For all the medical advances, we can’t escape death. That’s why I’d rather live well than live forever

Should everyone have access to drugs costing hundreds of thousands of pounds that just delay the inevitable? It's a difficult decision

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Good news – for young people. Experts say deaths from cancer will be “eliminated” (except for those aged over 80) within 35 years. The disease will be relegated to a preventable or curable condition, thanks to improved surgical techniques, better radiology and more effective drugs.

But for now it can be devastating and last week saw a blow for thousands of sufferers when the Government announced it could no longer afford to fund 21 life-extending drugs, some of which cost as much as £57,000 for a single course of treatment. One drug, for advanced prostate cancer, costs £22,000 and can extend a patient’s life for at least three months. These costly drugs don’t cure the disease, they just delay the inevitable.

I know all about extending the life of a terminally ill person: my sister was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. The NHS declined to treat her brain tumours, so I paid £16,000 for private surgery. I didn’t give it a moment’s thought, just stuck it on my credit card, and so the gift of life was just down to cashflow and my dear sister lived for another four months, exactly what the surgeon predicted.

Medical experts say we are at a “special point in history” where cancer can be beaten by 2050, but in the meantime, there will be thousands of deaths from it. This year, 325,000 people will be diagnosed – more than ever. Cancer has taken two of my best friends, as well as dozens of acquaintances. There’s not a woman over 40 who doesn’t regularly wake up and worry she’ll be next.

While it’s becoming easier to identify genetic factors and test earlier and more effectively, there’s another aspect to cancer which we seem reluctant to face up to. We are all going to die sometime. Cancer often brings that date forward. Should everyone have access to drugs costing hundreds of thousands of pounds that just delay death? A difficult decision. The NHS doesn’t have enough money to do its job properly and the Government’s special Cancer Drugs Fund has spent its budget of £280m.

 

How can we choose between giving cancer victims another three months with friends and family, or providing carers and support for hundreds of elderly people who shouldn’t be sitting in hospital?

Death rates for the most common cancers are falling fast, if they are diagnosed in the early stages. The NHS has a “five-year plan” to spot cancer earlier, but there is still an unacceptable time lag between diagnosis and the start of treatment.

If I had terminal cancer, I would want to live as long as possible. It’s a natural reaction. But would it not be better to accept one’s fate and prepare to die as comfortably as possible? Death is still a huge taboo and it’s interesting that many of the US tech billionaires are investing huge sums of money in research that looks at ways of delaying it, from cell replacement to cryogenics.

Last week, that die-hard Lothario, Jack Nicholson, told a journalist he was scared of dying alone in his Hollywood mansion with nobody by his side. We are living longer than ever and medical breakthroughs are prolonging lives – hence the huge number of elderly people who require support after they leave hospital.

The most difficult journey for us to contemplate seems to be the one to our last breath. In 35 years’ time we might have beaten cancer, but we won’t have beaten death. Learning how to accept it is still a difficult subject.

 

Here’s to the Pub Landlord – a better bet than Ed

Every day, the Tories and Labour vie to set out their key policies for the election. But what’s the difference? The Tories offer us a road to nowhere and I’m appalled that Labour appears to have endorsed more windfarms in the countryside, after Ed Miliband said going green “was at the heart” of his beliefs.

Both parties procrastinate when it comes to tackling excessive drinking.

Although senior health professionals signed a letter to a Sunday newspaper last week calling for a minimum price on alcohol, after it emerged that 80 per cent of weekend visits to A&E are related to booze, Labour refuses to commit and says the policy is “under consideration”.

At least my favourite comic, Al Murray, is brave enough to have some real policies. His FUKP party has announced that the Pub Landlord will stand in Thanet South, against Nigel Farage. They plan to brick up the Channel Tunnel, revalue the pound at one pound 10 pence and lock up the unemployed.

The Green Party has seen its membership rise to 45,000, while Ukip can claim almost 42,000 members. But Al has 192,000 followers on Twitter and is conducting a UK tour on which plenty of dates are already sold out, at almost £30 a ticket. The Pub Landlord’s YouTube political broadcast has been viewed by 360,000 people in two days and ranks as a comic triumph.

He has enraged Ukip supporters, who complain that Al is “one of the London elite, posh, Oxbridge and left-wing”.

Meanwhile, barrister Bobby Friedman whinged that the democratic process “has been hijacked for a pub skit”.

Anyone who has seen Al Murray live knows that he combines the brains of Milibandroid with a rapier-like wit, honing in on the futility of voting for any of our main parties.

Ed Miliband is worried that young people have not registered to vote – but he should be more concerned they might find The Pub Landlord more appealing than his wishy-washy plans.

 

Let’s see if This Girl has made a difference in a year

Walk just 20 minutes every day and you’ll live longer and cut the risk of an early death by a third, according to a huge European study published in a US journal.

Walking also has huge psychological benefits: writers Iain Sinclair and Claire Tomalin discussed how important it was on the Today programme yesterday.

Tomalin has walked in the footsteps of Dickens and Pepys when writing their biographies and Sinclair follows the same walk every single day, as a form of meditation. Theirs was a really enlightening conversation.

Walking is free, and easy, so why has Sport England spent thousands of pounds (of our money) on a slightly patronising ad campaign, “This Girl Can”, to entice women to exercise? Were Clare Balding, Sally Gunnell and Dame Kelly Holmes paid to endorse it?

The ad has been viewed a million times on YouTube and features (shock horror) real women of all shapes and sizes, aged from 14 to 51, running, exercising and looking sweaty and exhilarated.

It’s peppered with patronising slogans like: “I jiggle, therefore I am”. Tell me how many more women are exercising in a year’s time, and I’ll be impressed.

It’s easy to click on to an ad, but a lot harder to go out in the cold and run, or find the time to go to a draughty local swimming pool after you’ve dropped your kids off at the childminder and before work. How do you find a local tennis court – and the money to pay and someone to play with?

Exercise needs to be normalised at an early age – but politicians have ensured schoolchildren do less sport than 10 years ago, and playing fields have been flogged off wholesale.

Two-thirds of all adults do less exercise each day than doctors want, so the problem is not confined to young women. My motto is, “I walk therefore I can” – but Sport England has airbrushed out my age group.

Maybe we jiggle in the wrong places.

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