Letters: Perspectives on cancer

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The Independent Online

What we should be 'aware' of

Having just spent a year being treated for breast cancer, I read Chris Hiley's article "A rather sickly pink" (20 october) with an expectation that I might be offended. However, I feel I understand her views, as I also don't understand fully the whole "pink" thing and how it appears to make breast cancer somehow glamorous.

I can confirm that breast cancer is vile; the fear it instils, the treatment required and the psychological effects are all vile; but compared with what I saw in the radiotherapy department at Colchester hospital my cancer was a walk in the park.

If we have to take a whole month to make people aware we should have Cancer Awareness Month; not just Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer affects one in three people in this country and some of the systems we have in place to help cancer patients are appalling. Our benefits system leaves us poor at what is probably the most frightening time of our entire lives; and people staring death in the face can be told that there are drugs available but the Government can't afford them.

It's not glamorous, but it's the kind of thing those who haven't had any dealings with cancer should be "aware" of.

Jane Sage, Southminster, Essex

Breast cancer month funds vital research

Chris Hiley is right to draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month but wrong to denigrate it.

Breast cancer is still the UK's most common cancer, with nearly 46,000 women and around 300 men diagnosed each year and around 12,000 people a year dying from the disease.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) is indeed about awareness, because we know that the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival. Most cancers are detected by women noticing unusual changes to their breasts, which highlights the importance of awareness-raising activities.

We should be proud that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also about raising money. The pink products, celebrities and media coverage to which Hiley objects are all part of that. The money raised during October is vital to ensuring that people whose lives are rocked by a diagnosis get the very best information and support to see them through diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

Our scientists are making discoveries which are leading to better treatments for breast cancer and greater understanding of its causes. Many such breakthroughs are directly beneficial to other cancers, such as ovarian, colon and prostate. The members of the public, corporate organisations and celebrities who lend their support do it not just because they're "pink" but because they know that without it, this crucial research wouldn't happen.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer

Pamela Goldberg, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Campaign

Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Care, London WC1

No celebrity publicity for us

Thank you, Chris Hiley for highlighting the disproportionate attention given to breast cancer compared with other common but less "fashionable" cancers.

I am a previously healthy 63-year-old who this year completed treatment for bowel cancer, which I believe is the second most common cancer in women but receives very little publicity by comparison. We all know of celebrities such as Martina Navratilova who talk openly about their breast cancer and it would be refreshing if other cancers could be discussed in the same way to raise public awareness. Any type of cancer diagnosis is devastating and they all deserve the same level of publicity – and attendant funding.

Ione Lee, Plymouth, Devon

What about men?

While I applaud Chris Hiley's courage, I would add that she only partially picks up on the near scandalous marginalisation of male-specific cancers in terms of both publicity and screening programmes. I look forward to a similarly high level Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but I'm not holding my breath.

Geoff Thomason, Stockport, greater Manchester

The spending cuts gamble

Not the least worrying aspect of the spending review is the effect it will have on inequality. The Coalition preaches fairness, but chooses unemployment and housing benefit as headline cuts. They advertise their equity, but prefer cuts to tax rises by 77 per cent to 23 per cent.

Inequality is bad politics, and even worse economics, and increasing income and wealth inequality – as these measures will – increases our reliance on the financial services industry, the property market and consumer debt to drive growth. Rather than building a broad, stable base of demand, the Coalition has chosen to gamble the country's future on an economic world-view that was already outdated when the previous Conservative government came to power in the 1970s.

Recent headlines compared the Prime Minister to Margaret Thatcher in ambition and audacity. He may also match Mrs Thatcher in creating deep recession and social divisions, and a legacy of huge inequality and lack of opportunity.

Ben Rymer, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

There has been one outstanding success for the current government. With huge discipline, spokesmen have introduced comments about the alleged dire state of the economy "which they inherited from Labour" and, in particular, the huge budget deficit. This they have done whether it was relevant to the interview they were giving or not.

Labour needs as a matter of urgency to respond in kind. They need to start saying at every opportunity that the national debt, despite the temporary need to run a large budget deficit for self-preservation, still remains at a fairly average level among European economies. And they need to point out that this government is in the very fortunate position of having inherited an economy which grew strongly in the first two quarters of this year.

Neither of those items indicates a broken economy. And from now on growth will start to be the responsibility of the new government rather than the old. Watch this space.

Richard Pater, Kendal, Cumbria

It is apparent that we, as a nation, will have to do the same as we, as individuals, have to do when in deep debt – cut spending. However, what about the other strategy that we individual debtors have to adopt – earning more income?

I have heard very little of any plans to increase national income. Is this an impossible task? Would it mean that we need to revive the manufacturing capability of the country? Or promote exports? Or is the concept of making and selling more too hopelessly antiquated to be considered?

Sue Jensen, Godalming, Surrey

If Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and the others really want to convince us that we're "all in this together", might we expect to see all of the millionaires in the Government donating their salaries for the next four years to help to pay off our national debt?

It might not make much difference financially, but it would be a far more convincing demonstration of their commitment to the cause than mere words will ever achieve.

Andrew Bradbury, Hove, East Sussex

We have been told by the Chancellor that £7bn of cuts will be made from the welfare budget, among many other cuts in public expenditure. Interestingly, that is precisely the sum that the City of London bankers are set receive for their end-of-year bonuses. The bankers may not have actually "caused" our economic problems, but they played more than a supporting role.

Susan Brown, London N10

Can it be discovered how many of our elected representatives have actually had to survive on the benefits they propose to cut? I think that might be quite revealing. My guess is that it would be quite tricky to maintain two homes on incapacity benefit, for instance.

The Rev Richard Haggis, Oxford

Research into the obvious

On reading your article "Violence link to screen images" (19 October), I couldn't help but think that research of this kind provides the perfect ammunition for those pushing for cuts in funding for scientific research, given the current financial climate.

As a doctor I know the vital importance of research in advancing our knowledge of how the body works, and providing new treatments. Too often, however, expensive statements of the blindingly obvious waste money that could be spent much more productively. That witnessing violent acts repeatedly can affect a person's emotional response should be obvious. Thousands of veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can probably testify to this. You don't need to MRI scan their brains to find this out.

This kind of expensive and futile research gives the real thing a bad name. Someone, give them a copy of Descartes' Discourse on Method.

Dr Joe Mackenzie, Newcastle upon Tyne

Still the banks don't get it

In his second letter to The Independent in two weeks (19 October), Nick Anstee, Lord Mayor of the City of London, still fails to justify the intemperate bonus culture of the banks.

What exactly is the wealth to which he refers that their high-earners produce? Our small company is growing and pays a high rate of interest to the bank for an inadequate loan covered by the collateral in our homes. The loan is risk-free to the bank. We create the wealth, not the bank.

Dr David Rhodes, Nottingham

I was not entirely surprised to read Mr Anstee's reiteration of the need to attract executives of the highest quality through remuneration packages.Part of our problem is that executive salaries and bonuses are decided by the cadre of executives themselves, and the gulf between these salaries and those of their staff probably to their minds reflects no more than the supposed gulf in talent; in the words of the well-known advert: "Because we're worth it."

But anyone who has sat more than a couple of times on an interview panel will tell you that the difference between the applicant who gets the job and the second or third choice is as often as not minuscule and down to personal interaction. To imply that any reduction in expected income would drain away all talent to some ocean of better-paid jobs overseas is stretching our credulity somewhat.

Stephen Toogood, Thorverton, Devon

As the true extent of the burden on British society sinks in following the Government's spending cuts, many will be left wondering why banks were not asked to shoulder more responsibility.

It was the "get rich quick" mentality of investment funds that became the catalyst for the current financial crisis. Is it not blindingly obvious that the crucial missing piece of the road map to recovery is legislating banks to become more ethical, socially responsible and sustainable by investing only in products that will benefit UK society?

David Cameron has gone some way to address this by setting up a £1bn Green Investment Bank, but this is surely a drop in the ocean compared with the sums that our high-street banks invest globally in highly unethical casino schemes that amazingly are still considered the norm by City traders.

Rupert Eden, Lisbon

Mervyn King has stated that we are in for a sober decade. I saw no evidence of that in pubs and bars around Leadenhall Market in the City of London last week.

Ian Charlton, Wakefield, west Yorkshire

Hard choices over tuition fees

The proposed changes in higher education funding are shaping up to be the most radical for half a century. Students are graduating today with debts of £15,000 to £20,000. In the brave new Coalition world they seem likely be graduating with debts of £40,000 to £50,000. For many, it will take decades to pay off these debts.

Children from the richest sixth of families will have no problem. It will become easier to get into a good university, and Dad will pay. Children from the poorest sixth may have to overcome a poor educational start in life, but if they are bright enough to be offered a place at a good university, the state will pay. The rest will be really squeezed.

Middle-class parents of only children will make huge sacrifices to fund their child through university, finding the money by taking out second mortgages, working overtime, skipping holidays and reducing their pension contributions. But middle-class parents with two or more children will, as the Coalition loves to say, have to take some hard decisions.

Even after making personal sacrifices, they will still only have enough to get one child through university. Do they fund their son or their daughter, their first-born or his younger sibling, father's own child or his step-child? Or do they treat their children equally and refuse to help any of them because they can't help them all? Whatever they decide, there will be huge rows and, all too often, lasting resentment.

For political parties that rely heavily on the middle-class vote and purport to be great believers in the family, the Coalition is taking a massive gamble, and threatening to set back tertiary education in this country 30 years.

David Hewitt, London N1

As a paid-up member of the Lib Dems, I am glad to see that my party leaders have at last seen sense over university tuition fees.

Universities need more money, and of course students should play a part in financing this, where feasible. However, students should be able to believe the promise that they will not be expected to repay this money until they are in a position to do so.

Both my daughters graduated as mature students, and both incurred loans. However, neither has ever been in a position to repay these loans, and neither has had to do so. But both have spent their lives in productive ways, working as supply teachers, working for a credit union, and as volunteers in play groups, play schemes and the like.

It never occurred to me that the main aim of a university course was to make lots of money. Those would-be students of today who fear the financial consequences of becoming a student would probably serve the community best by staying out of university and letting the place go to someone whose academic desire is higher than their financial desire.

Connie Wild, Long Marton, Cumbria

In your Letters page debate on the costs for higher education some writers have commented on the benefits of university graduates to private-sector businesses.

At one time the professions and trades tended to recruit and train their own personnel replacements through apprentice systems or in-house induction. The advent of free university places paid for through the tax system relieved organisations of this cost burden.

The beneficiaries of a university education are the individual, the society where the individual works, and the organisation in which the individual works. Is it not therefore equitable that all three of the beneficiaries should contribute towards the cost of teaching our future specialists? Why should any one of the three be exempt?

Bill Mason, Beckenham, Kent

Hole numbers

Reluctantly coming to the defence of ignorant journalists, I'd like to point out to Ian Watson (letter, 21 October) that the use of mixed units in the drilling industry is extremely common. Hole diameter is almost exclusively measured in inches, and everything else is up to the company paying for the hole. Many times my poor brain has suffered meltdown as I've moved from rig to rig and client to client and been confronted with feet, metres, kilo pounds, tonnes, pounds per gallon, barrels and cubes, to name but a few, all happily jumbled together. The strange thing is, the holes always seem to get drilled.

Simon Mortimer, Poole, Dorset

It adds up

Student protesters in France do not really believe it is a matter of "simple arithmetic" that the old staying in jobs for longer means there will be fewer jobs for the young (letter, 21 October). They are a bright bunch who know full well that the idea of there being a fixed number of jobs which have to be shared around was discredited decades ago. But as they look across the Channel they can see that a flat-earth "simple arithmetic" approach to economic decision-making can reap rich ideological and political rewards.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln