We can’t let cancer become ‘forgotten C’ in face of Covid – Lynda Thomas

THE name Macmillan Cancer Support is instantly recognisable, it’s fair to say that most people have been touched by Macmillan’s support in one form or another.

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on cancer treatment, the head of a leading charity has warned.

I honestly believe I have the best job in the world and feel privileged and humbled to lead Macmillan, a charity that touched the lives of nine million people last year.

Back in the spring when it became clear that Covid-19 was here to stay, Macmillan, like so many charities, had to work hard to adapt so that we could continue to be there for people with cancer.

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Right now, there are around 179,000 people living with cancer across Yorkshire, and this number is expected to grow to 288,000 within the next 10 years. Cancer isn’t going anywhere and, despite Covid-19 being in the spotlight this year, we cannot let cancer become the “forgotten C”.

Macmillan Cancer Support's annual raceday at York was an early casualty of the Covid lockdown.

People are still being diagnosed with cancer every day across Yorkshire – these people are at the heart of our plans to make sure we support them every step of the way. 

One example of this is the incredible work of my colleagues on the Macmillan Support Line, based in Shipley. As the country was asked to ‘‘stay home and protect the NHS’’ back in March, our Macmillan Support Line team were quickly set up with the equipment they needed to continue running our vital service from home within 48 hours.

We knew from the callers to the support line that the lack of clear information about Covid-19 and cancer was causing people living with the disease extra anxiety, so we quickly created an information hub on our website.

As we continued to adapt, we began to see the devastating impact that coronavirus was going to have on our income. We saw fundraising events delayed or cancelled, such as our single biggest fundraiser Macmillan’s York Race Day, which raised £660,000 in 2019. Then social distancing and lockdowns took effect and the public’s usual ways of supporting Macmillan dried up.

The sun rises over a field of sunflowers at the Copas turkey farm near Cookham, in Berkshire, the flowers are free for members of the public to pick with a donation being asked for towards the Macmillan Cancer Support charity as it looks for new ways to raise vital funds.

As a charity that’s 98 per cent funded by the public, we had to act. We took immediate steps: introducing a recruitment freeze, furloughing staff, cutting budgets, closing a number of our offices and suspending the annual salary review. 

Despite the best efforts of our supporters, these measures were not enough to plug the hole in our income left by Covid-19 and we expect to be down by £175m by the end of 2022.

It was with huge sadness that we announced proposals to make 310 redundancies earlier this month. Without doubt this was the saddest day of my 19-year career at Macmillan. People are the beating heart of Macmillan and this was a devastating decision to have to make in order to protect critical cancer services, such as Macmillan nurses and the Macmillan Support Line. 

Our number one priority is to support people affected by cancer and there has never been a more terrifying time to receive a cancer diagnosis.

Despite the challenges we’ve faced during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve managed to do things that we wouldn’t have thought possible before the pandemic. The charity is being braver and more creative to find ways that we can bring in vital funds.

We’ve created brilliant new fundraising products, such as Game Heroes, that have taken off during lockdown and it’s been truly humbling to see the people who love Macmillan come out to support us when so many people are strapped for cash and worried about the future. 

I’ve heard incredible stories of people across Yorkshire who have raised unbelievable sums for Macmillan, people such as Paul McIntyre, a police officer from South Yorkshire, who sadly lost his wife Steph to cancer in June and who has raised over £24,000 in her memory. I’m humbled that Paul would continue fundraising for Macmillan at this time and want to send him my heartfelt thanks.

Stories like this speak of the generosity of the public at what is a worrying and unsettling time for us all. One thing is certain the charity sector is absolutely critical, and we are needed now more than ever.

Macmillan has been around for more than 100 years and we’re not going anywhere – because people across Yorkshire still need us.

Lynda Thomas is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

If you have been affected by cancer you can call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 239 06 25, seven days a week, 8am-8pm, or visit www.macmillan.org.uk. To donate to Macmillan Cancer Support call 0300 1000 200, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, or visit www.macmillan.org.uk/donate

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