National Comment Comment

We need to talk about cancer

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Kate Mitchell
Kate Mitchell

Intensely emotional documentary Kris: Dying to Live and the media coverage of the last weeks of Stephan Sutton's life have recently thrown cancer in our age group into the limelight. Previously completely healthy, young, vibrant people, given death sentences. They seem a world apart from us, but at the same time could be our neighbors. This uncanny quality to their stories is unsettling, but prompts us to be aware of cancer in our age group, in our peers, in our bodies.

My recent interactions with the disease have forced the issue upon me more than I would have liked, but the silver lining is that it's given me something to write for my last comment.

Cancer is not an irrelevant issue in your 20s.

Students have an optimistic tendency to cling to the teenage perception of themselves as invincible. They ignore the warning signs. It's all too easy to push on with your degree, go travelling or take that internship instead of facing up to the changes in your body.

Granted, cancer is rare in the 15-25 age group, accounting for less than 1 per cent of cases, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It can happen, it does happen and it could happen to you.

Similarly, not all diagnoses are terminal, but, like any serious disease, a diagnosis of cancer would put your life on pause. Pausing your life for treatment would be far more troublesome than pausing to check your body regularly. Getting to know how you normally feel and look is crucial to early diagnosis.

However, this isn't a priority for the Government. It's not part of the curriculum in a relatable way, and years of campaigning for a lowered age of smear tests have produced minimal results. If the government won't help us, we must help ourselves.

This year, the campaign for lowered age of smear test invites has been raised again following the death of Sophie Jones. She was just 19 and died from cervical cancer. Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, made her case in a Parliamentary debate, but to no avail. Expanding the scheme to invite women aged less than 25 in for screening is simply not conducive with current cost cutting measures. It's not as if you turn 25 and suddenly cervical cancer starts to creep into your body. Young people need to know what they should be aware of- a few months ago I know I was almost utterly clueless.

The same Kris in the documentary referenced above runs Coppafeel, a charity which recently began a joint campaign with Page 3 to promote 'Check 'em Tuesday'- a scheme intended to make cancer checks a regular feature of the morning routine. Whatever your opinions on the collaboration with Page 3, the premise behind the campaign is important. Knowing how your body normally looks and feels allows minor changes to become glaringly obvious.

I am not writing this to scandalize. I write in the hope that more women reading this will Coppafeel, and more men will grab life by the balls. Wouldn't you rather know?

Checking yourself is easy, important and potentially lifesaving. We need to talk about cancer more.

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