Teenagers: who should be teaching who?

Last Friday, we went to the Cape Town Marinba Festival.  This is an annual event.  Cape Town school
marimba bands get to play separately and then finish together at the Baxter theatre.  Maybe I am biased but in my opinion St George's Grammar School have an excellent marimba band.

Perhaps the most impressive though, was amaWolseley.  They are newly formed band comprising of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They have picked up their skills quickly.  They were polished, vibrant and really got the audience going.

In October, 2011, the National Geographic carried an article about the teenage brain.  I quote from that issue, "In scientific terms, teenagers can be a pain in the ass. But they are quite possibly the most fully crucially adaptive human beings around"  They are at a "now" stage of their lives.

Stephen Sutton

That must be so true for Stephen Sutton.  Stephen is a 19 year old from the UK who was diagnosed with bowel cancer aged 15.  Since then, he has had many operations and repeated cycles of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  Rather than stay out of the public domain, he has decided that he should make a difference to the world before he dies.  He aimed to raise £10 000: he has now raised over £2.7 million for a teenage cancer charity.  On Tuesday, he posted what he thought would be his final facebook message and has since posted that he is a little better, has rallied somewhat and is able to eat and drink again.  A 10 minute you tube video summarises his story.

Living with teenagers is intense.  There is an overwhelming sense of immediacy governing everything.  I cannot imagine what it must be like having a son, whose days are limited, giving his time to ensuring he has made a difference to the world.

We think that we need to teach teenagers.  Maybe we should spend more time learning from them. 


The price of experience

Gone are the days of well crafted letters that arrive in the post box.  For me, the mail usually brings bills/parking tickets. Yesterday, I received a parcel in the post.  I love getting parcels.  The parcel was Mike Marqusee's new book: The Price of Experience:Writings on Living with Cancer.

I have blogged about Mike before.  He is a well known author, a native New Yorker, now living and working in London.  Multiple myeloma was diagnosed in 2007.  Up until then, most of his writing covered sport, culture and politics.  He didn't start writing about his illness until 2 years after his diagnosis.  His latest book is a collection of his articles describing his life with cancer: the language used to talk about cancer, the politics of the health service and the drug companies as well as more intimate glimpses into some of his own thoughts.

"A cancer diagnosis marks a sharp discontinuity in life, but it doesn't mean you cease being who you were before you had the cancer: the passions, engagements, anxieties, prejudices, bad habits do not suddenly become redundant.....In reflecting on my experience, I've done so not just as a cancer patient but as a citizen and human being enmeshed in a network of relationships"

It is a wonderfully written book combining the politics of health with the experience of having cancer.

I got to know Mike through his partner Liz Davies who has been a friend of mine since University days.  In 2012, he published a book of poetry"Street Music".  Some poems deal with his disease and treatment.  Others are love poems written to Liz.  She warned me that I would cry when I first read them and she was right.  It has taken some me some time to read them again.  I read the poem "The wait will not be long" at our last poetry lunch.

The wait will not be long

I hear the rustle of the bicycle returning to its shed
the thrust and clunk of lock and bolt.

Indoors and all at once, the weather shifts,
like an orchestra changing key.

I hear carpet-thumps, muffled bumps,
and a sigh.

I hear the winter coat dropped to the floor
and a hurried rush to the loo.

She brings in warmth from the cold outside,
she melts ice within.

She's invisible but near: my protector, my mediator
-my central heating.

The price of Experience has just been published and is available from the publisher.  "Street Music" is available from Amazon.


The selfie

Over the last few weeks, there has been a craze of posting a selfie on any social media platform (#nomakeupselfie), SMSing a number and so donating £3 to Cancer Research UK.  A massive amount of money has been raised.  I am not sure exactly how much but £8 m is the highest number I have seen.

The story behind the selfie campaign is fascinating.  Kim Norak's appearance at the Oscars seems to have frightened many women and as a result of that there was a campaign to take a selfie without

 Fiona Cunningham, a young women from Stoke on Trent, opened a face book page encouraging people to donate £3 to Cancer Research UK when they published a picture of themselves. The idea appealed to many and so a staggering amount of money was raised.  The story is not without it's interesting aspects: money was mistakenly given to the WWF when the word BEAR was SMSed rather than BEAT and some money ended up with Unicef.  Both of them are worthy recipients.

Cancer Research UK had tried a similar campaign sometime ago and it fell flat on it's face.  I am not sure why it was such a phenomenal success this time and doubtlessly, there will be follow up studies looking at the importance of timing.
Fiona Cunningham

It is easy to be dismissive of such a campaign.  Detractors have pointed out that appearing without makeup does not make you feel the same way as you do whilst getting chemotherapy.

As a stranger to mascara and lipstick, I virtually always appear without makeup on.  I would like to remind people that taking a selfie without make up on first thing in the morning is not the same as taking a selfie at other times of day whilst not wearing make up.  Even those of us who do not use cosmetics have a first-thing-in-the-morning face.

What will the money be used for?  Cancer Research UK have said that it will use the money to get 10 projects on the go.  What would you use the money for?  Having spent an increasing amount of time with women living with metastatic breast cancer, I sincerely hope that some of the money will go towards developing drugs with less side effects.

I was going to end the blog with a selfie taken of myself and my colleague and friend Dr Elmin Steyn.  We took it at the UB40 concert on Friday night. (My boys came with me and thought the band should be renamed Uwere60). However, having seen the result, I will spare the internet from seeing yet another poor quality selfie!

Did you take part in the campaign?  Please let me know what you think about it.


Breast Care book

I am sure all of you have had various memorable moments in your lives.  I remember when I became a Dr, then a mother and a surgeon.  This week, I became an author!  I was surprised how much it thrilled me to see my name on the cover of a book.  The list of people involved is long.  It has been a truly collaborative effort and a huge thank you to everyone.

The book is part of the PEP series.  PEP (Perinatal Education Programme) was set up by Prof Dave Woods about 20 years ago.  They believe that

  • Health workers share responsibility for their own continuing education and professional growth.  
  • Study should be at their own pace in a suitable place
  • Material supplied should be enjoyable, practical, appropriate to real needs
  • Health workers should promote group learning and clinical skills training
  • Any material offered should be affordable, effective and sustainable
There are a number of books in the series which are published by bettercare and "Breast Care" is the latest addition.  Bettercare is a small publishing company run by Arthur and Emma Attwell.  They are a division of electric bookworks.

If you are interested in downloading our book, please go to 

Let me know what you think.