I want change

December 31st is usually the time we think about resolutions, things we want to do or changes we want to make for the future but April 3rd also seems as good a time as any.  After 321 days of breast cancer, 130 days undergoing various treatments (to date, medical interventions aren’t finished yet),  277 days of stress and worry as to how I’d provide for my dependants during and after treatment (to date, livelihood interventions aren’t finished yet either), some of the people I considered friends abandoning me and my family being thrown into crisis that will leave everyone with scars I want change.

I live in a so-called modern first-world country, part of the Western wonderlands where breaches of human rights, homelessness, poverty, discrimination, malnutrition and persecution are all supposed to be so frightfully awful that they couldn’t possibly happen here.  l live in a country that shakes its head and tut-tuts at China, Syria and Pakistan. My country needs to learn the saying “people who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones.”

While I was in Bristol last week I saw more homeless people than I’d seen since the 1980’s. These were not the New Age Traveller kind of nomadic homeless, they were people in late middle age, of pensionable age or older. Several of them were older women carrying everything they owned in a bin liner and a few Tesco carriers that had also seen better days. One of the women was almost blind – cataracts she said – as the assistant in the coffee stall sorted through a small collection of copper coins that wasn’t enough to buy the coffee. She gave it to the old, blind woman anyway with a smile that asked ‘how did this happen to you?’  I was pleased to witness some human compassion at an individual level because the temperature that evening was -3c by 7pm with windchill taking it down to -8c. Afterwards I wondered if the coffee cart girl would be in trouble with her boss for her small act of kindness or if she’d make up the shortfall in takings from her own purse. I suspect the latter. People cannot afford to be out of work in the current climate since even those who have paid into the system for most if their adult lives receive little or nothing in return when hard times befall them.  Being out of work and out of luck is the most likely reason I saw so many older homeless people last Thursday evening.

Whenever there’s a recession and unemployment figures rise the behaviour of employers changes too. A friend of mine was made redundant at the end of last year. He’s a bright guy with plenty of high-tech experience to offer and a young family to support. Although he’s attended several interviews, he told me the process for every vacancy is long and drawn out. The time from application to interview can be months rather than weeks and companies are asking candidates to attend upwards of five interviews with different people over anything up to three months before responding to say they’ve changed their mind and won’t be taking the vacancy forward at this time. Another friend of mine was made redundant 2 years ago, she too is bright and well skilled. After a year searching for work she took up a contract post but that too is now coming to an end. She fears the market is in a worse position today than it was when she took up her contract and with no other source of income she isn’t sure how she’ll continue to pay her mortgage.

As a breast cancer patient it seems I’m expected to take care of myself, (there has been very little support outside the standard medical activity), continue to provide for my dependants including my teenaged son whose student loan falls more than £2k short of his accommodation costs let alone providing any money for his food, transport, books, etc., pay all my bills on time and in full, remain positive about the future (because being anything other than positive is bad when you have cancer) and remain hopeful that everything will be alright in the end.

Normally I’m positive, I seem to be wired up that way however there are some very cold and harsh realities of being a cancer patient in my modern first-world country in 2013 as follows:

  • there is significantly limited / no help available whether that’s psychological support, help with normal household activities (eg gardening, cleaning), getting to and from hospital appointments, etc.
  • the best drugs aren’t made available until you’ve suffered the worst side effects because they’re too expensive to provide upfront
  • employers attitudes to people with cancer vary greatly and it’s not just small companies who treat people disgracefully. A cancer patient has as much chance of securing alternative employment as a snowflake in hell.
  • having cancer is expensive. There are items cancer patients need to buy to take care of themselves and they cost money. Eating healthily, plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and avoiding junk/processed food is more expensive than eating supermarket ready meals.
  • the need for psychological and emotional support isn’t just the domain of the patient, their family also need support and it is rarely if ever forthcoming.

I want change. Not just for cancer patients but for everyone who has paid into the system and appears to get nothing in return. I want to see the elder folk of my country with roofs over their heads, warms beds and food in their stomachs, not living rough on the streets. I want future generations of cancer patients to be given the best drugs without having to suffer hideous side effects first because the drugs are too expensive so patients are treated like guinea pigs. I want employers to act responsibly and with some degree of integrity – remember cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke can strike anyone,  you could be next so consider how you might like to be treated before trampling all over today’s patients. I want professional psychological and emotional support to be available to people and their families for a nominal cost – not £40 – £60 per session as it stands today and I want supermarkets to consider their role in promoting a healthier society, one that will live longer and thus contribute to their profits for longer, by making healthy foods available without scandalous levels of mark-up. Start working with local farmers and you’ll help the national economy as well as reducing your air freight costs and offering fresher produce in store.

Already I can hear the politicians screaming “but these are difficult times, the country cannot afford all this.” And to that I say bollocks. We spend c.£39bn on defence plus c.£11.5bn on international aid, £54bn on local and national government (excluding budgets devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).  That’s over £100bn…. I don’t think we’re getting value for money when my elders sleep rough on the streets, my fellow patients are suffering physically and psychologically and our disabled folks are quite literally disabled from cradle to grave in education, the workplace and the benefits system.

I want change.