Today is World Cancer Day 2019. Each of you reading that sentence has been affected by cancer. It’s a global disease which evokes an emotional response within us all when we see or hear the word ‘cancer’ because we’ve all felt its impact.
Some of you reading this, may have lost a partner or other family members and friends to the disease. Cancer is not selective. It can develop within individuals of all ages, gender and background. Some of you may have experienced a cancer diagnosis yourself. Some of you might be the partner, family member or friend that has supported, loved and helped somebody close to you during their cancer treatment. Some of you might be all three. Whoever you are, World Cancer Day, speaks to us all.
Cancer can develop in any part of the body. We’re each made up of trillions of cells and cancer’s capable of developing in any one of them. It’s a sobering thought and when looked at in that way, makes the magnitude of the task facing cancer researchers seem insurmountable. But, despite the scale and extent of the work still to be done, World Cancer Day is a day where we can look back on the groundbreaking steps that have been made, which mean that 50% of people diagnosed with cancer today will survive that diagnosis by 10 years or more. It’s also a day to look forward: to a future where our children and future generations live in a world where all cancers can be controlled like other chronic diseases. A cure for cancer might seem like an unattainable dream but it’s that very vision that drives, inspires and motivates all cancer researchers to do what they do. Each step of progress they make, takes us all one step closer to achieving that dream.
World Cancer Day is a day where the cancer focus worldwide, is on the detection, prevention and treatment of the disease: currently over a third of all cancer cases can be prevented, and with early detection and treatment, a further third can be cured. Those figures must improve but today we must also acknowledge and applaud the enormous progress that has been made with life-saving and life-extending drug development.
On World Cancer Day, prevention and early detection are key areas of focus – there is still much awareness raising to be done to ensure that early signs and symptoms of cancer are acted upon quickly and are then exposed to effective treatment. But, that can only be achieved with sufficient cancer services resources and it’s one of the reasons, that as a Cancer Research UK Ambassador, I took part in the Shoulder To Shoulder Against Cancer Westminster lobby last year.
We need an NHS that can cope with the changing demands that cancer places upon it. An NHS where health professionals are properly supported to be able to access diagnostic tests for their patients, so the best targeted treatment can be offered. Current staffing shortages within the NHS mean the capacity to diagnose cancer early is limited. Now, in England, almost half of cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage where the effectiveness of any subsequent treatment is then reduced. This is unacceptable. The NHS deserves better. You and I and our families and friends deserve better. The Shoulder to Shoulder Against Cancer campaign exists to improve this.
The theme for World Cancer Day 2019 is: I am and I will. My personal story is that I am a woman who has had a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. I am not just cancer but it has shaped my life. It is part of who I am. My decision to talk openly about my diagnosis and share my cancer story, makes me feel that I’m helping to lift the stigma and misunderstanding that still surrounds the disease.
I’m a normal person, like thousands of others diagnosed with advanced cancer, but I have been incredibly fortunate. My body is responding to a cancer drug that’s been controlling the metastatic spread of breast cancer in my lungs and pleural lining for over 10 years now. I was only supposed to be on the drug for three months as an interim measure between rounds of chemotherapy. Some people would say my response to the drug is luck. I know it’s not. It’s precisely to do with the biology of my disease and my individual make-up – my genomic profile. I look to the day when cancer researchers will be able to tell me exactly how and why my body is responding in the way that it is. The answers to that will help others in the future.
But for today, I’ll be remembering family and friends who have died as a result of this disease, my friends who are currently undergoing treatment for it and those whose treatment will be ongoing for the rest of their lives. I’ll be wearing my Cancer Research UK unity band as a sign of acknowledgement and support.