Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’
It was yet another dark wet morning when we cleaned out the hens. But the conditions matched our collective demeanour for we codgers were in no mood for jollity. We were remembering so many happy days on the allotments as we listened to our much-loved Test Match Special. Over so many years the programme has attracted a huge following, and not merely from cricket lovers. The great John Arlott and Brian Johnston were its pioneers and their style of knowledgable cricket commentary interspersed with stories of cakes, buses and the world at large created what became an addiction for millions. Every member had a nickname, one of those was the Major.
That was the title bestowed on Christopher Martin-Jenkins. It was a crib from ‘Fawlty Towers’ in which Major Gowan became a byword for lovable, chaotic behaviour. So it was with CM-J. He was renowned for eccentricity, forgetfulness and being late. Today we mourn his passing, today he is the late.
The Major was respected throughout cricket, not for his own modest playing record but for his deep-rooted love of the game and his detailed knowledge of its every twist and turn. In 2007 he became the only career journalist and broadcaster to deliver the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Colin Cowdrey Lecture, an honour that ranked him alongside the likes of Desmond Tutu, Imran Khan and Richie Benaud. In 2009 he was awarded an MBE and in 2010 and 2011 he served as president of the MCC.
CM-J stepped down from Test Match Special last year when cancer struck, but he continued to watch the game and to write about it for the Times. In his final piece, reflecting on the death from a heart attack of fellow cancer-sufferer and former England captain Tony Greig, he wrote that: “It was probably for him a merciful release because the late stage of any cancer is often hell on earth”.
Regular readers may recall the response I had to an article criticising the Barmy Army, whose antics so often spoil the enjoyment of spectators. My critic suggested that I join the “Christopher Martin-Jenkins appreciation society”. He intended it as an insult, I received it as a compliment. In my view CM-J represented all that is good in cricket. He was fair, honest and courteous. He was entertaining.
CM-J was only 67 years old. He has gone too soon, yet another victim of mankind’s greatest scourge. I do believe in a God, but I so often find myself asking why man cannot live out his allotted years without an agonising ending. It is just not cricket. It is appalling that man’s efforts to uncover its terrible secret has to rely on charity.
Without doubt the radio will be at full volume this summer as we work on the allotments. The drama of the Ashes will, as always, beguile us. But we will miss the “Now I hand over to the Major”. That very special voice is bowled out, silenced for ever.
A day or so ago I bemoaned the constant barrage of unsolicited calls landline telephone users receive from call centres, many of them aimed at persuading us to switch from one overcharging power supplier to another. You have probably experienced this pain in the neck, but have you tried ringing them? This morning I rang the ‘automated’ Cardline operated by Southern Electric Gas, expecting to pay my bill in record time. In fact the service is automated only in that you key in your account number and are then placed in a queue. Being an awkward cuss I decided to hang on through countless automated requests to ‘hang on’, and ten renderings of the Queen of Sheba. After 30 minutes I eventually spoke to an operator and paid up. If companies in a truly competitve situation behaved thus they would be bankrupt within a year.
All of which will provide a topic for discussion tomorrow morning when I resume my hen-cleaning duties. The pet hate of all my fellow codgers is the greedy power suppliers, so it should get the day off to a good start.
But a more worthwhile subject for increased blood-pressure would be the shuddering halt to which the fight against cancer has come. Over the weekend nearly 100 eminent cancer specialists met up in Lugano, Switzerland. They were told that progress against man’s greatest scourge is stalling. The latest targeted cancer drugs are failing to live up to expectations, and are priced so high that treatment is becoming unaffordable even in rich countries.
The meeting of the World Oncology Forum agreed urgent action was needed. Just a few years ago many experts thought the arrival of targeted medicines, designed to attack the genetic makeup of the tumour, would make dramatic inroads into cancer deaths. But the excitement generated by targeted drugs which interfere with specific molecules involved in tumour growth and suppression, has been short-lived.
There were apparently miraculous results from the use of the BRAF-inhibitor vemurafenib in advanced malignant melonoma, a usually fatal form of skin cancer. But six-months later the cancer returned “with a vengeance”. Other drugs working in a similar way – Traceva for lung cancer, Avastin for breast, colorectal and other cancers, and Sudent for renal cell carcinoma and gastrointestinal sarcoma – have produced a similar story. All produced startling results but resistance to the drugs built up quickly.
All of which pointed to the project being off to an encouraging start but needing more research. The experts believe that the ultimate breakthrough will come from using these drugs together or in combination with other, older established drugs. And here is where the whole dream grinds to that shuddering halt.
Doctors at the meeting said that the pursuit of profits has stopped pharmaceutical companies taking part in trials of combinations of their drugs with those of their competitors. They are also not prepared to test their own drugs combined with older ones that are now out of patent. Leading French cancer specialist Prof Alexander Eggermont said that the “economic models of molecular medicine are very uncertain, because if you don’t produce cures, you don’t make sales and resulting profits”. And working on medicines out of patent leaves a company open to having any successful outcome marketed by others.
It all boils down to one depressing fact. Research and development cannot succeed so long as the bulk of it is left to competing manufacturers. It is unreal to blame them individually, what is desperately needed is some form of consortium underwritten by the richer countries and agreements to share successful outcomes.
It is the perceived wisdom of today’s politics that only private competition can produce excellent outcomes. That may be true for general retailing, it most certainly isn’t true in the case of monopolistic power supplies and, even more crucially, it isn’t true in the case of drugs development.
Cancer victims around the world were a hairsbreath away from salvation, future generations likewise on illnesses to come. Now they have to wait because no organisation in the whole world has the vision to draw up a composite plan for action.
I have watched the Andrew Marr History of the World series, and shaken my head in bemusement at so many chances missed to reshape the future. Perhaps a century from now people will do the same when an historian explains that when it came down to curing mankind’s greatest affliction, the need for profit ruled out meaningful action!
Old codgers like me often take delight in slamming the modern age of instant communication, but I have to confess that without the Internet I would have felt pretty isolated over the past week or so. This morning I even had an email from a close friend in Spain who has been following my progress as recorded on this site. She tells me that great interest is building there in the deeds of the England team. As it is here. For many of us the spirit of the England camp is truly amazing given our track record. Could it just be that having a manager born in Croydon, and who speaks English, has something to do with it?
Meantime my alarm at what is being done to the NHS grows by the day. In my time as a Foundation Trust chairman I had regular contact with the chief executive of the Regional Health Authority, Mike Farrar. He is not someone given to exaggeration or hyperbole. He is now in charge of the NHS Confederation and had this to say: “Without action now the NHS looks like a super-tanker heading for an iceberg”. He added that whilst the NHS needed redesigning politicians had “consistently failed to put the long-term interests of their population’s health above their own short-term political interests”.
Mr Farrar was speaking in the wake of an NHS Conferation survey of more than 200 chief executives and chairs. It showed that NHS finances are in the “worst situation ever experienced”. It also showed that patient care is deteriorating rapidly in the face of cuts totalling £20 billion coupled with the sheer chaos resulting from the so-called Lansley Reforms. The people that should know say waiting times are rocketing, and many treatments are being curtailed.
Yesterday another influential voice was added to the chorus of doom. John Appleby, the chief economist of the King’s Fund, warned that the NHS is “setting itself up for failure” by stretching an already “barely achievable” productivity challenge for another four years. What the service is being told to do by Lansley is, he said, ”frankly undoable”.
Yesterday also saw two new announcements from government. Social Care Minister Paul Burstow said that the indicative budget for England’s 28 cancer networks is being cut from £18.5 million to £10 million. Treasury sources indicated that the present cuts of £20 billion will be increased to £50 billion over the next six years.
Nowhere is all this mayhem more evident than in cancer services. The networks introduced by the previous government have made a big difference. Almost halving the funding will be disastrous. Disastrous for most but not all, the private sector is now advertisng instant and personalised treatment for those “wise enough” to take out private insurance cover”. Lansley will be delighted by that, the rest of us can only look on in despair.
Last week brought all this home in a big and painful way. One friend who has cancer attended his usual clinic. Nurse numbers had been cut and, together with 20 others, he had to wait for almost three hours before learning that those not seen would have to return the following day. As if that was not enough his chemotherapy treatment was postponed. He tells me that a harrassed nurse was in tears as she said that “Lansley should come here to witnesss the effects of what he has done”.
Another friend was on a hospital ward suffering from cancer of the spine. His relatives had been told that he had little more than a week to live. Suddenly they were told that, due to staff cuts, he had to be moved out and, despite their protestations, he was taken by ambulance to a nursing home. A member of the family travelled with him and said that it as an appalling ordeal. He died two days later.
Tomorrow many GPs will be on strike so far as routine treatment is concerned. Lansley is making much of this. The truth is that this is not primarily about pensions, it is an indication of just how far morale has fallen. GPs are supposedly being given the responsibility for commissioning. They have neither the time nor appropraite skills to undertake it and, right now, the Primary Care executives so recently made redundant are being recruited back to take on the role. Sheer and utter madness. Reforms were needed but these are the wrong ones!
More than anything else I would like to see a group of people forced to sit on a cancer outpatient clinic and to witness what is happening. That group would include Lansley, whose madness led to this, Clegg who condoned it, and such as Jimmy Carr who seem to believe that not paying tax is justified.
Many years ago Aneurin Bevan called such people vermin and has been villified for it ever since. But he was right. How else can you describe those who care so little for others?
QUOTES TO PONDER ON; “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore looking like an idiot”….Steve Wright “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”……Margaret Thatcher “The thing most women really like in bed is breakfast”……Robin Williams “I tell kids they should throw away the cereal and eat the box. At least they’d get some fibre”….Dr Richard Holstein
No allotment duties for me today. I had to do something far more harrowing and heartbreaking. I had to attend the funeral of a much-loved friend and former colleague. The church was absolutely packed and there were few dry eyes as we listened to an Eva Cassidy rendering of ‘Over the Rainbow’.
When Primary Care Trusts were first formed I chaired the selection panel for non-executive directors. It was then that I first met a young woman who was to prove an inspiration to us all. Some years later she joined me at a hospital Foundation Trust. Her workrate was phenomenal. She constantly came up with innovative ideas aimed at improving patient care. She regularly made contact with patients and when she encountered a less than satisfactory experience, she would insist on change. If ever there was a patient’s champion it was her.
She was a beautiful – in every sense of the word – young woman with two young children and everything to live for. I had always assumed that she would eventually return to her role as a senior executive with a large retail chain, or take over the role of chair in the NHS. But her children were her sole priorities and any career resumption would have to wait. But it as not to be.
A week or so before she died another close friend and I visited her at her Mum’s home. We talked for an hour, but we all knew in our hearts that the end was near. Afterwards I felt a deep almost uncontrollable rage. Cancer, one of the most evil scourges to afflict makind, had another victim to add to its foul list. A lovely vibrant lady whose smile lit up every room she ever entered was beyond help from clinicians who, despite all the progress that has been made in cancer treatments, were powerless.
Why angry rather than sad? Of course I was sad and will be for so long as I live, but the anger is shared by the families of millions who simply cannot understand why resarch into cancer is still restricted to the gallant efforts of charities. No one can understand why world leaders never so much as mention cancer. No one can understand why we can spend billions on pointless wars, on Olympics, on high-speed rail and countless other projects, yet not allocate so much a penny to funding dynamic scientific research into a killer disease. Today’s announcement of a fortunate and chance discovery about the effect of Aspirin says it all.
Given funding from the wealthy countries, teams could be established. The billions spent by Lansley on his ludicrous NHS reforms would have made a big difference. And given the money, that isn’t as far fetched as it sounds, great minds are every day creating new technology of mind-boggling perplexity. Is leisure really a higher priority than life?
By chance I happened to see last night a TV rerun of an interview with Sammy Davis Junior. He commented that he no longer bothered with envy or hate for life is too short. He went on to say that if all the energy expended on hate and wars was instead devoted to cancer, the mystery would have been solved long since.
Several of us codgers devote as much time as possible to helping the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Given what has happened to a dear friend we will redouble our efforts. We only wish that the complacent mugs that pass for ministers would help us!
THE LATEST WEASEL WORDS! “It is hard to believe that we need governmnet regulations on issues such as ice cream van musical jingles” wrote David Cameron at the grand launch of his Red Tape Challenge last April. He went on to promise that he would cut burdensome regulations.
Surprise, surprise! The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now launched a survey to consider the enhancement of regulations. Listed amongst many others is a “code of practice on noise from ice cream van chimes“!
There was a sense of relief when we arrived at the allotments this morning. A few days ago several members suffered injuries when we battled in arctic conditions, and when we heard the weather men talking about a repeat dose we feared the worst. But the rock salt stayed in its heap, and our spirits rose as we trod unhindered and found that the water containers required but the push of a knarled finger to yield a drink for the squawking multitudes.
So relieved and delighted was everyone that I was able to sell tickets for a Valentine’s candlelit concert as we sipped our tea. Mention of Valentine’s Day brings back a lot of memories for most of us codgers. Some are not repeatable on a family blog, let us merely say that in those long-gone days unsigned cards and the rear of bicycle sheds played their part. But later we grew up and found partners via rather more conventional methods. Sadly some of us have now lost our partners but they remain Valentines in our hearts. Others, like me, still have our Valentines. She-who-must-be-obeyed and I were first manacled together some 56 years ago and, as the old song had it, it doesn’t seem a day too much. Well that’s my version, hers may be somewhat different!
The concert is to be held at Blackburn Cathedral on Friday and features a host of musical stars catering for all tastes. It is being staged by the Rosemere Cancer Foundation which is an NHS charity based within the Rosemere Cancer service which serves a large part of the Noth West. The service has a second-to-none reputation for the treatment of cancer, due in part at least to the work of the Foundation which aims to fund the purchase of the latest high-tech cancer-busting equipment. NHS funding is incapable of funding immediately the latest kit and the work of the charity ensures that Rosemere is renowned for being bang up to date as one exciting new treatment follows another.
The idea of focussing the charity’s vital fundraisng around Valentine’s weekend is a good one. The festival has for so long seemed the sole preserve of the very young but everyone has a Valentine somewhere in their hearts and an annual reminder, if needed, is no bad thing. And the scourge that has taken so many is the obvious target for our emotions. For too long cancer has been spoken of in whispers, yet one in three of us will encounter it at some point of our journey, and everyone will know of someone who encounters the dark night of the soul when they hear those scary words at the time of diagnosis.
But Rosemere is anything but scary, it is a positive place full of top-grade professional clinicians all of whom play their part in the charity’s work. For they are determined to ensure that patients benefit from every new discovery. And slowly but surely they are winning the battle.
So here is the chance to have a lovely night out in a lovely setting, and to join the battle against cancer all at the same time. Tickets cost £15 (including drinks) and the concert starts at 7.00pm, ending at 9.30pm. Tickets can be reserved at Rosemere on 01772 522913 or at King George’s Hall on 0844 847 1664.
Together with ‘Gilly’ of Radio Lancashire fame, I shall be saying a few words and hope to see you there. My old codger friends will be there, steer clear of the short geezer with a wide-parting, that’s Albert!
THINGS PEOPLE SAY!; ” Anything you buy will be in the sale next week”….Erma Bombeck “There are no exceptions to the rule that everybody likes to be the exception to the rule”…..William F Buckley “The less one has to do the less one finds the time to do it in”……Lord Chesterfield “Who sleeps with whom is infinitely more interesting than who votes for whom”….Malcolm Muggeridge “Any political party that includes the word ‘democratic’ in its name, isn’t”….Patrick Murray ”Clement Atlee reminded me of a dead fish before it has had time to stiffen”…..George Orwell “A horseracing breakfast; a cough and a copy of the Sporting Life”…..Simon Barnes “Broccoli is something that’s difficult to say anything nice about except that it has no bones”…..Johnny Martin “We must have lunch sometime is the polite euphemism for I don’t care if I never see you again”…..Marcus Hunt “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves”…….Abraham Lincoln “A guy knows he’s in love when he loses interest in his car for a couple of days”…..Tim Allen “I don’t use the word relationship . Unless you’re screwing your cousin, that’s a relationship”……Lewis Gizzard “I think….therefore I’m single”….Liz Winston