I have no desire to become a total bore (I suspect I'm already pretty boring) or to degenerate into some kind of evangelical zeal for one issue alone, but October is breast cancer awareness month, and it seemed pertinent to post on this theme. Part of my logic is that, in amongst all the lovely emails and cards I received from friends and colleagues was one that ran along the lines "but you're too young, I mean you're not 50 yet, and anyway how will I know if I have it?" Clearly awareness is not all it might be, and people's fears of the unknown are part of the problem.
In the UK each year around 46,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer, that's the equivalent to a town the size of Ayr, of whom around 300 are men, that's equivalent to the size of a very big Baptist church (though one with 300 blokes would be rare sight indeed!) Currently there around half a million people living with breast cancer in Britain (that's like a city the size of Glasgow or Manchester), and most of us are fortunate enough to have a good prospect of living beyond five years. Evidently breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Britain and the second biggest cancer killer (after lung cancer). The fact is that we will all know someone for whom this is real, and that in your average church around 1/8 of your women will have it at some point. You might have more, you might have less, such is the nature of statistics, but it's not unusual, even if every person who has it is unique and precious.
Astounded by the response of my friend as I was, it seems people are very ignorant on this topic. So to the women out there - get checking (use breast cancer care link on the sidebar if you need help on how). I would not claim to be a proficient or even especially frequent checker, but the truth is this has probably saved my life. I saw my GP within two days (and 2 hours of phoning for an appointment), had a hospital appointment within 14 (standard for NHS rapid referral for possible breast cancer) and a formal diagnosis within a week of that. Whilst a week or so doesn't matter either way - so they tell me - it makes sense to act swiftly.
If you are 50+ get that mammogram done. There is an irony that Cancer Research UK want to extend the 'window' down to 47 (my current age) by the time I hit 50 (the current age for screening) in 2012 ... Some people find it very painful, I didn't experience any pain, but a few seconds of pain to save your life... no contest.
The biggest risk age is 50-70, hence the screening programme, but one in five of us is under fifty and/or pre-menopausal. Whilst it's nice to be classed as 'young' because of my age and stage, it does not mean it can't happen, and I'm not sure everyone, even very intelligent and educated people, 'gets' that.
There is actually no pleasure in queue jumping at hospital or getting instant appointments at the doctor's surgery because you have cancer, but with the NHS you can be sure you will get the care you need - just so long as you do your bit and get things checked out.
Of course it isn't just this variety of cancer... if screening is there then take advantage of it, it really could save your life.
Right, lecture over... it's a glorious day in Glasgow and I intend to enjoy every moment of it.