Why I'm taking my 212-mile 'Big Walk to Work'


On Friday May 16th 2014 I will set off from my home in Kendal and walk to my UK Head Office in Milton Keynes, some 212 miles. This will take eight days at an average of 26 miles (a marathon) a day).

The purpose of the walk is to raise awareness of the early signs of cancer. We want to raise the public's awareness of the importance of self checking regularly and looking for what may be the early signs of cancer, without being alarmist, as most symptoms will be harmless, but we want to encourage early diagnosis and the chance for greater success of treatment.

Background

You will be aware that cancer is on the increase and the news recently that there is an expectation that cancer will increase by a third over the next ten years. This will put an incredible pressure on our health resources, our economy and ultimately our wellbeing.

The inspiration for the campaign

A good friend of mine, Mike Haynes, was a conscientious citizen, looking after himself, eating healthily, exercising throughout his life, running and walking. He died last December, aged 65.

In the last three years, he participated in a number of regular health screens and particularly for bowel cancer, using both NHS and his own private health insurance, all of which missed the symptoms, until his condition developed and was diagnosed at stage four, which was too late to cure.

There are many great initiatives for breast, testicular, prostate and bowel cancer. I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who has been inspired to talk about them checking themselves. Many of my family, friends and neighbours have been struck down by this disease when it is far too late to treat.

I saw a recent report that cancer diagnosis has increased from 300,000 to 350,000 per annum, but with my own anecdotal experience of my network, so many people are diagnosed too late. Despite the success of treatment enabling greater cure and longer living, how many people are walking around un-diagnosed? Twice as many? 700,000?

So if we could encourage people to walk to work for one day a year, ask them to make themselves aware of the information available and encourage self-checking, starting the night they get home, this would be a big step forwards. There are some rich sources of clinically based advice for guidance - trusted sources include patient.info and nhs.uk, Cancer Research and CancerCare.

Meanwhile we will use the event to raise money for two worthy causes that Mike's family wanted to support - Cancer Research UK and Cancer Care.

The "Big Walk to Work" is the kick off for this "Raising Awareness of the early signs of cancer" event, and I felt it needed to be big enough to get some attention. Already many people have said they would like to join a part of the walk. Additionally, we will nominate the final day, Friday 23rd May, as the main day, whereby we encourage citizens all over the country to walk to work for themselves, for just one day a year and try to make this a national event. We'd love to have your pictures of your own walk so that we can create a pin board.

Clearly we don't want the whole country turning up at their GP's surgery the day after the event, so it we are pointing to careful and clear advice, but the main thrust of the initiative is to get people to check themselves for the first time, know what these checks should entail and then get into the habit of doing it regularly.

If we could inspire just one person to do this and they found some early signs that are diagnosed then it would all be worth it.

My friend Mike had spent more than two decades working on health informatics, working with 33 NHS Trusts. He semi-retired two years ago and helped me with an IT programme at Cancer Care which helped revolutionise the way this charity works. Additionally, he became one of the main organisers of the annual Healthcare Computing Conference.

Thinking about the enormous impact Mike had on this country, if we could extend one more life - your own perhaps, as whose work inevitably impacts on thousands of others during the period of a career - then it would be incredibly rewarding.

Mike looked after himself so he could live until he was 95. He worked hard and planned to travel the world with his partner. He never got the chance. He was diagnosed in April last year and lost his battle in December.

For more information, or to donate to Shane's "Big Walk to Work", click here.