BY CALUM FRASER
A restaurateur wants to tackle what she believes is the “shame factor” attached to lung cancer.
Saima Thompson, who owns and runs the Masala Wala Cafe in Brockley Cross, Brockley, with her mother, Nabeela Muqadiss, has been diagnosed with incurable stage four lung cancer, aged 29.
She’s now telling her story during lung cancer awareness month this November, to highlight common misconceptions of the condition and the symptoms to look for.
Saima said: “Before I was diagnosed I was always under the impression it was ‘an old person’s disease’.
“Lung cancer is the third most common cancer, but it seems no one is talking about it because there’s a real shame factor attached, and it’s so heavily associated to smoking.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’ve ever smoked. I dabbled with cigarettes in my early 20s but I’m only 29, and I’ve spoken to plenty of people who have never smoked who also live with it, too.
“Initially I found it quite difficult when people found out the news. Sometimes it felt like I’d almost died already – people would send messages saying, ‘my thoughts are with you’, or wanted to send flowers.
“We need to demystify what a cancer diagnosis means – it can mean a long life, it can mean a shorter life, but it’s still a life worth living.
“Cancer is raceless and ageless. We’ve got to raise awareness and not be ashamed to talk about it.”
Saima married her partner of seven years, black cab driver Gareth Thompson, 37, in August this year when they moved from Jasmine Grove, next to Anerley Station, to Sevenoaks.
She said: “When I was first diagnosed I felt ashamed. I didn’t feel like the Saima I was before.
My mother came here from Pakistan in the 1980s and to tell her the diagnosis when she didn’t even know about cancer and what it meant, was hard.
“It’s also taboo in our culture to talk about illnesses, let alone cancer, so it was a bit of a struggle to tell my family.
“Mum was very much under the impression that I’d get better, and I was trying to tell her it was incurable – it wasn’t going away.”
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, and about 46,400 people were diagnosed with it in 2015. About one in 10 people who get lung cancer have never smoked, and more than 40 per cent who are diagnosed are aged 75 and over.
For more information visit: www.macmillan.org.uk