Yorkshire student aiming to live full life despite cancer

STIGMA: Kay Murgatroyd is living with lung cancer aged only 19.
STIGMA: Kay Murgatroyd is living with lung cancer aged only 19.
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Lung cancer kills more people in the UK every year than any other form of cancer and a teenage university student from Yorkshire shows it can strike at any age.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (LCAM) and the plight of 19-year-old Kay Murgatroyd, along with many others, is highlighted in the #HeadHigh national campaign of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation – the only UK charity dedicated solely to lung cancer.

Unlike patients who have breast or pancreatic or bowel cancer – or virtually any other form of the disease you can name – lung cancer patients have to face stigma.

That’s because of the association with smoking. We can be quick to blame, but slow to empathise.

That means it can be difficult for lung cancer patients to talk about their condition. The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation feels it’s time to change that. Time for them to be able to hold their #HeadHigh.

Kay enjoys parties and all the activities that every 19-year-old should. She also has lung cancer. Kay was diagnosed with ALK positive non-small cell lung cancer when she was just 17.

Now she is on a daily-targeted chemotherapy tablet which has minimal effect on her life at the moment and hardly any side effects. But, one day, this drug is going to stop working. Kay’s mum, Aileen, wants to know why.

She said: “We have to find out why this drug stops working. Lung cancer affects a large chunk of people who are of value to the community. They deserve the research, they deserve the funding, they deserve a long and happy life.”

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (a worldwide event), and, in 2017, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation aims to tackle lung cancer stigma with its #HeadHigh campaign which demonstrates the diversity of the disease and the people it affects.

Patients and their loved ones frequently share with the Foundation their feelings of judgement, with many even ashamed to say they have lung cancer. Many also believe that this stigma is why lung cancer receives less funding than other cancers despite it being the biggest cancer killer.

Paula Chadwick, CEO of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “Lung cancer is the only disease where the first thing out of someone’s mouth is not ‘That’s awful’, ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘Is there anything I can do?’ It’s ‘Did you smoke?’ It’s something most patients’ experience and it’s not right. It leaves the patient, who is already going through the worst of times, feeling judged, isolated and ashamed. There’s no escaping the fact that smoking is the main cause of lung cancer so we understand why the stigma exists, but the fact is, it doesn’t matter.”