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Let's beat cancer sooner

Rosa with Gordon Banks MP

In the third in our series of guest posts from our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors, Rosa Macpherson shares her personal story and tells us why she campaigns for the Government to improve access to surgery for all cancer patients where appropriate.

It was 8th December 2008 when I was diagnosed with early stage uterine cancer, spotted early thanks to my GP.

And just over a month later on New Year’s Day, I was discharged with the ‘all clear’.

A new year and a new life thanks to both early detection and surgery.

‘I had never had an operation before’

It wasn’t a minor procedure though, and my oncologist carefully described the surgery to me. I would have a radical hysterectomy: the removal of my womb, both ovaries and, on further consideration, and as a precaution; my cervix would also be removed.

This surgery would be all the treatment necessary as far as they could tell at that point. Happily it turned out to be the case. I needed neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy.

I had never had an operation before; never had an anesthetic. The team explained the process of the surgery to me, the anesthesia and the personalised pain control that would follow. I was reassured by the swiftness of the decisions taken and the very short waiting time I had to endure.

And so, 21 days after my initial diagnosis I was being wheeled into surgery. The ward assistant told me jokes as I watched the moving ceiling take me closer to the theatre. A nurse took my glasses for safe-keeping. “I’m blind without them,” I explained. “They’ll be under your pillow when you wake up,” she promised.

I remember I tried to recite the alphabet backwards…The next thing I remember is reaching under the pillow and my glasses were there. I put them on. The world came back into focus. It was all over. It seemed like the surgery had never even happened.

‘I was given the gift of a future’

Swift diagnosis and prompt effective surgery meant I didn’t have to have radiotherapy or chemotherapy or any other expensive cancer medication.

Surgery is an essential component of the management and treatment of cancer, contributing to half of the cases where cancer is cured – more than any other treatment. I am grateful that I was relatively young, 52, and that surgery was available to me and was effective.

However, evidence suggests that older patients are less likely to have surgery for their cancer. For example, between 2008 and 2012 only 13.9 per cent of over-75 year olds in the UK received surgery for lung cancer compared to 21.4 per cent of 65-74 year olds.

Where appropriate, surgery should be offered to all suitable cancer patients as a treatment option. It’s so important the Government commits to increasing access to surgery in the older population – and that’s why, ahead of the General Election in May, I’m emailing my election candidates asking them to join the fight to Cross Cancer Out.

In the UK, cancer survival lags behind other comparable countries. The possible reasons why are complicated, and researchers are piecing together the puzzle by analysing large amounts of data.

But one area that could be playing a role is variation in access to appropriate treatments – particularly for older patients. If all cancer patients could access the best treatments available for their condition it could make a big impact on survival in the UK.

Thanks to both early diagnosis and swift access to the most suitable treatment I was given the gift of a future; a future without the need for other medical interventions or treatments. It’s vital that all people should be able to access that gift too.

Rosa is a Cancer Research UK Campaigns Ambassador