Tuesday 29 September 2009

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Women at Pink Aerobics, held in Regents Park on Sunday, posed for a photo to acknowledge the 46,000 people who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year

There is so much happening at the moment that I am almost bewildered about where to start. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – or BCAM as it is referred to. One very important element is that it is a key time for us to get the message out about breast awareness – still too many women do not know what to look for and delay going to the doctor. See http://www.breastcancercampaign.org/breastcancer/aware/

However, it is also a very important time for us to raise money and that is where the bewilderment sets in. There is a huge range of our pink related products to buy, each one of which makes a contribution to research into breast cancer. You can go to the main Debenhams store in Oxford Street in London, or any large Debenhams store every day in October, and see staff and volunteers cycling the equivalent distance to the moon. There is a pink sparkly piggy bank which has my grand-daughter’s name on it – am toying with the mouse and mouse-pad – is that a sparkle too far?

The big ASDA Tickled Pink campaign has also launched and I shall be popping in to my local ASDA store to stock up on pink Energizer batteries and maybe a pink feather duster! The pink wellies from a couple of years ago have certainly earned their keep in the garden.

Sometimes people think that all this pink stuff has gone too far. None of this is to trivialise breast cancer as a disease. We do this for three reasons. First, women need to be aware of what the risks are and the possible symptoms: second, we need research to find out why breast cancer happens in the first place, how to treat it most effectively and how to prevent it; third, we need to ensure that any new developments are brought to patients as quickly as possible. (I will write more about aspects of these over the next few weeks).

None of these can be solved just by throwing money at them, but without money none of this would happen. The huge push this month is to raise that money so if at times you feel a bit “pinked out” – remember why we are doing it.

Sometimes even we also need reminding and a moving letter came in from one of our supporters last week. She and her colleagues had taken part in one of our £100 Challenges and raised over £700. She said that they had all had a wonderful time and then went on, “The work you do is so worthwhile and I speak from personal knowledge. I am still a breast cancer survivor, having been fighting the disease for almost 20 years and am now benefiting from infusions of the brittle bone drug you mentioned in your pamphlet as part of the trial at Sheffield. Mostly, thank you for your support which helped lead to that important discovery to which I owe my continued health. If it was not for fundraising such as you organise, I perhaps would not be writing this letter to you now nor helping to fund raise again in the not too distant future.”

Friday 18 September 2009

A New Year

It is the start of the year 5770 of the Jewish Calendar on Friday night. I grew up in an Orthodox home, although we were not strictly observant. I have lapsed somewhat since then and although my Jewishness is always part of me I don’t attend synagogue anymore.

However, old habits die hard and this time of the year has a rhythm and deep meaning which is triggered in me anyway. On the eve of the New Year, it is said, the book of judgement is opened and everyone is judged according to their actions in the past year and their fate determined for the next year. However, all is not lost because you have ten days to change that judgement for the better by repentance, prayer and charity and then the book is sealed on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

I don’t believe the literal word of this but it is a wonderful reminder of what is really important in life. In my terms it is a time for reflection and also for making that call to that person you have not spoken to recently, for reviewing charitable donations and also building bridges where you may have fallen out with someone. It may have nothing to do with religion – but it’s not a bad thing to do.

For us this year it is quite a poignant time as my mother-in-law died in Cape Town this week. As my grandchildren would say – she was 99¾. It is a sadness but not a sorrow as she led a good life until the last couple of years where the quality declined rapidly and her end was a release.

My husband and his brother are there now and I will welcome the New Year with our London family with plenty of sweet things to ensure a sweet year and we will Skype the Swiss family and eat a virtual apple in honey together.

Leshana tova tekatev v'etachetem -- May you be inscribed for a good year!

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Who is the customer, us or the bank?

Thanks to all the efforts of our supporters and donors we receive cheques in the post every day – that is when there isn’t a strike! If there is something special on we receive quite a number. They are diligently entered onto a spreadsheet and then deposited at a nearby branch of our bank.

When a colleague went to do this on Friday she was told the manager wanted to speak to her. The manager proceeded to say that depositing all these cheques was causing them a lot of work and please would we use something called cheque advantage where the cheques are then sent to a central sorting office.

We don’t really want to do this. We used to but then the bank lost a bag of cheques. Once we had established that they had lost the cheques (we were receiving calls from supporters asking why we hadn’t deposited their cheques) the obvious thing seemed to be (to the bank) for us to write to each donor and ask them to reissue the cheque. Sounds obvious until you realise the scale of the problem and think about the marathon runner: he had sent in a bunch of cheques from his friends, family and work colleagues, some were from the UK and some from abroad. After all the effort of running the marathon and then collecting the money – to write to each of them again and hope that they will be prepared to take the trouble to cancel the cheque and issue a new one – you must be joking!

After much wrangling they paid us out the amount on the deposit slip in compensation – we had evidence that they had the cheques. As it was, said marathon runner had to write to every person who supported him to tell them what happened and that we had the money anyway even though their cheques were not going to be presented. That was just one example. It cost us a huge effort and we were without the money for months.

So Ms Branch Manager – we won’t be using this service – sorry your staff will have to process the cheques.

Friday 4 September 2009

The big move

This short four-day week seems very long and I can’t say I am sorry to see the end of it.

We have been in our current offices for ten years and have just signed a new lease and taken a bit more space. We had to refurbish and for various reasons beyond our control the dates for this slipped later in the year that we would have liked. Imagine a supermarket doing major refurbishment a few weeks before Christmas – that’s us, moving three weeks before our biggest month of the year – October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM).

On Friday last week everyone packed up ready for a move over the weekend and by lunch-time on Tuesday everything was pretty much unpacked and, apart from some technical hitches, up and running. Colleagues have worked very hard (especially the IT team who worked over the bank holiday) and been very patient. We tried our best to minimise any impact on our supporters and I hope that we have not inconvenienced them too much.

As many colleagues as we could cram in, moved into the lovely new part of the offices on the second floor and eight of us squashed into a small section of the office on the third floor while the rest of the floor was stripped. The attached photo is a view from my desk.

I have had a luxury of my own office for a few years now – glass walls because I can’t bear not being able to see what is going on! It is so nice though to be back in a general office and sharing a desk pod with four colleagues. I am not sure that they appreciate my ability to talk about one thing and do another, the sighs of relief are almost audible when they see me pack up to go to an external meeting.

There has been a sense of déjà vu – reminiscent of our offices before we moved ten years ago. There were about ten of us then and we worked on odd bits of donated furniture in a decrepit office which we rented on a three month rolling lease as the building was due for demolition. There was very limited email (!) and we certainly didn’t use it internally – we could all talk to each other. Now everyone seems to email rather than talking.....

Going back even further than that, in our first BCAM we bought pink ribbon and safety pins from a well known department store and made our own pink ribbons – we now distribute hundreds of thousands every year. (Small historical note: in 1993 Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estee Lauder Companies, established the Pink Ribbon as the symbol of BCAM). I am sorry to say that it has become somewhat exploited since then, most recently by bogus charity clothing collectors, but still acts as a strong visual reminder.

Breast Cancer Campaign has come a long way since then and thankfully so has the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Women diagnosed with the disease today have a far better chance of survival and also a better quality of life as treatments have improved and we’re a step closer to beating breast cancer. However – everything is relative and while all the treatments on offer today are improved – surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy – and preferable to the consequences of not receiving treatment – they are still traumatic and some have long term negative health consequences. They also fail the 12,000 women who die each year.

So, as we approach Breast Cancer Awareness Month, breast cancer’s report card reads “some improvements but must do better”.