DOORSTEP conversations are the lifeblood of local politics and always give the best insight into the issues that are really affecting communities.
One issue that comes up an awful lot is the impact that cancer has on families.
Whether talking to someone who is fighting cancer themselves or caring for someone with the disease, it’s clear that either way it can put people under incredible pressure.
The scale of the problem was only further highlighted with the publication of new analysis this week by Cancer Research UK which suggests that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
This estimate uses a new calculation method that replaces the previous well-known forecast of more than one in three people developing the disease.
Longer life expectancies mean that increasing numbers of people are now going to be affected unless preventative measures are taken to improve lifestyles.
Like most people I’ve lost friends to cancer and have also seen others taking on the fight of their lives only to come out the other side never quite being certain it won’t ever return.
If you are an avid reader of the Oldham Chronicle you’ll no doubt have been following first-hand the experiences of its editor, Dave Whaley, in recent months.
Dave has been describing in detail his roller-coaster emotional journey as he battles throat cancer – right from the initial diagnosis through to some incredibly tough decisions and his latest complex operation.
It takes a great deal of courage and personal resilience to lay out so starkly and publicly the human impact of his experiences at this time but, in doing so – and using his family motto ‘Keep Smiling’ – I believe he has inspired and helped far more people than even he realises.
It’s interesting to look at the available data on the impact of cancer in Oldham.
In our borough we have a higher rate of new cases of cancer at 399 per 100,000 residents, compared to 393 per 100,000 (England) with breast, prostate, lung and bowel being the most common types.
One of the starkest facts I’ve learnt whilst researching this subject is that in the last five years almost 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been prevented.
This particularly interests me as local authorities like Oldham Council now have responsibility for Public Health.
The evidence suggests though that around half of all cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK could be avoided if people made changes to their lifestyle, such as not smoking, having a healthy diet and doing regular exercise.
Smoking, for example, is the largest single cause of cancer in the UK, linked to an estimated 19 per cent of cancer cases nationally each year, with lung cancer having the highest proportion of smoking-linked cases.
The infographic (see above) shows how adopting a healthier lifestyle can reduce a person’s chances of developing cancer.
As a co-operative borough, Oldham is focused on developing an approach to health and wellbeing that is centred around prevention because it not only promotes healthier and less dependent communities but also saves money on high cost treatments further down the line.
For all those cases that can be prevented there are also, of course, those that can’t.
Whilst cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years (see right) it’s clear that, when the unthinkable happens, getting support is vital.
We are really very fortunate here in Oldham to have a comprehensive support network for those diagnosed with cancer – and their family members. It reminds me that whilst cancer shows how fragile human beings are it also reveals their inner-strength and deep compassion.
The Christie at Oldham, opened in 2010, is the first in a unique network of its radiotherapy centres where patients can access first-class treatment from experts. The site, which treats the more common forms of cancer such as breast and prostate, allows patients to receive the same renowned care that they would get at the main Christie site in Didsbury, whilst also being able to stay closer to home.
The Christie at Oldham is also where the Macmillan Cancer Information Centre is located. This is staffed by specialists who offer a wide range of information on all aspects of cancer and free confidential advice for anyone affected.
Macmillan also provides the Oldham Community Specialist Palliative Care Team, which helps patients and families to live as well as possible by providing high-quality pain and symptom control, as well as practical and psychological support.
The Oldham Cancer Family History Service based at Failsworth Health Centre offers high-quality personalised risk assessments for those who are concerned or have been identified by a health professional to be at an increased risk of developing certain inherited cancers. The primary focus is for breast, bowel, womb and ovarian cancers where faulty genes have been identified.
Failsworth is also where Oldham Cancer Support Centre is based. This patient-led initiative, working in partnership with Oldham Primary Care Trust, offers help to patients, carers and family members. Amongst the support on offer is specialist benefits advice, complementary therapies, counselling and opportunities to chat through needs and concerns relating to any aspect of cancer.
Last but not least there is the renowned Dr Kershaw’s Hospice in Royton which is Oldham’s only specialist care facility for adults with life limiting illnesses. The care the hospice provides is free of charge and set within beautiful grounds that create a peaceful environment for patients and families to enjoy.
As residents and neighbours we also all have a part to play in helping those dealing with the effects of cancer. Whether that is offering to help them to keep on top of their cleaning or gardening, getting some shopping in for them, raising money for one of the local or national cancer charities, or just taking time to listen to them over a brew, please show your support in whatever way you can. Together, we can beat cancer.
For more information, please visit the Cancer Research UK site
If you want to speak to someone about cancer, or need support for yourself or a family member, you can also visit the Macmillan website for details on how to get in touch.
Thanks for listening,