In April I’m going on a charity trek to Peru to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I'm now in touch with about a dozen of the other trekkers – most of us have signed up solo to do this. They’re a wonderful sounding bunch of women all doing this to raise money for a cause that will affect us all in one way or another - if you're not directly affected as one in eight now are, you'll undoubtedly know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It's great to get to know the others, not least as we'll be spending time together under extremely challenging and unusual circumstances. It's also fascinating to find out why others are doing it - some of us have had breast cancer diagnosed, others have mums, sisters, aunties, friends affected. One thing it really does bring home is the total unpredictability of this disease, it can affect anyone at all, at any age, and whatever your lifestyle, eating habits and general health. One of the things I did when I was diagnosed, at least initially, was to give myself a hard time questioning whether I had 'done' or 'not done' things that could've caused me to be one of the one in eight who get this. And the answer is - I will never know.
So to see yet another report baldly and badly stating that nearly half of all cancers, including breast cancer, can be prevented by living a 'healthier' lifestyle makes me more than a little cross. Yes of course a healthier lifestyle can help prevent all sorts of things, is good for you, is the best way to live and should be encouraged. But to give a general impression that it's your own fault if you get any cancer is disingenuous and dangerous. As any oncologist will tell you, cancer is not just one simple disease, it is complex and there are many different types which affect people in many different ways and need different types of treatment. There are other issues not really mentioned in this report such as genetics, environmental factors, chemicals put onto and into food, cosmetics and more, that all could also possibly in some way contribute. Or not.
My disappointment with this report was matched by the fact that on the same day there was news that cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy treatment are going to have to be assessed to see if they 'qualify' for welfare benefits rather than automatically get them. You can read about this here. Anyone who has been through or been close to anyone who has been through chemotherapy can tell you that even if you don't feel ill when you're first diagnosed it can be the treatment itself that can make you ill. Bizarrely cancer treatment can be as life threatening as the illness itself. To suggest that people going through it are some kind of 'benefit scroungers' as this latest move implies borders on something like a Chris Morris spoof story.
Sadly it's fact not fiction - even sadder is that out of these two news stories today, one got big headlines in pretty much every media outlet - the other was tucked away in some and ignored by many. Guess which was which?