Three years ago, after a long battle, my first wife Caroline died of bowel cancer.
This Sunday, along with hundreds of others, I’ll be running the London Marathon to support Cancer Research UK.
Caroline was first diagnosed in 2006 and had an operation to remove the cancer. She was diagnosed again in 2007 and had a further operation, again carried out by the same brilliant surgeon, who effectively saved her life. But the cancer came back in the spring of 2008.
We always hoped for the best, but it was a dreadful time. Caroline herself was always incredibly positive about her ability to beat the disease. She was brave and graceful throughout.
But tragically she died in July 2010.
Her death led me to end my career in the Army, and spurred me to become an MP. Balancing being an MP with looking after small children is very difficult, but possible thanks to the fantastic support of family and friends, and now with my partner.
A marathon amount of progress
I am very proud to be running the marathon in support of Cancer Research UK, whose research and trials have made a huge amount of progress against cancer. Survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years. And this progress has been felt around the whole country, including in my constituency – Barnsley Central in South Yorkshire. Since the mid-nineties Barnsley’s cancer survival rates have increased significantly, and we have some of the best bowel cancer screening attendance rates in the country. However, with over a quarter of cancer cases in Barnsley still being diagnosed through emergency routes rather than by a GP (worse than the national average), there is still more to do. Raising awareness of the importance of early diagnosis remains close to my heart, and high on Cancer Research UK’s agenda.
Tools like Cancer Research UK’s Spot Cancer Early website are helping to make the public more aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer – knowledge which has the potential to save thousands of extra lives every year. I believe that every one of us needs to be proactive in the fight against cancer, because the disease knows no boundaries.
Cancer doesn’t take into consideration a person’s wealth, social status or family circumstances. It can affect anyone at any time and so the responsibility lies with us all to unite in the fight against it.
Still more to be done
We need to keep building on the progress that has already been made. Last month we saw the shocking new figures showing that nearly 570 children now start smoking for the first time every single day, an increase on previous statistics. In Barnsley alone, around 1,100 children aged 10-14 are regular smokers, and the rate of smoking-related deaths from cancer is higher than the national average. This is why I am proud to support Cancer Research UK’s campaign for the standardised packaging of tobacco products – which would help give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.
And every hour, around three people in my home region of Yorkshire and the Humber are diagnosed with cancer. That’s a problem that’s not going to go away any time soon. Predictions show that the number of people with cancer in the UK is set to rise steeply by 2030 as the population ages. It has never been more important to support CRUK.
But now with just a few days to go, I’ve started to wish that I had found more time to do the training! Because I used to be in the Army, people assume I’ll whizz through it – I do find that amusing! In my Army days I used to have the time to stay fit – very fit. It was part and parcel of life in The Parachute Regiment. I’ve run many marathons before – including the Sahara marathon, but that was some time ago now.
The reality is that life as an MP doesn’t afford the time or the opportunity to stay fit. There is no doubt that I will be ‘digging deep’ on Sunday morning, but I’ve done that before, and I’ll do it again. One thing I’m sure of is that my Dad – a seasoned marathon runner – is going to beat me. I just hope it’s not by too much! I will also be looking out for my parliamentary colleagues, including Ed Balls and Jim Murphy who will also be running.
Despite the lack of preparation, I’m looking forward to lining up alongside thousands of marathon enthusiasts and charity fundraisers in our Cancer Research UK vests. These fantastic individuals have dedicated huge amounts of their time – both to training and fundraising. They’re taking action against cancer in the best way they can. And by running myself I’m playing my small part in contributing towards Cancer Research UK’s inspiring vision, to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
I believe that we must be bold in our attempts to combat cancer, and if I can play my small part on Sunday then I will be very proud to do so. Every donation, large or small, will make a phenomenal difference to Cancer Research UK’s work.
If you are able to support me, please visit my JustGiving page at: http://www.justgiving.com/danjarvismp