[T]he story of a Cockermouth woman who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2013 forms part of a large scale art installation in one of London’s busiest squares in September, to mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
Alison Park, 48, is one of 104 people with blood cancer, chosen from across the UK, to have their story told as part of the installation in Paternoster Square. The installation represents the 104 people who are diagnosed with blood cancer every day in the UK, raising public awareness and making their experiences visible by telling their individual stories.
Alison, who is a patient ambassador for Bloodwise, said: “I was a busy mum and primary school teacher and had started to feel tired around January 2013. I had a chest infection in March and after having some antibiotics I continued to slowly deteriorate. I just put most of it down to being busy at home and work.
“When the Easter holidays came I thought I would have enough time off to recover. It never happened and when it got to the point when I could hardly get to the top of my stairs without having a rest, I finally returned to the doctors. A blood test was taken at around lunchtime and by 5pm I was in an ambulance on my way to the Northern Centre for Cancer Care at the Freeman Hospital.
“To say we were shocked would be a huge understatement, but the staff were amazing. I spent six months in hospital and was lucky enough to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant. My transplant was on 11 September 2013 – a date I will never forget.”
Alison’s name, constructed in three dimensions at her exact height, with a summary of her blood cancer experience, features alongside other patients’ names and stories and plinths highlighting facts about blood cancer. The pharmaceutical company Janssen commissioned artist Paul Cocksedge to create the installation, which is available for the public to visit until 30 September.
The installation, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, marks the launch of the ‘Make Blood Cancer Visible’ campaign supported by the blood cancer research charity Bloodwise and eight other blood cancer charities and patient support groups.
Alison said: “When you’re first diagnosed all you can see is the dangers that face you. On my first day in hospital my professor gave me some great advice – get up and face the day even on your darkest days. I did and here I am! It isn’t an easy journey and I’m not there yet but take it one day at a time and always try to keep hopeful. Until I was diagnosed I didn’t realise how many people were affected by blood cancer and the devastating impact on both you and your family.
“Thirty years ago most people didn’t survive these types of cancer and through raising awareness and research more people are surviving with less devastating side effects from treatment. This installation brings a personal touch using our names to introduce us and giving an insight into how our lives have changed. It is an amazing work of art that encourages the public to interact and I hope it encourages the people to talk about blood cancer and find out more.”
Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research at Bloodwise, said: “We are delighted to be a part of this exciting campaign to raise awareness of blood cancer. It is a complex disease area and public awareness of many different types of blood cancer is limited. We’ll be working with our researchers, clinicians and of course patients and carers across the UK to help raise awareness throughout September. It is great to see so many charities joining forces on this campaign and making blood cancer visible.”
Around 39,000 people of all ages, from children to adults, are diagnosed with blood cancers and related disorders every year in the UK. It is a complex disease area made up of over 100 individual diseases. Some affect thousands of people, such as common forms of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Others affect only a handful. But together, blood cancers are the fifth most common form of cancer and the third largest cause of cancer death in the UK, claiming more lives each year than breast or prostate cancer. Despite this, public awareness of blood cancers is still low.
The ‘Make Blood Cancer Visible’ campaign is being sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Janssen UK, and supported by nine blood cancer patient groups, including Bloodwise, Myeloma UK, Lymphoma Association, Waldenstrom UK, Leukaemia CARE, Anthony Nolan, CLL Support Association, MDS UK Patient Group Support and CML Support.