Sarah Smith, my mum, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer 18 months ago. This time last year she was stood where I am now, telling you that she was unlikely to live another 18 months. She was right, it was just 6 months.
Ovarian cancer is a deadly killer. Each year more than 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and most find out too late. You’ll hear from Alison in a moment who will tell you just how brutal late diagnosis is and why prevention is so vital. My mum wanted, and now I want, to use this precious few minutes to persuade us all to do something about this.
It’s common, when girls are asked who their inspiration is, for them to say their mum – and I hope it’s not a cliché, but my inspiration was my mum too. Amongst many, many amazing achievements, much of which I am learning of since her passing – included her running as a parliamentary candidate for Dover and Deal last May, in-spite of the disease. When she stood here last year she had a clear message to give, that I want to reinforce on her behalf. I hope she feels I can do it justice.
Ovarian cancer kills because of lack of awareness. It is not symptomless and early-stage diagnosis brings a good chance of surviving for more than 5 years, but currently most diagnoses are late stage at a terrible cost to families – and the NHS.
Women – and their GPs – too easily brush off the symptoms: bloating, digestive changes and fatigue as ‘normal for women’ or simply as signs of getting older. You can change this in your constituency. You can shine a light on this issue. You have power.
Find out where your area stands in the ovarian cancer post-code lottery – sadly there is one. Ask for numbers on early detection rates in your region. Reach out to those in your constituency hit by ovarian cancer. Arrange a summit. Ask the ovarian cancer charities for help. Invite local stakeholders: the GP Commissioning Group, the local public health team and women leaders from local business, education and the community, make a particular effort to invite young women’s groups. And of course the press. Ask constituents affected by ovarian cancer to speak. Share what you have learned about local outcomes. Before the summit closes resolve together, to improve the chances of women in your area by raising awareness in order to improve early detection.
Make your personal commitment to deliver a number of awareness raising visits with the stakeholder groups. Keep the champions motivated by monthly contact from your office and by inviting them to come to Parliament and report to Sharon and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on their progress. The Eve Appeal will help you with this.
At the end of 12 months reconvene the local summit and report back to the local press and constituents on goals achieved. You will demonstrate that you have seen the problem, acted, and made a difference – and your constituents will recognize that.
Women like my mum are dying of a horrible disease because they did not take little signs seriously – or our GPs didn’t. It’s a tragic waste of human and financial resources and you can help stop it. Please resolve now to go back to your constituencies and your workplaces and demonstrate that you are doing what you can to save your constituents and the NHS from the avoidable and terrible costs of ovarian cancer.