Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Whats the real story about breasts for the media?

Ok I admit it. I have been a bit angry this week! And that's because there has been a great deal about breasts in the press last week. Our media is almost as obsessed by them as they are with tales of the royals...and of course one of the stories had them both. I guess we aren't surprised that the Duchess of Cambridge has them? Are we ? Is it legitimate to photograph them and publish them without her consent...I don't think so.

But that's not the big story for me. This week a petition was launched to end page 3 in The Sun .3 When I last looked it stood at over 30,000 signatures. By people who believe that showing women in this way diminishes all of us, male and female. It seems bizarre that we are still having this debate. How can women be seen as equals when popular newspapers portray them like this?

But that's still not the big story for me. THE story about breast is the fact that more and more women are being diagosed every year with breast cancer. And we need to address this! 

Just four years ago I started this role as Director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer in Scotland. At that time we said there were just over 4,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. And this year it's more that 4,500 who will be diagnosed. Such an increase in such a short time. And yes it's still true that 1,000 women lose their lives to breast cancer each year. For every diagnosis there are so many lives affected and for every life lost there are so many other lives changed for ever. The money raised through a myriad of pink adorned fundraising events will help us fund our crucial work; the research , the campaigning the awareness raising, all aimed at ending the fear of breast cancer for good. Through all our work we want to stop women and men getting breast cancer and to stop them dying from it. Simple and vital as a goal but complex and challenging to achieve.But we have the ambition to do this and we cant do it without the help of so many who share our hope and ambition.

So thats why I am angry. Lets have the media talking about the real reason why breasts are so important. And even better join with us in trying to change breast cancer for good.

Reasons to be cheerful. It's a busy month ahead and a crucial for funding all our work and whats more we get to meet so many fantastic people wanting to make a difference. Thanks to all of you making a difference for so many people affected by breast cancer.
PS  Cara is settling in well. It's hard to remember life without her!


Thursday, 20 September 2012

Cara...its Irish for friend

I had a dilemma about the title for this blog. Because I recently watched a TED talk called " Before I die I want to " which I really wanted to write about. My dilemma was if I call it that people will think I have had bad news, it's a breast cancer blog I write after all! And I guess the fear of dying before our time is the shared theme for many of us. But another theme is the sharp focus it gives on what you value in life. What in life you treasure most. I have touched before on my bucket -or my personal favourite -the "f*** it" list and I know that when the chips are down top of my list is time with those I love... my family and my friends.

What I loved about the talk is how the project in a very simple way brought a community together. And not only did it come together but they heard each others voices and enriched their community though it. Wonderful. Again it illustrates the power of hearing the voices of communities to build a future. I do know that one of my regrets should my time be shorter would be never to have another dog. That knowledge drove our recent decision to finally make the trip to Dublin, where my daughter works, for the new puppy and to call her Cara...its Irish for friend.

So meet Cara. She is a seven week old lurcher from Dublin. Indeed she really is a little miracle of the dog world. Her Mum, Fay ,gave birth to 15 pups...yes that's right 15! She had to have a Caesarian section as pup number two got stuck. And through her own amazing skills as a Mum and the love, dedication and commitment of the wonderful team at the Dogs Trust in Dublin, 12 of the 15 survived so far. And Cara is one. They are all beautiful brindle lurchers, almost impossible to tell apart. Her white paws and confidence helped her stand out. She coped with a long journey and is now here taking over our lives. She loves her bed and also has found she can climb on to the kitchen chair....this is not easy believe me and it's also rule number 1 that the new pup does not get on the furniture . Currently that feels like telling the tide not to come in. Lurchers have the reputation as loving, placid couch potatoes..... She is living up to that!

And she has already stolen our hearts. Koshka the cat's however remains locked away.  We are working on it and he is enjoying some additional treats too and milking it, let's be honest. There is no doubt that she is helping me already, distracting me with nonsense and cuddles. What's not to like.

Reasons to be cheerful......well of course the puppy, Cara.I am sure you will hear more of her. I must say a big thank you to the team at Dogs Trust Dublin, they couldn't have been more pay them a visit if you are nearby. They have some fabulous dogs. And this week we are launching our Breakthrough 100, recruiting 100 very special women. Its a really great project but more about that next week....Now where is that puppy..........

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

From the coal face.....

I come from a mining area in Fife, not the area of pretty fishing villages or world leading universities. Its the one of chronic unemployment since the loss of its industrial past and with a legacy of serious and chronic disease from working in them. It's statistics are lost in the much larger challenges of the West of Scotland but  poverty in all it's  guises is no less of a reality for many communities there.

But why am I telling you this now? Well recently I attended a reception in the Scottish Parliament hosted by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Sector ( SCVO) and the important point was made that voluntary sector , with it's foundations in geographical or communities of interest has an important , crucial role to play in shaping future policy and strategy for change. But that role is sometimes not valued or allowed and the voices left unheard.

And it reminded me of a local tale from the village I grew up in. A decision was made ,before I was born , to build a mine in the vicinity. No real surprise as the area was surrounded by them, the coal was there. These were the days when coal was key source of energy. So the mine was built and opened by the Queen when I was a year old. It had closed before I started school. The Rothes Colliery was to be the show-piece of the great Fife coalfield but, unfortunately, it turned out to be probably the biggest disappointment in Fife's proud mining record, brought about by bad planning of the mining engineers of the time, who totally disregarded the advice from the experienced, local miners who knew the terrain very well indeed. They told them it would flood, it would never work. No one listened.

And so a whole town built in its honour felt a terrible impact, livelihoods were lost and lives changed for ever, 12 million pounds was wasted. And a heritage supposed to last 100 years, gone for good. They should have listened to the old, local miners, they could have saved their money. My own father knew this, he was a young man when he too lost his job when the mine closed, and shared with others the worry of unemployment and family to support.

So it's not just "politically correct" to involve those who know it from the coal face in the design and development of future projects. It's a sound economic and moral imperative. Working together new futures can be shaped, creativity can be captured, shared visions can be owned and committed to; lives can be changed.

Breakthough Breast Cancer has a Campaigns and Advocacy Network, service pledge volunteers, an army of supporters who all know the coal face of breast cancer and all help to shape our campaigning, research and education work. And this is how our sector works. A rich seam of potential to help shape health and social care, housing, welfare , economic development and so on. But why is it still a challenge for many to be heard? We can and should change this.

I haven't lived in the village for over 30 years and it's a forlorn looking place to return to. The busy, friendly village I grew up in is a changed place. The impact on a community whose time has gone is sad to see.  But it's there my own values were shaped and my recognition that I have been fortunate in my life was fostered. I'm gratefully for that and to all those who were part of that too.

Reasons to be grateful.
My family has gained from an excellent education which has helped them reach their potential , we have benefitted from a world class healthcare system, we have lived in good houses in fine parts of this beautiful country. But I won't forget the voices of those at the coal face wherever and whoever they are. They helped shape me after all.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Not a glamorous as a shark bite.

                     "Wisdom is simply pain that has healed."

Oh ok I admit it, I have been a wee bit obsessed watching the Paralympics and also fascinated by the individual stories of the athletes. One young man, describing how he lost part of his leg,  explained it was because of meningitis when he was five. Not as exciting as a shark bite said he.....I laughed with him as he said it and admired his attitude. Even more as I watched him win his gold on the track just 13 years after his amputation. And the photo of him hugging his Mum, says it all about how challenging his young life has been and the important role she has played.

But I have kept coming back to those words , not as exciting as a shark bite. So true of most illnesses. Often they aren't glamorous they are just hard , unpleasant, painful, distressing and in the main we hide that bit away. We don't want others to see it, we put on our brave faces, we say nothing. We are tempted by a more glamorous story too...our own version of a shark attack. Is that wrong? I don't know. But maybe at some point the reality becomes evident and that has to be OK.

That theme of showing what's usually hidden  has been prevalent this week for me. I helped to launch the Scottish Governments Detect Cancer Early campaign. It has been described as controversial. And that's because it's the first time naked breasts have been shown with the visible signs of breast cancer in a campaign like this. I shared it on twitter saying, yes this contains naked breasts but for once it's to help educate women. Because lets face it we do see many naked breasts in the media but that is to serve a different purpose. Strange that isn't called controversial isn't it?

And many women have expressed their support of the campaign, recognising their need for more information about breast cancer signs and symptoms. And the breasts shown are not those of a page three model. They are women of all ages and shapes and sizes and that makes it so real and relevant. So thanks to these brave women who have shared their images, who haven't hidden away.Here is the link so you can judge for yourself and do share with others too. It  WILL save lives. Lumps arent the only sign of cancer is the video from the campaign.The key message is "don't get scared get checked". The breast awareness video Indeed!

Reasons to be cheerful. It's  the weekend! It's been a long and busy week. We are doing some preparation for getting a pup soon and so this weekend will be checking out what we need and reading all the advice  on what to do. I am so excited! A friend shared this photo and caption last week. I think Koshka may have written it!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Going for Gold.

"To overcome difficulties is to experience the full delight of existence". 
Arthur Schopenhauer

In the same week I got advice on the physio to improve my back problem I have watched the Paralympians challenge themselves in quite extraordinary ways. From those whose disabilities from birth have meant they have always had the challenges integrating into a less than understanding world, to those whose lives have been absolutely changed by devastating events,  they exude courage and grim determination. I am awed and like many , moved by their passion to exceed.

The games give them a goal, an opportunity to challenge their situations and really reinforce that message to the world;  see the person not the disability. They can teach us so much. There is undoubtedly a mind set that helps them achieve but also I guess an ability to read their bodies and know when and where to push and when to adapt or ease off.

I know my own challenges are so small compared to theirs but their courage and resilience is inspiring me too. Alongside the advice not to be impatient ( me! ) and not to do too much I am also determined to get fitter again. It's an important mindset shift to being a recovering person, not an ill person. But I need to pace myself still to get to the final destination.

With every illness or change or disability there is the point where you have let go of your old reality with all the grieving that's part of that but then that is replaced by the new reality. The challenge is to celebrate that person , all the learning that has ensued and be all you can be from there.

But I know it's not easy , you only had to see Ellie Simmonds sobbing after her gold medal winning swim to see not only the joy but the cost of success against the odds but the message of these incredible athletes is look at what you can do...and go for it! Let's hope these games help to change attitudes for good towards people living with disabilities, not least the policy makers.

Reasons to be cheerful. A family Sunday lunch to look forward to and the end ( boo) of the festival fireworks are tonight. It's a 45 minute display set to music, always a fantastic way to start the week. Also I am supporting a key launch next week which I am really excited about, but more of that later...