Coronavirus deaths are falling but now we need a plan to flatten the cancer curve and save lives

IT’S time to take action to tackle an epidemic more frightening in scale than coronavirus.

We need a plan to flatten the cancer curve.

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When it comes to the NHS, the Government has shown they can do it.

Deaths and infections from coronavirus are falling, the health service hasn’t quite buckled under the extreme pressure, and things are starting to look up.

But, in its wake Covid-19 leaves a terrifying trail of destruction.

Not least the families left behind, those who have lost loved ones to this horrifying disease.

Then there are those who survived, and now face a very long road to recovery.

And then there is the backlog.

Trail of cancer destruction

The millions of people waiting – whether they know it yet or not – for cancer treatment.

I live with stage 4 cancer, and I have spent the last few months in a perpetual state of fear.

First it was coronavirus, then my cancer, then back to coronavirus. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster.

I’ve cried at the death toll, I’ve watched in horror at the economic predictions, I’ve suffered with my mental health, and I’ve mourned anything resembling ‘normal’ life.

The last few months have felt like years – not something I should really complain about given my incurable cancer.

But, finally, I feel like we’re turning a corner.

To coin a phrase used in the daily press briefings, we are starting to see green shoots of hope.

This week non-essential shops have started to reopen, most people can see their family and friends again and some people are finally getting back to work.

Life is starting to get back to a new sort of normal, slowly but surely.

What about the NHS now?

But where does that leave the NHS? What does the ‘new normal’ mean for our health service?

Even before Covid-19, the NHS was already over-stretched and frankly on its knees.

The Government took action, to lockdown the nation to protect the NHS urging us all to Stay At Home to Save Lives. And rightly so.

It was a matter of life or many thousands of deaths.

This was a new virus, which months ago even scientists had very little information about.

Now, we are facing another threat – one that never went away, a ticking cancer time bomb that threatens to explode and dwarf the Covid death toll

We didn’t know what it would do to us, we didn’t know how fast it would infect the country, or how many people it would take from us.

There was no other option. Now, we have options.

We’ve flattened the Covid curves, infections are falling – thankfully so too are deaths.

The NHS is open for business once again, treating people other than those with Covid-19.

Cancer time bomb is ticking

Now, we are facing another threat – one that never went away, a ticking cancer time bomb that threatens to explode and dwarf the Covid death toll.

Yes, last week we saw a record low for corona deaths and infections and yes that is great news.

But we also saw urgent cancer referrals reach an all time low – not so good.

All cancer screening – for breast, cervical and bowel cancers – was suspended when Covid hit.

It means fewer cancer cases are being diagnosed, it doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. They are still out there, we just don’t know where yet.

Cancer referrals dropped by 60 per cent from 199,217 in April last year to 79,573 in April this year – during lockdown.

That is a terrifying drop. It doesn’t mean 119,644 fewer people need an urgent cancer referral this April.

It means they might just be delayed.

Early diagnosis IS difference between life and death


What difference does a few months make, I hear you cry? To be brutally honest, it could be the difference between life or death.

I first noticed blood in my poo about six months before I got a referral.

In that time my cancer was growing inside me, engulfing my bowels and so, by the time I was diagnosed it was 6cm and I was told I had stage 4 bowel cancer – that’s the worst it gets.

If doctors had caught it at stage 1, I would’ve had a 97 per cent chance of living five years or longer – I would’ve had a chance at being cured.

But at stage 4, my chance of living five years was just 7 per cent. The same is true for most cancers.

It’s not just diagnosis that is taking a hit.

I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to carry on treatment during lockdown.

I did take a brief break, but three weeks later my tumour markers were up – a sign my cancer is preparing for a sprint, rather than a march.

I was straight back into the Royal Marsden for treatment. Two weeks of radiotherapy and CyberKnife, before starting my drug treatment again.

It was miserable, but every day that I lay having treatment I was overwhelmed at how grateful I was.

We need action before it's too late

So many of my friends and other patients haven’t been as lucky.

Cancer doesn’t go anywhere.

When all those current patients come back for treatment and operations, and all those people who have just delayed their urgent referrals need to be seen, what happens then?

We know the knock-on effects of the Covid crisis are going to be far-reaching, we know the eventual death toll will be higher.

But, we can act now to mitigate that.

We need to start acting now, before it’s too late.

Just like protecting the NHS and flattening the corona curve, we all have our part to play.

Check yourself for the signs of cancer on a regular basis, and if you notice something odd or different, painful or unusual, book to see your GP.

The message is loud and clear, the NHS is open for business.

Check for symptoms and see your GP – don't wait

What are the 5 red-flag signs of bowel cancer?

BOWEL cancer can be cured, if you catch it early enough

Catch it at stage 1 and you have a 97 per cent chance of surviving five years or longer.

But catch it at stage 4 and that chance plummets to just 7 per cent.

Early diagnosis saves lives, so it's important to understand the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer – and act if you notice something unusual.

What are the signs of bowel cancer?

  1. Bleeding from your back passage or blood in your poo
  2. A persistent and unexplained change in your toilet habits – going more often, or any change to your stools
  3. A pain or lump in your tummy
  4. Unexplained weight loss
  5. Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

To find out more visit Bowel Cancer UK for info.

Early diagnosis really does save lives, and the later you delay referrals the later you are diagnosed.

That’s the bit we can all help with.

But, when it comes to treatment and the waiting list that’s piling up and up – that’s where we need the Government to step in.

Treatment has understandably been affected, I get that there was no way around that.

I have friends who started lockdown with a stable cancer, but due to their treatment being delayed – or pulled altogether – they’ve lost their lives.

Then there are friends who won’t live to see the end of lockdown.

This is just not acceptable.

It's time to flatten the cancer curve

In a week where three people in the cancer community have been told they have run out of options, I can’t just sit back and say a compromised cancer service is OK. It’s not.

We’ve shown we can move mountains in tackling coronavirus.

We’ve protected the NHS and saved lives – stopping many more people from dying of Covid-19.

So now it’s time to put pressure on the powers that be to rebuild the NHS.

I’m not saying it will be easy, or quick. Nor do I have the answers.

But we need the drive and determination we have seen in tackling coronavirus, to put a new plan in place to do the same for cancer.

Let’s learn the lessons of Covid, and look to a future THAT day when we can say we’ve flattened the cancer curve.

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