It’s Time for Guts

18 Aug

TimeForGuts

 

96,000 –  that’s the number of people who have died from bowel cancer since I started working at Bowel Cancer UK six years ago.

Every day on a micro level – amongst the people I know – I witness what that means.  The fear, pain, despair, loneliness, grief it can cause for the patient and their family.  charlotte kitley36 year old Charlotte Kitley’s blog ‘Life as a semi-colon‘ describes all this so movingly.  Here she describes her need for treatment options:

‘In November, we were told my old chemo routine was no longer working, so we would try a new combination of drugs.  In February, we realised these new drugs weren’t working either, and in fact were making me feel worse.  We started my final regime of life-prolonging drugs, which have kept the cancer at bay until the summer.  We now have to accept I have run out of conventional medical options and will be looking to the trials people at the hospital in the hope I qualify for something, anything!’ 

Charley has young children – a family, a life to lead.  This is simply wrong.   It makes me angry and very determined.

It makes me angry because bowel cancer should be a good news story.  Mortality rates have fallen dramatically over the last 20 years – according to Cancer Research UK by over 30%.  How fantastic is that, yet still, 16,000 people continue to die each year of bowel cancer.  I also feel so frustrated because change takes too long.

Yet on the flip side, it strengthens my determination to understand what is going wrong and how we can make positive change so lives can be saved.

As a result, last week, we launched our new campaign around advanced disease called ‘Time for Guts’  because we think it is time there was a  new fresh look at the treatment and care available for patients of all ages.  It will overlap with and compliment our ongoing campaigns, about access to diagnostics, ‘Right Test Right Time’ and about the diagnosis, treatment and care of younger bowel cancer patients called ‘Never Too Young’.

Around 3,800 people are detected with advanced, stage 4, bowel cancer, plus around half of the 9,800 people diagnosed with stage 3 cancer will go on to develop stage 4 and a large proportion of the c. 14,000 un-staged cancers are also likely to have been stage 4.

Advanced bowel cancer is tough in every way.  That first look at your own mortality is hard and then the sinking realisation of what lies ahead.  Extensive surgery or – perhaps worse – none, chemotherapy, possibly radiotherapy depending on tumour site and a terrible sense the odds are stacked against you. Cruelly they can be.

The reality is that in the UK, there are variations in treatment and care leading to people dying needlessly or more quickly.   When it comes to advanced disease, there has been a lot of focus on access to drugs  – and let’s face it, there are some big issues about that – yet the reality is what’s the point of having a drug to shrink your liver tumours, if you can’t access a liver surgeon to remove them?  For example:

  • patients with a liver only metastases are not always being referred to a specialist liver surgeon to determine if their liver is suitable for a resection and instead are simply being put onto a palliative care pathway. Liver resection is crucially important, because it can, in the best case, lead to a cure or at least prolong life.  Studies have shown that in fact around 44% of those patients when reviewed by a liver surgeon COULD have been resected.
  • Even in areas where people are referred there are huge variations in five year survival, with rates ranging from 25 per cent to 44 per cent.

With variation such as this, it’s not really surprising that the UK performs poorly on survival from advanced bowel cancer.   A recent analysis of survival by stage between six high-income countries found that one-year survival rates among UK bowel cancer patients diagnosed at the earliest stage of disease (Stage 1) were similar to those in the other five countries (96 per cent, compared to 92-98 per cent elsewhere), but survival in the UK was consistently lower for those diagnosed at an advanced stage (7-16 per cent lower than elsewhere).

holistic care

Holistic Care

We want to look at advanced disease holistically.  We plan to look at the whole person and their treatment and care, not just one aspect of it and consider what gaps there are for them and their families, for example around psycho social support.  We know that there are few quick fixes, but with so many people dying needlessly we believe it really is time for a concentrated look at advanced disease – that it is Time for Guts.

 

IHaveGuts

Of course all this needs funding, so we have also launched a fundraising campaign to ask people to help us.  I will be taking part too.   Having settled on a trek, I asked some of my dear friends with advanced bowel cancer which one I should do and the consensus was The Great Wall of China trek – so I’ve signed up!  I go on October 9th and will ‘enjoy’ my first day of trekking on my birthday October 11th!

I admit to being excited and scared all at once.  After all I commute (5 hours a day), I don’t trek!  But the bottom line is I am so very lucky that I have the health to even attempt this.  So many of my dear friends, with advanced disease, have commented that they would love to go to China with me but are just too unwell.

So this is for Gail, Rita, Sean, Mark, Charlotte, Sian, Julie, Kate, Sarah and so many others facing their fears and having their resilience tested to the extreme by enduring so much treatment.

We need you 2If you have been affected by advanced bowel cancer – either as a patient or family member – I would ask you to help us because I know you will understand why this is so vitally important.  As Mahatma Ghandi said: “Strength does not come from physical capacity it comes from an indomitable will” and I firmly believe that it is only through our collective strength and determination that we can make real change, so please join me and take action today and help us to save lives from bowel cancer.

Please:

  1. Share your or your loved one’s story
  2. Take part in your own challenge or simply donate – why not become a LifeSaver’?

or

  1. sponsor me and encourage everyone you know to do the same. I’ve covered all the costs of the trek myself so all donations will go directly to Bowel Cancer UK.   www.justgiving.com/DeborahAlsina1

Thank you.

 

Star of Hope, the international symbol for bowel cancer

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