This award was open to all offline, online or broadcast journalists or bloggers who have excelled in producing accurate, balanced and well-written oncology-related media reporting.
'Underfunded, Undertreated' is a special report on how stigma against patients with lung cancer may be impeding their access to treatment. Linda had been aware of the low levels of funding for lung cancer research for some time, but several factors prompted her to write this piece. One was a desire to get to the bottom of why research into such a deadly and common cancer is so underfunded – several recent studies into stigma/nihilism in patients with lung cancer had provided some clues.
At the same time, mounting evidence was accumulating that lung cancer in smokers and never-smokers are different diseases, and survival outcomes can actually be quite good – provided that patients are referred for precise molecular typing of their tumours so that they can receive tailored treatment.
As well as getting to grips with the science of lung cancer, and communicating this in an accessible way to readers, Linda felt that it was really important to show the human side of the disease and challenge some of the preconceived ideas that readers might have about people with lung cancer.
She eventually made contact with a patient with lung cancer who had never smoked, who had struggled to get her symptoms taken seriously, and once she did receive a diagnosis was told there was little that medicine could do for her. Refusing to accept this, she sought second and third opinions, eventually meeting an oncologist who put her on to tailored treatments. Five years on, her cancer is still there, but it is under control and she has a good quality of life raising her two young daughters.
Linda also worked with the art team to incorporate several graphics that highlight the scale of the funding gap for lung cancer research, and provide several additional entry points into the story for readers.
Since the piece was published in late June Linda has been contacted by several readers whose close relatives had been through similar experiences. Some of the researchers she interviewed also thanked her for trying to raise awareness of this issue and for putting pressure on cancer funding bodies to start seeing lung cancer differently.
Cancer, perhaps particularly lung cancer, is often a secretive, almost taboo subject at a personal level. As a former BBC correspondent Mike was not used to writing so personally about a topic but hoped that by writing honestly and openly about his personal cancer journey he could help and inform others, whether they are patients, carers or health professionals.
The overwhelming responses from complete strangers suggest some success. For example, Fiona wrote: ‘Reading your blog has been v. helpful. My husband is in a v. similar situation to yours…We have been through the rollercoaster you describe. Keep writing.’
Or Sylvie (a health professional): ‘Your blog is so well written and so true … that it should be read by trainee nurses and doctors.’
Mike has tried throughout to blend personal experience with a balanced, thoroughly researched analysis of the issues, avoiding offers of false hope or miracle cures, but also providing encouragement to others. Above all, it has been an education for him.
Over the past six months Sarah has led a major campaign, called Clear the Air, in conjunction with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lanarkshire.
A total of 36 Scots smokers die every day from illnesses such as lung cancer and mouth cancer, as well as stroke and heart disease. In fact, smoking is Glasgow’s biggest preventable killer: smoking causes 90 per cent of lung cancer cases.
The Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area tops the table, with the highest number of deaths from smoking in Scotland relative to population – a shocking 29 per cent. Lanarkshire is in second place, with one-quarter of all deaths due to smoking, as well as the highest smoking prevalence in the country. Three out of 10 people there have the habit.
The campaign aims to encourage people to stop smoking, and offer them help to access smoking cessation services on offer.
As a senior reporter at Glasgow’s daily paper, The Evening Times, Sarah decided to write about her own personal experience of lung cancer.
One story in particular in a week-long series of articles, received many emails and letters from readers, including some who say they had been inspired to give up after reading it. Calls to NHS Smokeline also increased after the story, which was part of a week-long series of articles.