Today is World Cancer Day. It's a day to remember those who have lost their lives to cancer but also to celebrate their lives and the lives of those who have survived. Cancer sadly affects us all, either directly or indirectly, and we have all lost someone we know. But we do know people who have beaten cancer and come out survivors in the end. I started my career in cancer research back in my undergraduate at the same time when someone very close to me was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is like a second mother to me and hearing of her illness was devastating. But she fought tooth and nail and came out a survivor. Her perseverance and bravery have always been an inspiration to me. I think of her when I find my own work weighing me down. I remember what I do is for her and the thousands of women and men suffering with breast cancer. Remembering her bravery keeps me brave.
Today is also a day to raise awareness. Prevention is key in reducing cancer cases. There are many preventative steps we can all take to ensure we don't get cancer or help diagnose cancer earlier. Health and lifestyle factors (known as risk factors) influence the chances of developing cancer a lot. And we can reduce this influence by changing small habits. The most common campaigns ask us to reduce our alcohol intake and stop smoking (all very important steps which I encourage). It is also important to keep an eye on what we eat and exercise more, a balanced, healthy diet and 3 hours exercise over at least three days (i.e. 30 minutes 6 days a week). We also want to keep an eye on our bodies, get to know what's normal for us so we can spot when something isn't normal. For women regular smear tests, mammograms and breast checks (and men). For men, regularly checking for testicular lumps and prostate exams. And for everyone keeping an eye on your organs and bodily functions (such as your bowel movements, indigestion, coughing and moles/skin abnormalities - http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-symptoms).
By being more aware of ourselves and the steps we can take to detect cancer early we can together reduce cancer diagnosis and beat cancer before it begins.
The Unity Band is a symbol of our united front against cancer and a pledge to help beat cancer sooner. I helped sell some Unity Bands yesterday (3rd Feb) in Shepherd's Bush Underground Station. I was there as a scientist to do a "taste test" demo with the public to show how important personalised medicine is to cancer diagnosis and treatment. The demo was devised by research engagement officers and scientists working with CRUK. While we are all the same species we don't all look the same and there are subtle differences between us. Tumours are the same. While they all might be located in one area, for example the breast, they are not all the same tumour and don't act the same way. This can make treatment challenging. Personalised medicine focuses on these small differences and tries to tailor treatment for the individual rather than the masses.
For me, I spent my World Cancer Day in work doing what I do best. I hope that my small contribution to cancer research may help someone beat cancer sooner.
My name is Caitriona and I am a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK.