months following my diagnosis.
Living with cancer, you have to take the rough with the smooth. It’s a rollercoaster but I remain overwhelmingly thankful every day to my family and friends for their loving support. I am still breathing and can feel the rain and the wind on my face. Life could be so much worse.”
“Having moved back down to Kent in December 2018, I joined the Whitstable Yacht club as I used to do a lot of sailing. Unfortunately, I’m not able to dinghy sail these days but, as a qualified instructor, I wanted to try and help out where I could. They rely on volunteers and were very happy to have someone with experience. I also help out with the cadets who are just starting to learn to sail, which is great fun.
In February, I celebrated my 50th birthday. This was a huge milestone for me because, when I was diagnosed at 45, I wasn’t sure I would make it to my 50th. But I did and I’m feeling good at the moment.
I pleased to say there haven’t been too may lows. I am still filled with the usual anxiety around scan time, but the scans are all still stable so my current medication, ceritinib which I’ve been on since July 2018, is still working.
It’s something you’ll always be aware of, especially when you hear of some of the people you’ve met are no longer here. That’s why it is important to make the most of every day.
“I continue to live “well” with my cancer and it has remained stable for the last 3 scans. However, I am now awaiting results of my latest scans where they also threw in a brain MRI due to some worrying symptoms. I should receive the results on Friday the 13th of all days. Thank goodness I’m not superstitious!
Since taking part in the #LikeMe campaign, my year has been full of momentous moments that, at the time of diagnosis, I never thought I would see.
This year marked two years since my lung cancer diagnosis, and I can honestly that it has been the most rewarding year.
I celebrated my 50th birthday. My youngest son turned 18 and passed his driving test first time. He also completed his Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and we were able to attend his presentation at St James Place in London. Proud does not even begin to cover it!”
It’s been an interesting year. It’s touch and go this cancer game! I’ve had a bad run of late. The immunotherapy stopped working. I then got a mixed response to the chemotherapy I was on and so they stopped that too. I’ve now had progression to my liver and, recently, my brain but fortunately, that has been caught early. I’m about to start a new course of chemo, so we’ll see how that goes.
Lung cancer aside, things are good. My restaurant, Masala Wala Cafe, which I set up with my mum is approaching its fifth year, which is amazing.
I’m in the process of writing a recipe book. In Pakistani culture, food is cooked by eye, but I’m keen to get them down on paper. My favourite recipe has to be kofta masala. I just find meatballs such a comforting dish.
My sisters have been brilliant, pitching in to help keep the cafe running. It’s a very personable and family focused business, so someone from the family needs to be there. Since my diagnosis, we’re even closer as a family. My sister got married and I was so happy I was here to be part of it. It was a really special and intimate day. I think we all appreciate each other a lot more now.
One of the most exciting things that has come out of the last year was I got approached to be part of a new podcast that discusses death, dying and grief – Fresh to Death. It’s aimed predominantly at the South Asian community because dying to still very much a taboo subject. We’re trying to encourage more open conversations around death and the different stages of grief.
It’s been really interesting and a very therapeutic and cathartic process for me whilst going through chemotherapy and health uncertainty. It’s touched a lot of listeners and we’ve had some lovely reactions and feedback, which just spurs you on to do and talk more.”
You can hear Saima on the Fresh to Death podcast on BBC Sounds and all the usual podcast platforms.