They've tried hard to make breast cancer sound positive. How about a bit of honesty?

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The Independent Online
Roll up! Roll up! Labour Party announces war on breast cancer! Maximum waiting period for surgery to fall from more than a month to two weeks! National programme to improve every aspect of care, from diagnosis to treatment, regardless of where a woman lives!

While this is great news, and a certain vote-winner (Britain has the highest breast cancer death rate in the world), I'm wondering how it's going to be achieved. By diverting the entire NHS spending budget into breast cancer? By turning oncology into the sexy specialism that therefore attracts brilliant, sensitive types like George Clooney in ER? By talking to the pixies at the bottom of the garden?

Still, while we're aiming high, I wonder whether Tony Blair could integrate the following proposals into his wonderful new programme of care:

1 Part-time editorial assistants for all patients, to help precis the books people keep giving you if you have breast cancer. Titles currently gathering dust under my bed include Sharks Don't Get Cancer: how shark cartilage could save your life; Spontaneous Healing: how to discover and enhance your body's natural ability to maintain and heal itself; Living, Loving and Healing: a guide to a fuller life, more love and greater health; Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation; Women Who Fancy Their Oncologist: why self-help books always have really long subtitles (just kidding). Extra votes if the Labour Party promises to look into why so many of these books are written by men with huge beards.

2 Redecoration of corridor leading to Guy's radiotherapy department. This currently resembles a bad station on the Northern Line, which is fine if you are making a dystopian movie but depressing for cancer patients who have to visit every day for six weeks, while trying not to look at all the very sick people being wheeled down from the wards. A macramed mural or heroic, Socialist Realist study of Tony Blair would be preferable to the present, scuffed basement look.

3 Guaranteed weight loss for women having chemotherapy. Cytotoxic drugs are the pits. But the aching veins we could cope with, the hair loss would be bearable, the days of vomiting would be worth it, if, at the end, we had lost a minimum of 10lb. Sadly, many of us remain exactly the same size (16) during an entire course of treatment.

4 Personal beauty allowance. Hairdressers and oncologists are the only people who seem to benefit from breast cancer. First you get your hair cut short because you're panicking about going bald. Then you get it cut really short because the shorter the hair, the less time you have to spend vacuuming the pillow in the morning. Then it's not worth growing your hair again, because you may not be around to reap the reward of two years of mid-length hell. A supplement to the child allowance would be appropriate.

5 Anti-euphemism initiative. So many women, so many euphemisms for approaching death: secondary breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer, advanced breast cancer, stage four breast cancer, palliative care. Someone has tried hard to make the experience sound neutral, or even positive - hey, I've got advanced breast cancer, you didn't get past GCSE - but how about some honesty: Doctor Death is doing his rounds on the Mastectomy Is Just The Beginning ward.

6 Research into the anti-carcinogenic properties of chocolate. Anti- cancer diets are all about self-denial. As if it wasn't bad enough having no hair/breasts/future, you are encouraged - by fans of the super-Teutonic Gershon diet - to eat 20lb of pressed fruit and vegetables a day. (And I won't even get into the number of coffee enemas you're supposed to have.) Wimping out of this, I have been recommended a modified version of the diet, avoiding sugar, dairy produce, wheat, oats, rye, barley, tea, coffee, chocolate, alcohol and added salt. On the plus side, you get four tablespoons of linseed oil a day (yum) and a mere two coffee enemas (must be organic). I am privately convinced that special-edition mint Kit-Kats have a valuable role to play in the fight against breast cancer, so am bravely forging ahead with this initiative, hoping that science will catch up.

7 Colour-coded sympathy. If I had a mint Kit-Kat for every person who'd told me that their aunt recovered from breast cancer, I'd be a very fat woman. To prevent misunderstanding and confusion, I suggest a modification to the pink ribbon system: I'll wear one with one black dot for being 32, another for having two kids under two, but still not as many dots as the poor woman who has secondary tumours in her brain.

8 Free Camcorders. Naturally, I want my children to know what I looked like, but am horribly unphotogenic at present - all moon-faced and piggy- eyed. Hope to be captured more magically on video by a Jane Campion wannabe who - motivated by promise of free Camcorder - will make me look like Ali McGraw in Love Story (only with short hair).

I don't think any of this is too much to ask. Certainly, it's no more ambitious than promising to improve every aspect of care from diagnosis to treatment. See you in the ballot box, Tony!

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