Thursday, 28 September 2017

Poetry on Prescription

Today is National Poetry Day in the U.K., and fortuitously it was also my regular 3 weekly chemo clinic appointment. The information display screen in the clinic included details of the hospital’s NPD activities so after my appointment I decided to take a look.

Postcards with poems printed on them were being given out at the main hospital entrance and inpatients were being given one of the cards with their lunch trays. There was a display of the poems, selected by what I assume was the event’s organising group, up on the wall outside the main entrance and arcs of excerpts from poems written on the pavement. Although I missed it, there was a poetry reading session over part of the lunch period.

Perhaps the biggest draw for those who had the time was the Emergency Poet, who would prescribe you a few poems. Totally irresistible as far as I was concerned! She was based in an old ambulance, which was interesting in its own right and still retained some of its historic fittings but also had poetry-related additions. Her ‘patients’ (a mix of the hospital’s staff, students, patients and visitors) sat on one of the stretchers with their feet up, while she sat on the opposite one. She then asked questions about your lifestyle, likes and dislikes, how you relaxed, your favourite books, and indeed, whether you usually read poetry. Nothing particularly intrusive and quite cleverly crafted questions so that you could say as much or as little as you chose. 

Based on your answers she selected some poems for you from her file of poems and wrote you a ‘prescription’ of how and where to read them. There was something rather special about coming away with a selection of poems chosen specifically for you.

As I walked to the bus stop with my prescribed anti-emetics for Monday and my prescribed poems sitting side by side in my bag, I was reminded that for many people, of whom I am one, there is an important role for the arts (poetry, visual art, music, dance …) as you go through treatment.

Monday, 11 September 2017

October looms

We’re not half way into September yet and already social media is filling with images of people with silly pink outfits and accessories grinning inanely and reducing to a joke a disease that still kills far too many women and men. 

The argument is that this somehow raises awareness. However, in reality the people who see these images are already well aware. Those in the hard to reach groups, where awareness is still needed, are rather unlikely to see them or to relate them to cancer awareness.

I’m sure that it does support opportunistic fundraising. But at what cost? If we trivialize what is a serious disease we do ourselves and the public at large no favours in the long run. The message becomes lost in the process. Some would argue that the end (fundraising) justifies the means, but that is not a position with which I am comfortable. I have no argument with the calmer statements; the fountain that runs pink during October with signage explaining why, a coffee morning/evening/fundraising event with information. It is the semi-hysterical pinked shrieking that I find so offensive.

You can still have fun while fundraising without turning things into an offensive circus. While I am no fan of Macmillan as an organisation, their World’s Biggest Coffee Morning events are usually enjoyable without trivialising cancer. The HIV community have, from the outset of their awareness and fundraising campaigns, managed to hold events that are both highly successful and thoroughly enjoyable.

Is it because we find breasts a bit embarrassing but not as unmentionable as bowels? A bit of a schoolboy giggle? The Page 3 mentality?

It is 25 years this year since Estée Lauder started their Campaign and co-founded the pink ribbon to raise awareness and funding for research. Time for the rest of us to grow up and leave the embarrassed schoolboy attitude behind the bike sheds.