Tomorrow (Sunday 4th February) is, apparently, World Cancer Day. As I mentioned before I have mixed feelings about such days – it seems like almost every day something is being marked or observed, whether that’s National Kitten Day or International Waffle Day. Kittens and waffles are both excellent things, but I’m sure Arya would agree that *every day* should be (or already is) a kitten day. A few days ago (Thursday 1st February) was Time to Talk Day – a day focused on mental health and again, one I have a few issues with (which I may or may not go into at some point, though most of the things I’d want to say have already been said better than I could, mostly around how different mental illnesses are treated very differently!) None of this makes it any less brave or powerful when people do speak out though.
Cancer days make me feel this way more strongly. I think most people whose lives have been affected by cancer, whether personally or through a friend or family member, are often all too well aware of the illness and the reminder is often unneeded. There also are weeks for various different types of cancers and particularly due to the nature of the illness and how much it can vary, in terms of treatment, funding and other things, I’m not sure that a generic cancer day is always going to be helpful. Specific ones can target particular kinds of tests, like smears or mammograms, for example. On the other hand, though, anything that does help people is a good thing, and having a day to focus on something is probably better than not having one, especially for rarer cancers (like brain tumours, which attract less than 2% of cancer funding) which are still underresearched and underfunded.
Separating different types of cancer out can also lead to horrendous headlines like the one which the Daily Mail ran earlier this week about prostate versus breast cancer – it was about as close to ‘what about the menz’ as it is possible to get! Obviously more needs to be done to encourage men in particular to attend routine screenings and to make and go to appointments – but much of this seems to be because of toxic masculinity. There are also problems with diagnosis of breast cancer in men, and that’s even with better funding in certain types of cancer treatment. Competition between any illnesses is rarely a good idea, in my opinion, whether that’s between different types of cancer, or physical and mental illness, or chronic illnesses and so on.
The underfunding is my major concern though – I’m not sure you can fix what is largely a political issue (although obviously not entirely, as a political utopia would still have illness, even if language would be different to what is commonly used now and accessibility would certainly be different!) with charity donations alone. When the same people are slashing health funding and talking about how important charities, improved research and reducing stigma are, there is something wrong. This does not mean that these things are not important, because they are, but that days like today can be used to put the pressure on people who are in the position to create real, tangible change. My fear is that the pressure to speak out often doesn’t seem to fall to these people but to those who live with cancer (or mental health issues when it comes to something like Time to Talk) – it’s important to hear our voices and experiences, and I wouldn’t have this blog otherwise, but placing the burden to speak out on those who are most affected isn’t always a good idea.
My slight misgivings aside, then, the 4th February does provide an opportunity to talk about cancer, what that means and feel a little bit more in control of the situation. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months doing what I’m told, and so anything that gives me a bit of independence is a good thing! It’s one of the things I value most about social media – being able to do things for myself, even if those things are just screaming into the void or retweeting more interesting people! I’m getting this out there today because it might give people a chance to read it before the day itself.
This is a photo of my Unity Band for World Cancer Day, which you can buy online or in Cancer Research shops. Mine came very quickly but if you want one for tomorrow and are able to get to a physical shop, that’s probably the best bet at this point!
Solidarity is also something that people can offer today, and every day. I’m not good at replying to messages, and sometimes I’m not good at even reading them, but I definitely do notice and appreciate them. Cards, letters, a quick tweet or private message – it may just take a short amount of time to send but can mean the world. I have found this to be especially true as time goes on – cancer is part of my daily life now, but it can be so easy to forget that illness can last longer than a few weeks, and that sometimes people may need further support down the line.
Raising awareness of (especially rarer) cancers, and particularly pushing for earlier diagnosis and more accurate diagnosis, can also be invaluable. As I’ve said before, my own cancer took a while to be diagnosed. My mum had breast cancer a few years ago and hers was picked up by a routine mammogram, before which none of us had any idea. (If you are eligible for routine testing, please do go if you can, as it really does save lives sometimes!)
For as much of tomorrow as I can, I’ll be retweeting World Cancer Day things at @medievaldebbie, if you are interested in finding out more.
Here’s my blog post about brain tumours specifically, and some links, which you may already have seen but if you haven’t, these may be helpful links. Although this is a very underfunded type of cancer, and a rare one, if just one person can learn something new that can only be a good thing. If you have health anxiety then you may want to avoid the links as I know how easy it can be to convince yourself that there is something up! I’m lucky to be able to be treated at the QE in Birmingham, where not only have all the medics been kind and treated me like a human being.