In honour of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we are delighted to share our latest Meet the Patient interview with Cheryl Johnson, a patient living with lung cancer.
At A Life in a Day, our mission is to foster a greater understanding within the life science sector about the realities of living with various conditions. We firmly believe in the power of storytelling to bridge the gap between medical knowledge and human experiences. For us to do this, we work with an extensive patient community who are boldly willing to share their stories with us and help shape various experiences including lung cancer.
In our conversation with Cheryl, we take a look at various elements of her diagnosis and treatment, and how they have a profound impact including acceptance of her new look, stereotypical thinking, and the parts she hides from her family and friends.
I don’t want to walk around wearing a badge saying I’ve got lung cancer…"
Lung cancer and emotional impact
Cheryl acknowledges that her mental health has been affected, leading to moments of feeling down and uncharacteristically disinterested.
I used to work out, you know, I used to always get my hair done… I was quite a girly girl, but now everything’s a bit of an effort…"
As someone who has always been outgoing and confident, these shifts in her mood and motivation have been difficult to navigate.
I just don’t want to do anything, which is really strange since when I was first diagnosed it was every day, throughout the day, I kept thinking I had to do something. I can’t waste a day.”
She describes moments of apathy, where the simple act of taking a shower or applying makeup feels like an overwhelming task. This loss of motivation and self-care is something she hadn’t experienced before, and it has been a significant adjustment.
You will wake up and get dressed and you will have a shower and get dressed and then, there’s not much going on. Makeup wise I will draw the eyebrows, and that was my thing. As long as I drew my eyebrows and made an effort, it should be fine. There are some days that are worse than others, but yeah, it was just a day".
Stereotypes about lung cancer
“If you’re a woman and you tell someone that you have cancer…”
Cheryl points out a common stereotype: the assumption that if a woman has cancer, it must be breast cancer. But it’s crucial to recognise that there are various types of cancer that affect women, including lung cancer.
“Women get other cancers other than breast cancer… And then the other thing is if you get lung cancer, then you smoke or smoked”.
One of the most pervasive stereotypes about lung cancer is the association with smoking. Many individuals, like Cheryl, who have never smoked, are diagnosed with this disease. Lung cancer can affect anyone, regardless of their personal history.
Lung cancer and career
Cheryl’s journey with lung cancer has impacted her career as a photographer. She used to enjoy capturing the joy and love found from being a wedding photographer. However, the uncertainty of her health and treatment schedule has made it impossible to commit to bookings that might be a year or more in advance.
“I’ve not been able to do any wedding photography because I can’t commit to a booking next year, 18 months, two years… Some brides like to book, so I haven’t been able to do that, which is quite sad because it’s a happy day. It’s a lovely day. But I can’t do that”.
Like many professionals, Cheryl sometimes had to take on less inspiring photography gigs to pay the bills.
“I would do some family photography that was just not inspiring or stuff like that, but it’s money paying the bills”.
Cheryl now primarily takes on client work for those who understand her health situation. This arrangement allows her to work flexibly, as her clients are aware of her circumstances and are supportive.
A Life in a Day thank Cheryl and all other patients who contributed their experience to create our immersive experiences to increase empathy and understanding among life science professionals.