This is going to be a reflective and sad clog. It isn’t going to be at all funny.
So if you aren’t in a great place today, perhaps better to come back to it on another occasion or maybe just miss it out altogether. Clog 9 will be back to light-hearted.
I’ve spent 30 hours in the saddle so far and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect. Something that keeps coming back, is wondering about what has motivated people to contribute.
What we are here to do something about, cancer, has moved over the past couple of decades from something nobody wanted to talk about, to where we are now – something much more out in the open but still mentioned with slightly lowered breath. Fund-raisers who have gone before us have pushed this transition along, and hopefully we will achieve a tiny bit more. It matters, because, until it can be right out in the open – not just ‘ok’ to talk about but something really important to discuss – then we will lose opportunities. Possibly the key opportunity, maybe a young, brilliant mind who decides to make it his or her career and comes up with the next most important research insight.
One of the things that has made me get off my backside and try to do something, is the inspiration I’ve had from someone prepared to be very open about their diagnosis, treatment and feelings; to demonstrate willingness to get on with life; to accept help and encouragement and to do positive things for those who may suffer in future. Unafraid to challenge their consultant and ready to talk about the dedication and humanity of the nurses managing their actual treatment.
Another is my strong sense that this is a good moment to get behind the researchers, that the science, the technology and the information management capability has developed to a point where we have the chance of a major leap forward. Cancer is not one thing. It is as many different things as there are different people. Somehow, somewhere, in everyone afflicted, a control mechanism has broken down and their own body cells have started to run amok. It is devilishly complicated because the control mechanisms that we depend on to manage our life systems from birth to old age are staggeringly complex. I know that – I trained as a biochemist at the time when the genetic double helix of Crick and Watson showed us the “start” buttons and when other researchers were beginning to unravel how our life systems are managed by layer upon layer of feed-back loops involving hormones, enzymes, nerve transmissions and membranes. Our understanding of what could have gone wrong when a cancer develops is now much greater – but that doesn’t make it any easier for the researchers, because it is all so complex. You need a “brain the size of a planet”, as Marvin would have it. Well, we are close to that too, with the coming of age of AI, artificial intelligence, and its ability to see patterns where there is more information than our own brains can handle.
Yes, I think it is a good moment to make sure that there are plenty of funds for research teams, equipment, and scientific collaborations.
Of course there are lots of other things motivating me. Pedalling along, I have thought of those I’ve known who have suffered, are suffering, are frightened of suffering, and who have died.
I’ve been thinking about mortality.
At a crossroads out in the open Provençal countryside, I came across this.
A memorial to 6 young Maquisard members of the Resistance, and a civilian who were shot by the Nazis just 5 months after I was born and who hardly had a life at all. Yet whose lives are remembered with such obvious gratitude by the community all these years later. I found myself wondering whether there may be a link between their deaths, as they sought to assist the American liberating forces, and my being here, or indeed having had any length of life at all.
On another day, I stopped for a drink from my water bottle in the 32 degree heat. Looking into the cluster of shady trees I’d stopped under, totally hidden from view, I saw this. A brand new memorial erected by the local community to a 20 year old US pilot. He was shot down in his P47 Thunderbolt just 6 days later than those 6 Maquisards were executed.
So now, even if thinking of cancer had not set me reflecting on mortality, I am thinking about what might have been and what the future may hold.
I’m thinking about how those 6 Frenchmen, this 1 American and 000’s and 000,000’s of others of many, many different nationalities, fought and died freeing us, me, from fascism and giving us, me, a life. And about how, when that war was ended, others sought to avoid future global conflict.
One of those ways has been to bring into existence a European union. I think the French, Germans, and other mainland European nations feel much more strongly than we do in the UK, the importance of that union in preventing future conflict.
But I’m not wanting to talk about conflict. I want to talk about opportunity.
Specifically about collaboration which could help to get on top of cancer. If we leave the European union, whatever you hear from our politicians, then access to funding and collaboration on scientific projects will suffer. Cancer is global, not national. Gaining on it needs input and collaboration from every leading research centre and every scientific discipline. Leaving the union will imperil communication and trust that has been slowly built up over many years.
This is one single example of what we shall lose if we walk away from the opportunities that those who died in the 1940’s created for us. It is our own ‘cancer’ example and it is a good example, because none of us was invited to think about it before we voted and yet it can be nothing less than a matter of life or death for all of us.
Sometimes, staring down from the bridge can cause an intending suicide to step back.
My tiny glimmer of hope is that, as more and more examples of things not understood or lied about before the referendum, emerge, we will realise that what is being perpetrated in the name of democracy will make lemmings of us all. Then perhaps we too will step back from the parapet.
It will need honest leaders, revolution from the people & massive change in Westminster.
Then perhaps, the talks with Brussels can be about opportunity, and not about conflict.
Please come back for Clog 9? I promise to be back to my old ways!