Friday 30 October 2009

wear it pink® - text PINK to 81400 and donate £2*

The last Friday in October is the day for our national fundraising campaign to raise money for breast cancer research. Thousands of people all across the UK will be wearing something pink and donating at least £2 to beat breast cancer.

Yes it does seem frivolous and it is a bit of fun but doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the disease or the urgency of the research it will fund. If it helps us raise close to a third of our income – that isn’t frivolous.

Many of our corporate supporters have told us how it helps team building and gives a purpose to a dress down day as well has being incredibly easy to do. We are no different. Everyone is wearing something pink today. In true British tradition, the men are as likely to go down the pink tutu and angel wings route and one brave soul is wearing a sleeveless pink shift to go with his pink wig and six inch pink platforms (all of which are alarmingly fetching) – but the beard grown in defence rather gives the game away. We will all be contributing our £2 of course.

October is our busiest month of the year and although today is no less busy this bit of light heartedness has relaxed everyone. Happily I wear a lot of pink anyway so a pink shirt and pink jacket were just waiting to be worn although my pink clogs are probably not normal business wear.

At 11 o’clock is the finale of the October bake-off where every Friday different teams are bringing in cakes they have made and this has revealed some very talented bakers. Then there is a raffle and also a jigsaw which you win if you pick out the numbered piece – fitting as of course our logo is a puzzle piece and our aim is to put in the missing pieces of the puzzle that is breast cancer.

Frivolous - yes; great atmosphere in the office – yes; forgetting the reason why we are doing this – no; doing something about it – of course!

*If you text PINK to 81400 you will be donating £2 to breast cancer research – and it will cost you £2 in addition to your normal network charge for a text message. Go on – you know you want to.

Monday 26 October 2009

A mega mega-raid – update

When all the cash was counted past midnight on Friday – we raised a record £50,617.82. Volunteers came and went from early in the morning to support the team until the last penny was counted – a mammoth effort. I guiltily admit that I wimped out just after 7.00 – so well done to everyone.

Friday 23 October 2009

Mega-Raid and mini-rant

Today is one of my favourite days of the year when I down normal tools and become a volunteer. It is our annual mega-raid where Raggies (students!) descend on London and collect for us in a number of central stations to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month and next week’s wear it pink. They collect the money and we support them which means that almost every member of staff is involved because they want to know how much each team has collected at the end of the day.

Our Community team has the logistics of this down to a fine art. One staff team comes equipped with back packs and travels all over central London collecting cash and bringing it back to base. The other team takes over our main meeting room and counts and bags the money. That’s the best bit and I elbow my way in to make sure that I get to operate one of the cash counting machines. The money is then banked by the third team.

As I write this during the afternoon we have already passed the £25,000 total and we will work until all the money has been counted and taken away.

It is also an opportunity for me to talk to some of our volunteers and members of staff that I don’t normally spend much time with and also to forget about the nightmare that is the Royal Mail strike. We were savaged by this a couple of years ago and here we go again – just at the time when we need the mail the most. We have volunteers all over the country who are going to great lengths to raise money for us – we raise over a third of our income this month – and they can’t get the materials they need and are frustrated, as are we. We have had to resort to much more expensive ways of sending things which isn’t how we should be spending our money.

It isn’t just business that is affected by this – charities are as well. We have staff who work nights and weekends without overtime. We are incredibly grateful for all our supporters, volunteers and staff at this time of year. As much as strikes like this are complex issues, the inadvertent impact for organisations like ours is less funds, and in our case that’s less money for life saving research.

To our supporters, I say please bear with us through this period if your fundraising materials haven’t arrived and we all hope the strike is resolved as soon as possible.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Unknown unknowns...

They laughed at Donald Rumsfeld when he came out with his quote - “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”

I am not a fan of his for a number of reasons but this was wiser that we gave credit for at the time. I was reminded of it by the
Annual Report of the Chief Scientist of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) who quotes it in relation to food safety. The FSA was set up in the wake of the BSE crisis to restore consumer trust in the safety of the UK food supply. BSE was an unknown unknown. Until the 1980s we didn’t know about it and also didn’t know that we needed to know about it.

Organisations like the FSA and charities like ours involved in medical research do what is called “horizon scanning”. Is there anything out there which could be a risk but which we haven’t thought of yet? In breast cancer we are identifying risk factors which no one knew were risk factors – what we do about them is another matter – but “knowing” takes us a step closer to beating breast cancer.

This also came to mind as a colleague is pregnant. When I had my children some time ago there was little advice on diet. What we “knew” then was based on very little evidence, my suspicion is that it may have swung too far over the other way – but that’s my personal opinion and not an informed one.

I was told that spina bifida was caused by potato blight (it isn’t, we now know that you can reduce the incidence by taking folic acid) so avoided potatoes for the pregnancy. I was also told to eat liver at least once a week (no – no – too much vitamin A) and didn’t drink because it made me feel nauseous (as did coffee and tea) rather than because it wasn’t good for the baby. Shellfish, soft cheese, uncooked eggs – none of these were considered a problem. On the other hand we accepted a higher rate of miscarriage and also, if you couldn’t become pregnant it was a misfortune but there was nothing that could be done.

I wonder what unknown unknowns are still out there lurking.......

Read Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist FSA, blog

Wednesday 14 October 2009

After the ball is over...

The fifteenth Pink Ribbon Ball, Breast Cancer Campaign’s flagship event and the highlight of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was on Saturday night and was hugely successful. We raised over £160,000 (so far) which is extraordinary in these times. My claim to fame is that I have been at all 15 and each year I think that it can’t possibly get better and it does.

We have a great committee and an excellent team in-house and a ton of volunteers – it doesn’t just happen.

Martine McCutcheon was our first ever patron of the Pink Ribbon Ball and was truly a star on the night, speaking movingly and talking to everyone with great enthusiasm and she looked amazing (see the photo). She also drew the raffle and gave first prize to the winner – a five night stay for two in Florence.

Hollyoaks actor Kevin Sacre successfully bid for a painting of a flamenco dancer in the silent auction for his fiancée Camilla Dallerup (Strictly Come Dancing). Camilla very kindly agreed to pose for a picture with a group of male guests who each donated £100 to the charity for having their picture taken with her.

One of our long-term supporters, Kirste Snellgrove, spoke about her own experience with breast cancer and how it hasn’t stopped her running 18 marathons since she was first diagnosed. Linford Christie and singer Sonique presented her with a bouquet of flowers (see picture) and many hugs.

Watch out for Now magazine for coverage.

It was nearly 3am when I got to bed and when I woke up on Sunday morning I was relieved that I rarely drink alcohol – the thought of being exhausted and hung-over is too much to contemplate.

P.S. The title of this blog is from an 1890s music-hall song - a sad tale – check Wiki. I could have used another song from that era - “It's three o'clock in the morning, we've danced the whole night thru” – but I didn’t dance. It is not that I am over 100 years old, I just seemed to have absorbed these lyrics by some process of osmosis.

Friday 9 October 2009

NGR-1 at Number 10 Downing Street

I was at Number 10 last night with our Chair of Trustees, Isla Smith and our celebrity supporters, Diana Moran, Linford Christie and Angelica Bell. There was a wide range of people with an interest in breast cancer to celebrate the achievements of research and care with the Prime Minister and Sarah Brown. These included not only our celebrity supporters but also representatives from the main charities involved in various aspects of breast cancer, the breast screening service, scientists, clinicians, nurses, volunteers and patients.

Sarah Brown spent a lot of time talking to the guests – she said to Angelica and me that the PM had only decided to do this a couple of weeks ago because not only was it Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) but he felt that we didn’t do enough to celebrate our achievements.

He spoke about various groups and the work they do and then about research in the UK and “even this week there has been work published on a new gene NGR-1”. I quite shamelessly elbowed my way towards him at the end of the speech and said that, firstly this was research we supported and secondly that the government needs to support the Charity Research Support Fund otherwise ground-breaking research like this will not be supported to the same extent in the future. We won’t let it rest there and will continue campaigning – so much done and so much more to do. See our report Full Economic Costing.

It was a great feeling to be there – there are so many people working really hard to make life better for women with breast cancer and we do focus very much on what still needs to be done rather than achievements in the past. We have our next Scientific Advisory Board meeting in November when they will be deciding on the next round of research grants – so much to do.

The week isn’t over yet – tomorrow is our Pink Ribbon Ball. It is the highlight of BCAM and a huge amount of effort for the committee, volunteers and staff. The Ball is like the swan – serene and beautiful on the surface and paddling like mad underneath.

Campaign hits the headlines

If you read my blog on Monday 5 October you will have seen the information about the research which Dr Paul Edwards from the University of Cambridge has just published in the American journal Oncogene.

The story made front page headlines in the Daily Telegraph and was featured in the Daily Mail, The Times, The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, London Lite and The Evening Standard. It was also featured on BBC News Health online and the websites of all the national newspapers including The Guardian and The Scotsman.

It is exciting research and it is gratifying to see such a great response from the press to something which is significant and yet quite technical. The impact of this research on breast cancers and possibly a number of other cancers is still in the future but it takes us a step closer.

You can't be in this office and not be aware of BCAM and wear it pink - our major fundraising initiative on the last Friday of October. The Scottish Sun (see picture) brought together research, wear it pink and even politics (or at least politicians) in this month where politics is also high on the agenda.

But - the Parties are over....

The political party conference season that is: Breast Cancer Campaign worked in collaboration with Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer to host a breakfast forum at each conference to discuss health inequalities in people affected by breast cancer. They were very well attended and it was gratifying to see the interest from all of the parties. There are many successes in the field of breast cancer but there are still inequalities in knowledge, in treatment and very worryingly in outcomes.

There were not only politicians around the table but also a range of experts. All the discussion will be pulled together by our teams and we will act to address these inequalities during what will no doubt prove to be an interesting year. As the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, said in his speech to the Health Hotel on Monday night - this time we know that there will be an election before the next party conference season.

Nobel Prize for Chemistry

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been won by a woman for only the fourth time in its history.

Professor Ada Yonath, from the Weizmann Institute of Science shares the prize with Professor Ramakrishnan of Cambridge and Professor Steitz from Yale. The prize was won for their work on the ribosome's translation of DNA information into life. The significance of this is that ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms. As ribosomes are crucial to life, they are also a major target for new antibiotics.

Absolutely crucial to their research was the use of X-ray crystallography.

My all-time hero was Marie Curie who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. It is thanks to her work that today we have radiation treatment for breast cancer and X-rays for diagnosis. Her story is fascinating and reveals the commitment and dedication added to brilliance which is what characterises leading scientists: genius is not enough.

They were an extraordinary family – she and her husband, Pierre, were awarded half the Physics Prize for their research on the radiation phenomenon which was discovered by Henri Becquerel (who won the other half of the prize). Marie Curie was then awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discoveries and studies of the elements radium and polonium. She is the only woman so far, who has been awarded the Nobel Prize twice.

She was also a single mother – her husband was killed in an accident when their daughters were only eleven and two. She was subsequently made the first woman Professor at the Sorbonne. Their daughter, Irène Curie, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 with her husband Frédéric Joliot, in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements.

An amazing story and links into this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry where the use of X-ray crystallography played such a key role.

Breast Cancer Campaign's logo is a puzzle piece because research is like putting all the pieces of a puzzle together: the pieces are all there, we need to find our how they fit. This week research we supported found another piece of the puzzle which will lead us to better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of breast cancer.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

The value of transparency

I am a member of the Human Tissue Authority and ten days ago I attended one of our regular meetings. This was one of the two meetings we hold in public each year. It is a little strange to start off with but within a few minutes the meeting takes its shape. (If you are a fan of reality TV you will realise how quickly the participants forget that there is an audience!)

The meetings are always interesting and stimulating and with such a wide range of people with different backgrounds on the Authority there is neither a lack of differing views nor a reluctance to express them.

One particularly thorny issue is the question of informed consent with live organ donation. If, as has now happened, it is found that two people who believed that they were genetically related are not – does that change the view of informed consent? For example, if a father agrees to donate an organ to a child and then finds out that he is not the father – you could argue that the basis on which he gave his consent has changed.

There were many different views and as many proposed solutions and there is still much discussion to be had to resolve how we deal with this in the future - but we agreed that consent cannot be presumed to exist.

I was gratified to hear from one of the audience at the end how pleased he was to hear a robust debate between the members. This is why transparency is so important - it is the way of all our meetings where differing views are expressed openly and debated thoroughly but unless you see it for yourself how would you know.

Monday 5 October 2009

Big steps, little steps

We all arrived at work on October 1 to find a pink item on our desks to be worn that day. This was to remind us that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) and wish everyone luck with their activities during the month. The more successful our fund-raising the more research we can support and we will be able to take giant steps instead of little steps. (I am reminded of a game I used to play with my children when they were small which involved giant steps and little steps to get to the winning line).

OK – this is not the most sophisticated analogy and you don’t solve problems by throwing money at them but breast cancer is one problem which does need money wisely invested to take us a step closer to a solution. We have a brilliant Scientific Advisory Board and only the best research gets funded. In fact one of our research projects publishes its results today in the journal Oncogene. Research done by Dr Paul Edwards in Cambridge has identified a breast cancer ‘guard’ gene which will help us understand how normal breast cells become cancerous.

There are very interesting genes called “tumour suppressor genes” – they do what it says – suppress the action of a cell which is trying to become cancerous. If they fail then cancer develops. Dr Edwards has discovered a tumour suppressor gene called NRG1 which is damaged in over half of all breast cancers. As Arlene Wilkie, Director of Research and Policy at Breast Cancer Campaign said, “Knowing the identity of this gene will lead to far more detailed studies of how it works and how it is involved in breast cancer development. This research is a major step forward in understanding the genetics of cancer and could open up a host of new strategies to improve diagnosis and treatment.”

A giant step forward but only the first of many which need to be taken – so roll on BCAM and let us hope that we raise lots of money!

Read the BBC News story about the research done by Dr Edwards.