I have advanced prostate cancer and, when it was diagnosed two years ago, I was told it had spread to my bones and was incurable. It will kill me. Cancer patients faced with such a stark prognosis may hope and pray for a ‘magic’ treatment which will cure them but most recognise that, if finding a cure quickly is a remote prospect, there may be some chance that their disease can be ‘managed’ by new drugs in ways which will significantly extend their lives.
Recent decisions of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) not to fund certain life–extending cancer treatments on the grounds of cost have reawakened the debate on the value of an individual human life. Since 2012, 22 new cancer drugs have been rejected for use by NICE. What price should we pay to extend a life and should that price vary according to the age, infirmity or economic usefulness of the patient? Or should the amount of extra life be the key variable? Is there an absolute limit to what we agree to spend and how should that be calculated?
Anhedonia sounds like a small, faraway country of which we know little but nobody would ever want to visit it. In psychiatry and psychology it refers to a mental state where the individual is incapable of experiencing pleasure and, as such, is a key symptom of clinical depression. Depression and cancer are, of course, commonly associated in the public mind.
Despite greater public education, the word cancer still has a chilling effect. When your doctor tells you have cancer, it therefore comes as a shock and that shock frequently takes some time to wear off. A cancer diagnosis may first be greeted with a stunned disbelief and a refusal to believe that it could happen to you. With many people, disbelief gives way to anger and the inevitable ‘why me’ question.
Although patients who have cancer are routinely referred to in the mass media as ‘victims’, many are able, as I was, to accept the diagnosis and adapt to its implications for their families and lifestyle within a few weeks. But whatever improvements have been made in recent years in treating particular cancers, it is foolish to pretend that a cancer diagnosis is anything other than a life-changing event and those so diagnosed are entitled to feel sad and down for a period.
Is anyone surprised?
Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term as President of FIFA, football’s global governing federation. At the age of 78, you might think Mr Blatter would be ready for a relaxing retirement, but that would be to underestimate the attractiveness of jobs with such organisations.
Perhaps you think he must be really dedicated to football - or perhaps you believe he is keen to hang on to his generous compensation package for as long as possible. I say generous because, although FIFA claims to be a transparent organisation, we are not allowed to know what it is. Mr Blatter has hinted it is over a million dollars a year; others estimate nearer five million dollars.
His Brazilian predecessor, Joao Havelange, served no less than 24 years as President of FIFA and only abruptly retired at the age of 82, when a series of corruption allegations concerning FIFA’s former marketing partners, ILS, were about to come to court.
I’ve had a very good, even charmed, life. I have been personally fulfilled and professionally successful. I have a wonderful, wonderful wife, seen my four children grow into great adults and I am now blessed with five lovely grandchildren. I’ve travelled extensively, worked in many countries and spent three years swanning around the world giving talks on cruise ships.
What could possibly go wrong? Having felt a little stiff and having some loss of appetite in 2012 I was devastated to be told that not only did I have prostate cancer but it had spread to my bones and was incurable. What is it like to be told you have ‘advanced prostate cancer’ and to see the bone scan results with graphic, chilling evidence of cancer deposits all over your bones? Terrible! I felt vulnerable, isolated, frightened and depressed.
My entire family has been tremendously supportive and I have been touched by offers of support from friends and acquaintances. But I knew I would have to find the strength to deal with this myself. The ‘why me?’ question is hard to resist but, of course, pointless. I realised long ago that life isn’t fair. It is what it is and you just have to get on with it but that is sometimes easier said than done.
The mass media in general and the tabloid press in particular seem fixated on women and murder. If the victim is young and attractive, the tabloids get over-excited and, if the accused is also young and attractive, it creates a media feeding frenzy.
The recent decision of an Italian court to ‘re-convict’ the American student, Amanda KNOX, along with Raffaele SOLLECITO for the gruesome murder of British student, Meredith KERCHER in Perugia in November, 2007, has given rise to another wave of sexist and misogynistic journalism in both Italy and Britain. Amanda KNOX has been subjected to unprecedented but sustained character assassination for more than six years.
KNOX is habitually portrayed in the media as a femme fatale, as sex obsessed and the motive for murder put forward at the original trial was ‘erotic sexual violence’ possibly connected to Satanism. The overwhelming focus has been on KNOX while both her co-accused, SOLLECITO AND GUEDE, have been virtually ignored by the mass media.
The recent decision by Barclays Bank to increase the amounts paid in bonuses to their investment bankers has once more called into question the operations of banks and bank leaders.
It is generally acknowledged that the unprecedented world financial crisis of 2008 was the result of unprincipled and irresponsible behaviour in the banking and finance sectors culminating in the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in the USA and Northern Rock in the UK.
Bankers, who were once thought to be prudent and conservative figures in society, were discovered to be behaving like compulsive gamblers in Las Vegas while hooked on crystal meth. They traded bundles of financial products and sold them globally as triple AAA investments when, in reality, many consisted in dodgy mortgages and loans made to people who were either speculating wildly or who were simply not equipped to repay.
In preparing my talks about the Profumo Affair, I became something of an admirer of Marilyn (Mandy) Rice-Davies. Her intelligence, tenacity and wit shone through a rather tawdry story of rich men and their excesses. Her response in the trial of Stephen Ward to the assertion that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her was ‘he would, wouldn’t he?’ This pithy, priceless retort became and remains part of British popular culture and appears in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
So it was interesting to read in a letter from a once eminent Conservative, Sir Ivan Lawrence Q.C., in the Times( 19th January, 2013) that claimed Mandy never said these words. According to his hand-written notes, (he was a pupil to Stephen Ward’s barrister), she said something much more mundane. He claims she said,’ Of course it’s not untrue that I have had relations with Lord Astor. I’m not going to perjure myself in court’.
The recent High Court judgement affirming the Home Secretary’s earlier decision to reject Barry George’s application for compensation is nothing short of outrageous.
Barry George was convicted of the murder of the TV presenter, Jill Dando, in 2001, but a second appeal resulted in his conviction being quashed because the apparently decisive forensic evidence regarding gunshot residue was deemed by the Appeal Court judges to have no evidential value.
Despite the fact that George had already spent 8 years in prison, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that it would retry George without the residue evidence. Their case was flimsy and amounted to little more than claiming that George had a ‘bad character’ with convictions for harassment and assault and that he had been seen in the street some hours before the murder. As George lived nearby and walked the streets of Fulham a lot of the time and his most recent conviction occurred at least 16 years before the murder of Dando, this was hardly compelling evidence.