We’ve sadly seen a few of our treasured celebrities and legendary greats such as David Bowie, Lemmy, Alan Rickman and lately Sir Terry Wogan pass away from cancer over the past few weeks. Alan Rickman, we now know, suffered pancreatic cancer. Not a nice start to the New Year, especially for their families and friends.
Celebrities have chosen a career that has taken them into the limelight, the media spotlight and in some cases, such as Terry Wogan, they are such a household name we think we know them.
However, celebrities, like you and I are human too and a diagnosis of cancer is one that can be devastating for the patient and those around them. It’s a diagnosis that can be difficult to deal with when you do not have the world’s media trained on you let alone when they do. In the age of Twitter, one’s every move can be instantly shared with the globe – especially if you are famous. And, sometimes, when someone is in the public eye, the press and other media think they have a right to know and to tell the world.
As someone who is keen to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, you may have thought that I would have wanted these celebrities with the disease to “come out’ and be public about what they are suffering when they are still alive. After all, the media attention this would bring to the disease can be enormous and we do need so much more attention focussed on pancreatic cancer. But, in my opinion, this isn’t the way to do it.
I remember poor Patrick Swayse (and to a certain extent), Steve Jobs, both of whom eventually went public with their pancreatic cancer diagnoses. I remember how brave Patrick was in particular about talking about his disease and about how he was going to beat it. His positivity certainly helped him survive a lot longer than the average, however the media were not always on his side. Keen to get the latest shot of a thin, gaunt man clearly in the last stages of his illness, they stalked him as he went to his chemotherapy sessions or to the doctor’s clinic.
This kind of salacious reporting is not in the public interest. It doesn’t help further the cause and in my opinion, there is a huge difference between what is ‘public interest’ and the fact that the ‘public is interested’.
Celebrities are keeping their illness private, not secret and we should respect them for that. There are so many reasons why a celebrity will want to keep their cancer diagnosis private; they may be worried about other people’s reactions, negative speculation in the media, not wanting people to feel sorry for them and, importantly, to protect those around them.
To further the cause for pancreatic cancer, we need to have celebrities who have, like me, survived the disease to become advocates for change, to show the world that with an early diagnosis it is possible to survive and that with a focus on improving early diagnosis we will change the numbers for pancreatic cancer.
My condolences and thoughts are with all families recently bereaved by cancer, whether they are a celebrity or not.
This week, NHS England have been reviewing whether the chemotherapy drug Abraxane should remain on the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) in England. Currently, the combination of gemcitabine and Abraxane is routinely available on the NHS in Scotland and Wales but patients in England (who make up 83% of all pancreatic cancer patients) are only able to access the drug by applying to the CDF. If Abraxane is taken off the CDF, then patients in England will only be able to access it privately. This is an unacceptable situation and why we have spent this week raising this issue in the media.
On Tuesday, Pancreatic Cancer Action CEO and Founder (and nearly 8 year survivor of pancreatic cancer) along with Penny Lown (pancreatic cancer survivor and one of the faces of last year’s advertising campaign) and Broadcast Medic and GP, Dr Hilary Jones gave over 20 radio interviews across England.
On Wednesday morning, Ali Stunt and Penny Lown gave an interview on Sky News Sunrise programme which you can view here:
On World Cancer Day, Cancer Research UK released new statistics to show that cancer deaths are falling with ten year survival rates of some cancers improving significantly since 1971.
It is of course fantastic to see such an increase in survival rates with testicular cancer rates increasing from 69% to 98%, and 57% of patients diagnosed with bowel cancer, which used to have one of the lowest survival rates, will now survive ten years. As you can see in the graph below, many cancers have much better survival rates.
The media attributed this completely shocking situation to the fact that pancreatic cancer is diagnosed too late. As a charity who focus on early diagnosis, we are all too aware of this problem, which is why we fund awareness campaigns and GP educational programmes.
However, one of the reasons that many cancer survival rates have improved significantly is because of huge investment in research and awareness campaigns for other cancers.
If you would like to support our campaign for more funding, please write to your MP today, to highlight the issues.
We have a dedicated way to find and contact your MP: http://write.pancreaticcanceraction.org/.
You can use this template letter if you wish: MP-template-letter10yearsurvivalrates