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Life is the top priority

PUBLISHED: 10:40 07 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:17 06 July 2010

NEARLY 5000 women and girls, smiling, laughing, hugging and holding hands surged to the start of Race for Life like an unstoppable fuchsia army.

All ages drawn together by sisterly solidarity to do their bit for a healthy and, hopefully, cancer-free future for our daughters.

NEARLY 5000 women and girls, smiling, laughing, hugging and holding hands surged to the start of Race for Life like an unstoppable fuchsia army.

All ages drawn together by sisterly solidarity to do their bit for a healthy and, hopefully, cancer-free future for our daughters.

Every woman had a story of how the cruelest and indiscriminate disease had touched her life.

On every back a hand-written testimonial, some with smiley photos, to loved ones stolen by cancer.

Women with their own stories - “in remission” or “in treatment now.” “Fingers crossed” was uttered many times by women frail by chemotherapy but doing their best to make a good fist of the five or 10 km to help save lives of the millions who might face a similar diagnosis. They might not make it next year.

Tears flowed. Stories were heartbreaking. Orphans mourning both parents, young widows, parents who had nursed their children to the end, wives, sisters, boyfriends, friends, grandparents.

It's called the Race for Life but it is really all about death - for those lost, gone forever, fuelling our inspiration to try to keep others alive.

But, through all the sadness at the Norfolk Showground at the weekend, the force for good was so intense some said they felt carried to the finish by the powerful love, support, camaraderie and encouragement of strangers.

Death might have stared at us from backs but, at the front, in the faces, women had never looked so alive. The atmosphere was incredible, the strength infectious

My special person to get me into running shoes was my best school friend Jeanette. Lowestoft born and bred, she was born six days before me into a life that followed a similar path. School, sixth form, university, career, marriage, looking happily to the future until ovarian cancer - third stage - struck when we were 32. Struck her not me. Why? Cancer makes its choices randomly, unfairly and meanly.

Suddenly two lives, so closely entwined on a straight path, diverged.

I have been blessed with 12 years more life than my friend. Twelve bonus years of experiences, opportunities, pleasure and, most importantly, two children. I was spared.

Twelve years of feeling thankful every day, although I often have to remind myself. I am lucky. Jeanette was about as unlucky as anyone can be.

“Is there a cure for every cancer?” asked the 13-year-old girl running with me.

“No, not yet,” I said, ashamed that, as a grown up, I couldn't reassure her she would be fine. Billions is pumped into cancer research every year but still the disease is indomitable.

Young girls can't understand. Doctors can reconstruct bodies, faces, put things right, do complicated transplants. Why can't cancer be defeated?

Despite research, investment, progress and affluence thousands still die needlessly.

Today, we have woken up to a new Government. Despite all the promises, cancer treatment is still a lottery dependent on your postcode.

Chances of staying alive are left to the penchants of over-paid health service managers deciding on priorities.

Life-saving cancer treatment, IVF, his salary or new equipment?

Doctor Becky Smith, 30, was refused breakthrough treatment for her breast cancer missed four times before it was diagnosed which could prolong her life by up to 20 years.

The NHS surgeon could live to save countless other lives at work. But her NHS trust refused the £23,000 treatment although 40 other NHS trusts do fund it, including one only five miles from her family home.

The Government promised more than a year ago to give cancer sufferers easier access to life-extending drugs. Becky can't afford the drugs because she is paying back the massive loans that paid for her medical training

People like her die every day because of where they live.

Events like Saturday and Sunday raise so much for Cancer Research UK and raise the profile.

But the cynic in me asks “What's the point?” if treatment for the women running through their pain to try to do some good is still as big a lottery as the chances of getting cancer in the first place.

A definite priority for our new Government as a matter of urgency.

By the way, one in three women who complete the Race for Life fails to send in her sponsor money. Just thought I'd remind you if yours get lost in the huge “to do” pile on your kitchen worktop. Or is it just me that has one of those?

Now the election is gone, political parties can start letting their women out of the cupboards they've been locked in since the campaign started.

Where have all the women been? Packed off to Outer Mongolia on ideology study trips out of harm's way only to be let out now to get on with the hard work?

High-profile female politicians have been conspicuous by their absence in an all-male political landscape reeking of testosterone and jostling for power.

“They might have made mistakes, been a liability” muttered a chauvinist I know.

Well, the men have made a pretty good job of that for themselves, don't you think, Mrs Duffy?

A “depression epidemic' is gripping the “have it all” generation of women.

Since Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson outed herself as suffering from depression last week, quitting her column, the 'sandwich generation' trying to do it all has been discussed everywhere.

Women take anti-depressants like the contraceptive pill. They think they make their lives better, pick up prescriptions, , few questions asked - and can take them for as long as they want.

Friends even joke over coffee about 'matching drugs' and different doses. Anti-depressants have become an essential accessory for working mothers like hair extensions are for WAGS. Actually I now more women on anti-depressants than are on the pill today. A sign of our times - or my age.

I was prescribed anti-depressants nearly three years ago when I suffered reactive depression after the sudden death of a close friend. Work, caring for the family and getting through every day felt like wading through treacle.

A GP prescribed me “nerve pills” as he called them - affronted, I felt like a 1950s stifled housewife given a pick-me-up and a pat on the head. I resisted them at first, weakness and failure and all that, but they made me feel better.

So I kept taking them, repeat prescription after repeat prescription, the last being for a year with advice on how to wean myself off if I wanted to.

In my head they were my crutch and, without them, everything would fall apart.

Then a friend convinced me I didn't need them. I weaned myself off within a week and, at last, life was in colour, real again.

“Nerve pills” are handed out by highly-paid GPs who should be helping their patients to face up to the real problems in their lives rather than masking them with drugs. To look confront problems - failed relationships, over-burdened lives, poor organisation - rather than papering over the cracks.

Serious long-term depression is so debilitating and acute, but, for the rest of us, the condition really is all in the mind.

Families spend £900 on in-car entertainment for their children.

Children gawp at back seat TVs, DVD players and even games consoles in the car because they can't bear to be without entertainment for a minute- and it saves parents having to talk to their children.

Round-the-clock wherever-you-are entertainment is turning out children into dead eyed, droopy-lipped morons who can stare for hours without blinking, have supersonic hand-eye-coordination but can't hold a conversation to save their lives.

Children, locked in the car without distractions, are prime for interrogation about their lives because they can't walk off to avoid you.

And anyway, what's wrong with a good old game of I Spy to while a journey away?

Dylan Wilson is only four but he's perfected the “got one over on you' smirk.

Already he's been kicked out of school five times for violent behaviour, spitting, kicking, biting and throwing books.

His mother blames the school for not being able to cope. Obviously. Parents of unruly children always blame the school.

Peter Harvey couldn't cope either. The teacher was targeted by teenagers who knew he was on the edge and set out to provoke him and film his reaction.

They baited and swore at him until he could take no more. He hit the boy with a dumbbell fracturing the teenager's skull.

Every day in the classroom teachers are fair game. They're bullied and barracked by the pupils with no power to do anything to protect themselves. The pupils know they can get away with it because they hold all the aces - so they do.

There is so much guff about parents setting up and running their own schools - but before school management parents need to be forced to manage their own children.

The new Government must make parents take responsibility for their children's behaviour - and teach them respect - of schools are ever going to get better and teachers are allowed to teach.

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