Leader comment: Support is vital in the fight against cancer

Macmillan Cancer Support released concerning report. Picture: Joel Ford/Getty Images)
Macmillan Cancer Support released concerning report. Picture: Joel Ford/Getty Images)
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Cancer touches so many lives across Scotland. Every year around 31,000 people are diagnosed with some form of the illness. And in any 12 months, approximately 16,000 people will die from the disease.

In a population of just five million these are big numbers.

There can be barely a family across this great country of ours who hasn’t known the pain of diagnosis, treatment or death of a friend or family member.

If these numbers are hard to comprehend, this paper would recommend that readers sit in the waiting room of any cancer unit for just 20 minutes.

Take the breast cancer unit at Edinburgh Western General. What you will see is not a handful of people, but scores of women (and men) – young and old – coming and going for first appointments, check-ups and follow-ups. Nurses comforting patients, consultants using their finely tuned expertise, all at high pace to cope with the volume. The scale takes your breath away. In some ways it is frightening.

Cancer is of course supported well by a range of charities who do magnificent work. But that work does not stop when patients finish their formal treatment. When the operations, chemotherapy or radiotherapy is over, it’s only stage one.

And this may be the most vital time of all for friends, family and employers to help. When the NHS takes a step back, this is the time for support efforts elsewhere to redouble.

A new report today by Macmillan Cancer Support entitled “Am I meant to be OK now?” underlines this. Rather than feelings of elation and relief when treatment is over, patients frequently experience depression or anxiety – often as a result of feeling that they are not able to “get back to normal”.

They have used every ounce of energy to fight the disease. And yet victory seems hollow. They are not back to normal.

Survival rates are improving. We are winning the battle to keep people alive. But we are still not experts at supporting people through the mental and physical scars that live on.

Cancer is everywhere and those affected by it are all around us.

For those fortunate enough to get an all-clear, we all want to breathe a sigh of relief and move on. But that may be the very time the understanding of an employer, a friend or a family member is needed the most.