World Cancer Awareness Day 4 February 2021

Today is World Cancer Awareness Day. A day aimed to unite people across the world in raising awareness of cancer and its impact in the hope of preventing future deaths.

Never has this message been more important than in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cancer patients have been one of the groups of people most badly affected by the pandemic, and this may not just be current patients. In particular, concerns have been raised in relation to a lack of research funding. This could mean that not just current patients but future patients are affected. This could easily include any one of us.

This year, the World Cancer Day theme is “I Am and I Will”. I have signed up to one of the 21 day challenges on the initiative’s website. These include challenges to raise awareness, improve your own health and to support someone else with cancer. In the spirit of raising awareness, here are six things I have learnt about cancer over the past 10 years.

  • Side effects of treatment are not just hair loss and feeling sick. Don’t get me wrong, they are big ones, but side effects can include almost anything and can be incredibly debilitating.
  • Once you have had treatment, if it’s successful, that’s it. Perhaps it is for some, but for many it really is not. Even if successful, patients can suffer long-term side effects or complications as a result. And of course there is the follow up and potentially years of “scanxiety”. It really is a marathon and not a sprint, and support is needed for the long haul, not just immediately post diagnosis.
  • Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. People’s reactions can surprise you and support can come from the most unlikely of places. Any gesture, even small ones, can mean the world to someone going through treatment.
  • Neutrophils are your best friends. What is a neutrophil? A type of white blood cell that protects us from infection. Some cancer treatment effectively wipes these cells out and can lead to neutropenia (an abnormally low level of neutrophils) and potentially, neutropenic sepsis. Cancer patients can be extremely vulnerable to infection, something which the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly increased awareness of.
  • Cancer treatment can be expensive. I don’t mean the actual treatment here – I mean the knock-on effects. The potential loss of earnings, the bits and pieces you need to get to make treatment more bearable, and don’t forget the many, many hospital appointments and associated travel costs.
  • Cancer affects the whole family. Of course the main focus should be the patient, but don’t forget their support network, who sometimes need support too.

No doubt many of us know someone who has been or is affected by cancer. Through my work and personal life, I have had the privilege of knowing and working with many people who have had a cancer diagnosis. These people are some of the most inspirational characters you will ever meet. They need our support, now more than ever.