What Next For Cancer?

What an incredible year we have just experienced! I never thought I would see anything that knocked cancer off the top of the health priority list, yet now I have! With no experience of anything like this in recent history, we have had to make it up as we go along. Being guided by science and politicians as we go. Naturally we all have opinions about what should have been done and when. But that counts for little now, as we are where we are. But where is that, as far as cancer is concerned?

In my opinion the sector will have been set back on average around 10 years. Totally disastrous if you consider that even before covid, we were barely average in terms of survival rates and quality of life. Money and resources have been removed from research, the lifeblood for many of us with complex cancers. Treatment has been delayed or cancelled, and we are yet to see the full impact of delayed presentation of cancer due to fear of attending the GP, or hospital. Charities are fighting to find new ways of replacing the millions lost in donations. Also swiftly reviewing their strategies for the ‘new world,’ after the virus.

It seems to me that we have an incredible opportunity to change things for the better here. The ‘patient voice,’ will be absolutely crucial to the way all cancer organisations re-structure. For the first time in a long time organisations will need to engage in a much more meaningful way. No more tea and biscuits for patient ‘box ticking!’ Much less broadcasting and more listening. Digital communication is a two way street. It is to provide more ways of engaging with your audience, not just to pump out the increasing fundraising asks we are already seeing now.

Delayed/cancelled treatment and late diagnosis are the crimes here. Who instructed the NHS to delay most cancer work? As we all know, this terrible disease is not something that get’s better if left alone. I am absolutely horrified at some of the cases I am seeing personally, and through clinicians, currently picking up the pieces of the backlog. Only this week I was speaking to a healthcare professional working in a pancreatic cancer clinic. They had seen 15 patients in one day, all of whom were too late for any treatment! As I’m sure many of you know this is one cancer that absolutely relies on early diagnosis for better survival rates.

It won’t be until a few years in the future when we know the true impact on lost lives due to cancer inaction, but we all know how it will affect our society. The numbers with cancer are increasing yet our resources are struggling to keep up, particularly now. Importantly this doesn’t just mean the physical issues we may encounter. But also the psychological and emotional impact that many of us are facing. Pre-covid we were understanding how our bodies and minds are linked when it comes to cancer. This is naturally very similar for those being impacted by the virus too. Those targeted resources were scarce, before covid was even a thing.

Having recently seen the Budget with no mention of increasing resources, I have to ask what this means for many people. Of course we must focus on the economy etc, but what society will we be creating if we don’t have adequate healthcare? We don’t need to look far to see what that looks like. Have we not learned anything in the last year? Our incredible NHS that Government said was their priority to protect during these terrible times, is looking like it might implode. Challenging working conditions for many, and now the insult of a 1% pay rise. Would that make you feel valued? These are not roles that can be filled quickly, we require extremely skilled and emotionally special people. Many of which we currently have, but they are looking to leave!

We must build on the wonderful service we already have. Not watch it self destruct in front of us when many more of us will need it than ever before. It has been stretched for many years, due to lack of targeted investment. The most important asset in any organisation is the people and they should be treated accordingly. They have always been there when called upon and we need that to continue. No longer taking their goodwill for granted.

As a long term older cancer patient my situation is set. I have been lucky so far, have an incredible team looking after me and have received a lot longer life than was anticipated. For which I’m incredibly grateful. But everything I do in healthcare is for others. Fighting to improve life for the next generation etc, my children and grandchildren! Every one of us is in their own unique health position, so our outcomes will be different. But what we all deserve is hope. Currently that is something that is very unequal. Social and economic backgrounds now beginning to play a more major part, as the poverty gap is increasing.

I believe that life will be much more difficult from now on for people affected by cancer. The sector is in chaos, with covid dominating everything. Government rarely even talking about the backlog of treatment and diagnosis. Charities trying to recover financially and confirm their future direction of travel. It seems that us patients will have to continue to ensure that pressure is maintained on the powers that be to obtain a cancer service we all need and deserve. Not only will more people continue to die from cancer than covid, so many are affected by the after effects of treatment too. We as a society need to understand the increasing impact this disease will have on all of us! As this is a global issue can we not continue the wonderful collaborative approach we have seen through the pandemic?

As always these are my personal opinions based on my experience. Please feel free to join the conversation below!

9 Comments

  1. Thank you Chris, for the enlightenment and for always bringing these issues to the fore. We can only hope they are reading, listening and will act without further delays.

    • Hi Tochi, I live with eternal hope! Having been involved in this work for nearly 10 years, there are always delays. My vision is that we all see what has been achieved re covid, by incredible collaboration across the world. Continue working that way with cancer. This disease is a bigger killer than covid will ever be, and needs immediate attention. Very best to you 🙂

  2. Brilliant prediction of things to come Chris. I have also received similar messages from medical professionals and concerned cancer charities and am personally involved is helping support patients through a late diagnosis and EOL crisis. Have you cc Matt – just to get him up to speed with the ‘real’ cancer crisis instead of working in areers with stats that are meaningless. Cancer research has always played carch-up whilst lives are being lost. I will share this ctitically urgent message as it needs to be heard widely. Thanks for sharing Chris – again, you speak.truth to power brilliantly

    • Hi Dianne,

      I never believed I would see a time where cancer and it’s issues would be barely mentioned by seniors in the sector! There is no coordination at all from large charities who are decidedly quiet when we need a voice. Unfortunately it is very difficult to create focussed pressure on the Government as everyone speaks with their own agenda in mind. Patients speak out but again it is not coordinated.

      Cancer is the modern day plague and I just can’t believe that we can be so passive with a disease that will affect half of us in our lifetime! I thank you and everyone who supports my work. The world is changing dramatically and I hope that soon, our day will come.

  3. Hi Chris, I’ve been horrified to see the effect of these Covid times on cancer – & most likely other – patients. Those with cancer appear to have become expendable. If cancer were transmitting rapidly from person to person with such obviously immediate consequences as those from Covid, would it be labelled a pandemic & have all research resources diverted to it? From sheer numbers alone, why isn’t more being done to stem the tide of cancer cases & deaths? Both my parents died horrible deaths from cancer, as have / do many others. Why has such suffering been allowed to not only continue but increase? Deb X

    • Hi Deb,

      Your response is very powerful and echoes my personal views. Even prior to covid I referred to cancer as the modern day plague. It respects nothing or nobody, and certainly hasn’t waited for the pandemic to pass! My father also died a painful death from bowel cancer and my mother had breast cancer, which she managed to survive.

      The numbers affected by the disease are horrific, both physically and economically. I cannot understand why we are
      so passive as it continues to kill more of us. I believe that unless something is done quickly, cancer and mental health will be the next big scandals.

      Big love to you all and thank you for the work you do to help others XX

  4. Yes tough times indeed – and as you say our NHS has been starved – but hoping this might also be an opportunity – it seems to me many of our health services have missed a trick with all the things that can support and give better outcomes with cancer like exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, connection and more. How can we improve support to people?

    • Hi Philip,

      It’s not that our health services have missed a trick. Everyone understands the benefits that those things you mention above have. In some areas they are being introduced, but extremely slowly. Unfortunately those benefits need to be costed, and budgeted for. That is where the delay is, in areas where income is not adequate for services already being offered.

      Now of course Covid is the overriding priority and it will be a long time before we see funding for those things. Our current priority will be to clear the treatment backlog. Like many, I wish that wasn’t the new reality, but unfortunately it is. Our expectations must be different in the short term.

      Very best to you, Chris

  5. Hi Chris – agree there are many in NHS working towards improvements but too many people with cancer don’t get support or advice – in our local support group for example no one had exercise discussed with them – yes it was probably in a leaflet – some of the outcomes re exercise are amazing – you will know stuff like this – in 2014 a study of 4,623 Swedish men with localised prostate cancer found that those who walked or cycled for at least 20 minutes each day had a 39% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer and a 30% lower risk of dying from any other cause compared to the less active men – if that was a tablet it would be thrown at us? We now have a project locally to improve this – working with some amazing NHS folk. How can we make more of this happen?

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