Fife teacher is face of lung cancer campaign

Gwen is one of ten people sharing their story as part of the campaign.
Gwen is one of ten people sharing their story as part of the campaign.

A Fife school teacher has become the face of a national lung cancer campaign.

The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s LikeMe campaign is highlighting the fact that the disease can affect anyone of any age – including 39-year-old Ballingry primary school teacher Gwen Boyle.

As an active primary school teacher, the thought of lung cancer had never even entered her head. But when Gwen saw her doctor’s face she knew something was seriously wrong.

“I initially went to my doctors about something else,” she said. “While I was there, I mentioned a wheeze I had had for a while. But, because I work as a primary school teacher, my age and I’m quite fit and healthy, I got told it was a cold. It’ll clear up.”

When the wheeze failed to clear, Gwen had a chest x-ray.

“Lung cancer was never brought up as a possible cause for my wheeze so, when I went to get my results I went on my own,” she explained.

“I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. I knew from the doctor’s face something was wrong though.”

Gwen says that while people are “shocked” at her diagnosis, she is not ashamed about it.

“I’m lucky,” she added. “Being ALK+ as there’s lots of drugs and medications available. They don’t have many side effects and life is pretty much the same as it was. I do my kick boxing. I’m back at work part time. I walk my dog. I’ve been out jogging, the shopping. House work I try and avoid but I can do it! I’ll try anything and see if I can get on with it, if my body copes with it.

“I think, because of that, people think I’m cured. But if you’re diagnosed at stage 4, you’re always going to be stage 4. I have to keep reminding them that I still have lung cancer. I’m just doing really well at the minute but that could change remember!

“And that’s my greatest fear – when I progress. Because I will progress at some point. My medication will stop working. That’s the reality. I just hope the people working to make new treatments available succeed before my current one stops.”

Gwen is now a face of the LikeMe campaign, which aims to challenge the misconceptions around lung cancer, increase awareness and improve early detection.

Initially focusing on women under 50, LikeMe is a stark warning that no one is immune to this disease. Lung cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer in women aged 25-49, and those under 50 are more likely to be diagnosed at late stage when curative treatment is no longer an option.