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Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone to Speak Up For Equitable Cancer Care

I Dream of A World With No Cancer Care Gaps

By Reija SillanpaaPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 4 min read
Runner-Up in We Have a Dream Challenge

I have always been a very private person. Most often I kept my feelings and thoughts to myself. I’d rather listen than speak. Ask me to speak in public and I'd break out in hives.

But then, in spring 2019, I got a cancer diagnosis. I had womb cancer, which had spread to nearby lymph nodes. I needed a full hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to get rid of the bastard that had invaded my body.

Nearly three years later and I am, thankfully, cancer free.

When I first got diagnosed, I only told my nearest and dearest.

Other than my closest family and friends, the only other people that knew were my headteacher and a few colleagues. I only told them because I had to.

Some people who knew encouraged me to write a blog, share my experiences. At first I said no. It was far too personal to share with the world.

But I reached out for support. I needed to hear from those who had also been affected by cancer. And I found an incredible cancer community on the social media.

Their advice and support helped me enormously. There is strength in numbers, in knowing that you are not alone.

As the cancer community I found gave me strength, my wish to give something back grew.

I am still on that path of giving back and showing my support to those affected by cancer. It is a journey that has required me to step outside my comfort zone and to speak up.

When I got diagnosed, I was lucky to live in the UK with a fantastic National Health Service. It meant that I didn’t have to worry about the cost of cancer care. I could focus on my treatments and getting better without worrying about losing my home or getting into debt.

I had access to a great team of health practitioners and best treatment on the NHS

Not everyone is so lucky. There are huge differences in the quality and cost of cancer care around the world.

A cancer fighter in America who I know through social media, was recently put on a different oral chemo drug to try to stop the spread of her cancer. The cost of this drug is over $2000 a month with insurance. Without insurance, it would have cost more than she earns a month as a teacher.

A matter of surviving shouldn’t be a matter of finances. Cancer care should be free for all, no matter who you are or where you live.

But the cancer care gap is not just about the cost of treatment.

The theme for the World Cancer Day (4th of February) this year was “Close the care gap”.

With one in two people getting cancer at some point in their life, we need equitable health care for everyone.

This is achievable.

“We will achieve health equity when every person has the opportunity to reach his or her full health potential without barriers or limitations created by social position or other socially determined circumstances.” World Cancer Day

According to World Cancer Day, there are seven barriers to fair cancer care:

  • Social and cultural norms and stereotypes relating to gender;
  • Minority populations and racism;
  • Poverty;
  • The divide between rural and urban areas;
  • Age;
  • Being a refugee;
  • Identifying as LGBTQI.

You can read about these barriers in more detail on World Cancer Day website.

I would also add the lack of awareness on the list of barriers.

While there is a lot of information available on breast cancer, there is still relatively little information readily available on gynecological cancers. How many people have heard of vulvar cancer, for example? Or that there are five different gynecological cancers?

That is why I am stepping outside my comfort zone and speaking up.

We need to know the symptoms for gynecological cancers. I didn’t and my cancer had already spread by the time I was diagnosed.

The survival rate for womb cancer when diagnosed at stage one is around 95% (depending on your source). But way too often, the diagnosis happens at a later stage due to lack of awareness.

Lack of awareness in patients and in doctors. Especially when the patient is a younger woman, and therefore seen as too young for womb cancer, the symptoms are often misdiagnosed. I have heard this too many times in the cancer community.

We need to know our own bodies and be our own advocates. We need to know the symptoms and know when to seek medical advice.

I have a dream of a world where everyone can receive the care they need regardless of their situation. A dream where we live in a world where cancer is no longer a threat.

My partner and I cycle 5,518 kilometres across Europe to raise awareness of womb cancer and money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity

I am here today because I had a doctor who listened to my concerns. A team of healthcare practitioners who ensured I had the best treatment. I had access to the drugs I needed. And I had it all for free.

Everyone deserves the same chance. That is why I am stepping outside my comfort zone and speaking up. I take every opportunity to share my story, to raise awareness and money for research.

We all can play a part in creating a world with no gaps in cancer care. You, too, can speak up to raise awareness and to challenge stigma and discrimination.

Let’s all dream of a world where everyone can get the same cancer treatments regardless of their gender, social or economical status or their sexual identity.

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About the Creator

Reija Sillanpaa

A wise person said, "Be your own audience". Therefore, I write fiction, poetry and about matters important and interesting to me. That said, I warmly welcome you into my audience.

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    Reija SillanpaaWritten by Reija Sillanpaa

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