Like so many stories relating to charity support, this one concerns itself with family matters. Firstly with the birth of the Royal Marsden hospitals, and secondly with how they have come to help me and my family.
William Marsden, the founder of the two specialist cancer hospitals in Fulham and Sutton was left bereft after the death of his wife from the disease. This deeply personal tragedy propelled Marsden from his position as a surgeon at St Bart’s, to the founder of a newly built facility on Cannon’s Row, then to a second facility in Fulham, and lastly to the facility now in Sutton. To give rise to one hospital would be achievement enough for any single person, but to convince backers to fund three at a time when cancer research was barely considered a specialism, shows both the determination of Marsden himself, as well as the regard in which he was held by his peers.
Today the hospitals serve as world class research facilities, literally at the bleeding edge of research into cancer treatments, and cancer care. Between them they balance care for patients using relatively commonplace pharmaceutical pathways, with those who volunteer to take new trial drugs in the hopes of contributing to the future of cancer treatments. Much like the brave and vital people currently assisting in human Covid 19 trials, we’re reminded of the selflessness and courage required of the sick to trust the oncologists with their health and comfort.
But despite cancer being one of the most critical areas in public health research by almost any measure, these sites remain critically underfunded. A story all too common, but any visit to either of the Marsden hospitals will attest to this. The buildings are woefully neglected and legacy or charitable donations make up a vital part of their annual income. Facts such as these are at risk of becoming cliche, so common are they, but unless they are repeated these statements lose their impact.
My personal story regarding the Marsden concerns both parents. Both are fortunate enough to live within hailing distance of a Marsden hospital where Dad was treated for prostate cancer, and Mum twice for colon cancer. Thankfully Mum and Dad received positive outcomes to their treatments, but also (and this really is the crux of the issue), this was in no small way a result of the good fortune of living where they do.
It’s a ‘postcode lottery’ – another phrase at risk of becoming cliche, but again one that bears repeating. Both parents having experience of previous cancers at other less august facilities, know the vastly different picture that less specialised facilities paint. The care is always exceptional – this is after all the NHS – but it is the pharmacology and the oncology that varies, and that is the variable that most affects the outcome of cancer patients. Being proximate enough, and being sufficiently aware of ‘The Marsden’ meant that we were able to shift treatment a few miles down the road and benefit from the best minds in the business.
Facilities like the Marsden really are where the breakthroughs will come – and those breakthroughs really will change the face of medicine. The alleviated pressure on the NHS caused by these breakthroughs will allow funding and expertise to be deployed in other areas, allowing for breakthroughs in other conditions to be made – and so the trickle down effect of tackling the most pernicious condition affecting us in the West will be felt everywhere.
It’s one of the most wonderful things about Britain – the way in which we come to gather to support charitable efforts. Travel only the smallest distance away from these shores and you’ll discover how this isn’t the same everywhere you go – quite the opposite in some countries where self-interest is not only commonplace, but quite normal. There’s a reason why the NHS has never run out of blood in this country. We understand the selfless necessity of it – you don’t lose and pint, but someone else gains one. The chances are you’ll need some at some point and so the virtuous circle continues. If charitable support for places such as these is what’s required, then we’re up to the task.
If you’re reading this and you have the ability, please donate even the smallest amount.It’s habit forming when you do, and as habits go, there are far worse ones you could adopt. Do it because it makes you feel better. Or do it because someone you’ll never meet will feel better as a result. Either way, please do it.