World cancer day on February 4th 2020

Today is World Cancer Day, which is an annual event giving an opportunity for organisations and people around the world to raise awareness about cancer and to make it a global health priority.

Around 9.6 million people die each year from cancer and by 2030, experts are projecting this figure to rise to 13 million.

Over the past 40 years researchers at Cancer Research UK have made great progress in the fight against cancer, and survival rates have doubled.  Cancer Research UK are the only charity to fund research into all 200 types of cancer.

From a personal perspective, when you are first diagnosed your world falls apart.  The feeling of fear and loneliness is overwhelming.  You seem to go into robotic mode when it comes to going to hospital for your tests, whether it be PET/CT scans, MRI scans or just blood tests.

I used to go from A to B without knowing how I got there.

The most important thing is early diagnosis as it gives you a much better chance of survival.  Don’t ignore what your body is telling you.  You know your body best of all so if you feel something isn’t right, then go to your GP and if need be, insist they refer you to a consultant.  My bladder cancer was missed by my surgery for months, consequently my cancer was so aggressive and invasive that my only choice was to have my bladder removed.  Then following the spread of my cancer, I spent almost a year having different cycles of chemotherapy and cyber knife treatment (targeted radiotherapy).  I was given a 10-15% chance of survival but due to my wonderful surgeon and my team at the hospital I am still here 6 years later.


It is so important to have a good support network from family and friends.  Having them make contact with you whether in person or by phone, text or email helps to combat the loneliness and overwhelming despair that you feel.  But just as important is having an empathetic employer who understands that you will need to take time off work to have tests, appointments and treatments, and that quite often you are given very little notice by the hospital so it can be at the very last minute that you let your employer know you need time off.


It is also not unusual for you to need time out of work to cope with your feelings as you often feel very anxious and emotional.  You also need an employer to understand the financial burden that you are faced with if your company does not pay you whilst you are off sick.  Knowing that you are faced with potentially getting into debt just adds to your anxiety.  Maybe ask your employer if he/she could pay you half of your salary while you are off sick, particularly if they not employing someone to do your job but are using resources that they already have.

I’m sure your work colleagues wouldn’t mind stepping in for you to cover your work while you are away from the office.  Sometimes employers can forget that you have often worked extra hours at no additional pay, so this is their opportunity to show their appreciation for this.


You may often suffer with fatigue, meaning you can feel exhausted and this can have an impact on your work as you lose concentration and may work slower than you usually do.  You can also feel emotional and less patient than you normally are.  You need to discuss this with your employer so he/she understands that you may need to adjust your working hours to prevent you becoming over tired or talk about the possibility of working from home, particularly if you have a long journey to work.  It’s important that you and your employer put a plan in place that works for both of you, but particularly you.


If you are having chemotherapy this can reduce the number of white blood cells you have and you are likely to get an infection.  If your white blood cell count is very low, it’s unlikely you will be able to work, so again your employer needs to understand this, as this can cause unplanned time out of work.

So, not just today on World Cancer Day, but every day, I would ask that employers find a way to provide whatever support they can to any employee who has been diagnosed with cancer.  I know it can be a big interruption to your business but it’s a much bigger and devasting interruption to your employee and his/her family and friends.  Sometimes all we need is a helping hand!

Author: Tracy Izzard Johnson, Senior Healthcare Consultant @ SMP Healthcare Ltd

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