Gina Davidson: Reach for the stars to cure cancer

Kim Skirving will go under the knife to tackle her genetic fault. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Kim Skirving will go under the knife to tackle her genetic fault. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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PRESIDENT Obama calls it a “new moonshot”. He wants America to be the country that finally cures cancer for, he says, “the loved ones we have all lost, for the families we can still save . . .”

In his eyes, ending the scourge of cancer should be the top priority for scientists and doctors.

Given the vast variety of cancers, the miniscule places within the human body it finds to grow and develop and destroy, the growing numbers of people affected – thanks in the main to medical science helping us live longer – the possibility of finding a “cure” is about as likely as a watching a man walk on the moon.

But we, us, the wonderfully inventive, intelligent, talented, creative, wilful, determined race which we call human, did that. Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind may be a long time ago now, but if we have the technology which allows astronaut Tim Peake to float in space to repair the International Space Station then why shouldn’t we have the technology to stop cancer in its tracks?

Breast cancer is the most common form of this insidious disease, and thanks to focus and finance major breakthroughs are being made. While there’s no “cure” yet, advances in treatments are ensuring they are increasingly tailor-made to the patient, advances in testing means the smallest of cell changes can be spotted early, and advances in genetics mean tests have been devised to alert women to the possibility of developing the disease. Those who take the gene test and have a positive result have a potential if drastic “cure” in their own hands – to have their breasts removed before cancer can get any kind of hold.

It happens more often than you might think. Around 1200 women a year in the UK opt to have the risk-reducing surgery.

Two years ago, I interviewed Rochelle Gallagher who, at 27, had a double mastectomy after discovering she had the BRCA1 gene – the same which saw Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, right, undergo the identical operation. Rochelle’s own mother had breast cancer at the age of 29, and while she got through it then she later had a mastectomy when it returned in her late 40s.

Both Rochelle and her sister were tested but only she had the faulty gene. To her the operation was the only option.

At the moment, a family friend in her 40s is recovering well from a double mastectomy after she too discovered she carried the gene which would make her 90 per cent likely to have breast cancer. It was a massive decision; it’s a major operation involving the removal of the breasts, fat taken from the stomach to re-create them, blood vessels sewn back together . . . but she’s doing well. Her chances of developing the illness are now less than a woman who doesn’t have the gene.

And on Monday it was revealed that 26-year-old Kim Skirving is about to go under the knife to deal with her genetic fault. Five of her aunts and one cousin have all had breast cancer yet she had to fight to even get the gene test done.

Of course, even as a gene carrier there’s nothing definite to say any of them would have actually developed cancer. But would you take that chance with their odds? These women, and many others, took the difficult, brave decision to go under the knife.

So while the search for a cure continues, women like Rochelle and Kim are doing the right thing – taking the preventative measure they think necessary.

I have no doubt that, cell by cell, a cure for cancers will be found. After all, we put a man on the moon didn’t we?

It may be too late for all those of us who have lost family and friends. Too late as well for that other starman, David Bowie, who passed away this week. But let’s take that shot at the moon.

Killer Black will not be mourned

SUSAN Maxwell, Caroline Hogg, Sarah Harper . . . the names of three young girls aged just 11, five and ten, are carved on the nation’s collective memory.

They were all abducted and murdered by Robert Black in the early 1980s. He was finally caught in 1990 and was sentenced to 12 life sentences. Then in 2012 he was further found guilty of the murder of nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy in 1981.

Now he has died in prison at the age of 68. No-one will mourn him. The families of his victims may even rejoice.

Sadly, however, his death means that the family of Genette Tate from Devon will never know what happened to the 13-year-old. She disappeared while delivering her newspapers. That was in 1978 – 38 years of grief, of anger, of wondering what happened, where she is.

Black remained evil to the end. He should find no rest, no peace.

Care workers deserve better

THE sorry state of social care in Edinburgh was laid bare this week – 95 people dying while they waited for a care package to be implemented, 400 still waiting, 4000 hours of unmet demand for care. The statistics are appalling – the worst in Scotland – and are a stark reminder of the choices facing a council with massive cuts to find.

For they represent real people; real lives put in danger because there’s not enough money to look after our vulnerable. Even those who are lucky enough to be visited by care workers might just get to see them for five minutes before time constraints force them on to the next house.

Care staff don’t get paid well – they’d likely make more money working in a supermarket. But caring is not the same as stacking shelves and packing bags. We need to appreciate our carers, pay them properly for their specialised work and ensure that the elderly and vulnerable get as much time with them as they need. It’s the mark of a civilised society.

Fitness drive

A novel way to get rid of the festive spare tyre is to literally throw some of them around in a fitness class organised by mechanics. It seems that you can’t get fitter than a Kwik Fit fitter.