Sarcoma, COVID, science, BREXIT and Trump – what a year

I have not written in this blog since January of 2020. It has been some year and while I have been busy, the COVID-19 tragedy has been unfolding and our government has been deepening its self-created chaos around Brexit. Meanwhile the politics of the world have been changing. It is impossible to disentangle it all but I will have a go at summarising the year.

I have been busy because the world of sarcoma and canecr advocacy more generally doesn’t substantially change despite the pandemic. With sarcoma we have a disease which is rare, heterogenous (about 150 different histologies), and inherently complex. It is difficult to diagnose, requires specialist knowledge to treat and effective medical treatment options are scarce. There is limited access to research for patients and many studies of new treatments fail. Effective patient advocacy to help create change is desperately needed around the world but is largely unfunded. My life in the last four years has been about travelling Europe for meetings and events. That shuddered dramatically to a halt in March. I have not missed airports, life has been interesting on Zoom and Teams but I have missed the conversations over coffee or lunch.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic. Our government has consistently acted too late at the cost of lives, it has splashed money into the hands of incompetents and crooks (known as friends), ignored existing skills in the community (to benefit its friends), and its leader has lied, bumbled and blustered throughout. Ministers have ignored the importance of giving the public ‘understanding’ and relied on them to try to process information for themselves. Giving clear and simple explanations is not patronising, giving simplistic ones is. What we needed was the advice to avoid closed unventilated space, avoid crowds, avoid close conversation – instead we were told to wash our hands, wear a mask, and keep 2m away from others. One is about contexts of life and prevention and is simple. The other is about self-protection without any reason or context and is simplistic. No wonder you got crowds, people gathering indoors and politicians having unmasked close chats. In addition there has been an almost pathological addiction to big populist promises that cannot be kept, not least is the world-class test and trace disaster.

What stems from this could be an exciting opportunity for science, which has seen itself in the headlines more than ever before. The politicians mantra of “following the science” (which it soon became obvious that they weren’t) subtly morphed into “being advised by the science” (which allowed them to openly ignore it). Fortunately we do have a lot of honest scientists who will not be over-awed or bullied and who can communicate effectively. If we are lucky the demonstrations of the influence science can have should excite more young people.

The treachery of Brexit has also been a huge collection of extended promises. Lies built upon lies, reality ignored, vain hopes sold to the electorate which then evaporated, ideas of quick agreement became extended negotiations, irrational short term solutions disappeared as the real world emerged – it was predictable. The extended promises of 2016 were unfounded and sadly those who manufactured those lies came into power determined to deliver their desired outcome without any of the benefits they had similarly promised and causing a level of damage not done to the British economy and social-life since the 1940s. A Cabinet of self-serving Westminster cowboys, yes-men too lily-livered to stand up to bullying and admit to what was right. And now they are threatening to use gunboats in the English Channel!

Deepening the tragedy on the world stage has been the pantomime dame of American politics. The cringing performances of a coiffed man with a 10-year old’s vocabulary, the emotional sensitivity of a steam hammer and a view of the world that comes from one of those crazy mirror stalls at a funfair, moved us beyond laughter, to tears, to sending condolences to American friends. Welcome to the new 80-year old king, he will need to show steel to steal the show as the next act unfolds.

Oh dear, what a year. Well that’s it, I’ve had my say.