A brave mum turned health campaigner, who spent the last few months of her life urging people to quit smoking and live longer, has lost her own battle with lung cancer aged just 48.
Michelle Barthram, from Birtley, Tyne-and-Wear, died of a condition associated with small-cell lung cancer only a year after being diagnosed with the disease, caused by years of smoking.
Up until her death, she was determined to help others quit and worked with north-east regional programme Fresh, as part of its hard-hitting ‘Don’t be the 1’ campaign in 2014, to share her story of how cigarettes had tragically cut her life short.
Michelle quit smoking immediately after she was diagnosed with cancer, but by that time it was too late. She hoped that her story would help spare others the pain of losing someone they love to smoking. According to her wishes and with her family’s permission, Michelle’s final plea urging smokers to stop can be heard as part of a moving film released by Fresh.
Having completed six months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, Michelle passed away on Saturday 27th September at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead. She leaves behind her husband Steven, her daughter Natasha and her dog, Max.
Throughout her treatment, Michelle’s courage and positive outlook was an inspiration to those around her and the first film highlighting her story received thousands of views on YouTube.
Lisa Surtees, acting director of Fresh, said: “We were shocked and saddened to hear the news that Michelle had passed away recently from smoking-related lung cancer. Her courage in the face of terminal illness was truly inspiring and she showed massive determination to help motivate others to quit smoking.
“It’s hard to imagine how a life like Michelle’s can be cut short so young. She had so much more that she wanted to see and do, and spoke of many of the things she will miss out on in life, but this is the cruel reality smoking brings for thousands of smokers every year in the North East, tearing families apart.
“Michelle, like most people who smoke, got hooked when she was just a teenager and never thought the worst could happen, especially in her 40s. Quitting can be hard, but not quitting can be much, much harder.
“Michelle’s story touched so many people and we are incredibly thankful to her and her family for supporting our ‘Don’t be the 1’ campaign and helping others to quit. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time and we hope they take comfort from the fact her story inspired many people to stop.”
Dr Fiona McDonald, from Newcastle Hospital Trusts, said: “I treated Michelle for her lung cancer, together with the team at the Queen Elizabeth hospital. We were all saddened by her recent death. Michelle took the brave step to share her story in order to highlight the damage which smoking can do, and her story illustrates the tragic consequences which smoking can have.
“I would like to pay tribute to Michelle and her family for being courageous enough to allow her story to be told. I hope people will take on board the powerful message it conveys to stop smoking.”
Small cell lung cancer is also called oat cell cancer. About 10%-15% of lung cancers are small cell lung cancers. This type of lung cancer tends to spread quickly.
Smoking causes over a dozen types of cancer, heart disease, stroke and COPD, and increasing the risks of diabetes, dementia and blindness, resulting in around 5,500 deaths in the region every year.
Yet despite one in two long-term smokers dying early, 9 out of 10 smokers seriously underestimate the risks.
George Butterworth, Cancer Research UK’s tobacco control manager, said: “It’s very sad to hear that Michelle has died and our thoughts are with her family. Every death caused by tobacco is a tragedy but Michelle wanted something positive to come from her experience.
“Her decision to share her story, to help raise awareness of the harm caused by smoking, to encourage people not to start and those who smoke to stop, is a legacy which should make her family extremely proud.”
– Reproduced by kind permission of Fresh