Cancer doctors, researchers and patients from across Greater Manchester have joined forces with Manchester poet Tony Walsh this World Cancer Day, to highlight their continued commitment to cancer services, despite the on-going pandemic. 

The cancer community across the region is vast, ranging from cancer nurses, to pathologists, scientists, radiologists, administration teams and managers, all playing a role in providing the best care and treatment possible to those affected.

Manchester poet Tony Walsh underlines the love, dedication and Manchester’s cancer expertise in his latest work ‘Innit, love?’ released today (Thursday 4 February) to mark Greater Manchester’s response to World Cancer Day.

Manchester-born Walsh, also known as ‘Longfella’, notably produced other iconic Manchester works such as ‘This is the Place’, performed in the wake of the Manchester Arena Attack in 2017. It has since raised around £200,000 for local charities.

‘Innit, love?’ holds personal importance for Walsh, who dedicates the piece to his late mother Elaine and those who cared for her over many years, whilst being treated for a rare spinal tumour at Salford Royal and The Christie until her death in 2008.

Walsh kicked off proceedings for the work in December 2020 with a creative workshop, to understand the thoughts, feelings and reality of those working in, and affected by cancer.

The piece pays tribute to the innovative partnership working across the region, recognising the ‘years of study, practice, endless dedication’ of clinical and research teams. He also underlines the important emotional, human connections between patients and staff, whom he coins ‘the hearts behind the badges […] the eyes above the masks’.

Walsh said: “Like many people, cancer has touched my family. I felt fortunate to work on this piece to represent all those working across Greater Manchester in cancer and to meet some of our people living with the disease.

“Manchester is an amazing place for many reasons – but we’re also lucky to have world-leading research teams and hospitals that provide undivided care – both in terms of the treatment they can offer and of course, a good dose of northern spirit.

“Whilst it doesn’t shy away from the fear, emotion and challenges that cancer can bring, I hope this piece provides a fitting tribute to the efforts across our city and reassures people at home that they aren’t alone in this.”

Vanessa is a Service User Representative from South Manchester, diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2005. She has spent some of the past year shielding, in between virtual consultations and tests. She said: “COVID has been front and centre of the news this year, but so many people continue to live with cancer. This has been a year like no other and it’s important to shine a light on everyone affected by this disease – and all of the hard work that still goes on despite what’s happening with COVID.

“The workshop allowed me to engage with other people, something I was missing whilst shielding – and on something very special. It was emotional. The work that everyone across the patch does for cancer isn’t just a paperwork exercise – we all have this one thing which unites us.”

Dr Liam Hosie, a GP from Wigan, took part in the session and describes why he was keen to put a spotlight on cancer amidst the pandemic.

“This year has been busier than ever for the NHS, but we are absolutely still here for our cancer patients, or people that have symptoms that could be cancer. As GPs, we were all worried at the beginning of the pandemic when urgent cancer referrals across the country reduced, as the public refrained from contacting us.

“It is vital that people with worrying symptoms that won’t go away should contact their GP. As Tony says – so often we can sort it – and serious conditions like cancer are much better off when found early.”

Dr Suzanne Johnson, a Lecturer in Cancer Sciences at The University of Manchester, also took part in the workshop.

“Scientific research into the causes, effect and treatment of cancer is critical to improving the outcomes of anyone affected by cancer. In Manchester, we have world leading scientists and clinicians working together to ensure that patients locally and indeed across the world, continue to achieve the best possible outcomes from their disease – living longer, with a better quality of life. Hearing the lived experiences gives an essential perspective to shape that research.

“It has been a challenging year for everyone, but the dedication of our research scientists shines through and we are proud to work in close collaboration with our patients and clinical teams and Tony’s emotive poem is a fitting tribute to all involved this World Cancer Day.”

Tony’s poem ‘Innit, love?’ includes a moving tribute to friends and family lost to the disease as well as touching on challenging emotions and experiences of people affected by cancer.

The full poem is available to watch on Greater Manchester Cancer’s YouTube channel.

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