We need to make lung cancer the Ozzy Osbourne of cancers

By Mike Grundy, our Director of Corporate Services, and unrepentant old rocker

I find it strange, given that around 35,000 people die of lung cancer every year, that it still has such a ridiculously low profile in the media and the press.

Think about it. That’s close to 5% of the all the people who will die in this country this year killed by lung cancer. But how often do you ever hear or see it in the news? And how many celebrities are ever reported to have died from lung cancer? If its bowel or breast or pancreatic cancer, then yes, the cancer is named and shamed, but with lung cancer? Oh so often it’s just left as ‘cancer’? Generic, unspecific.

Why is this? Are people ashamed? Afraid of the stigma - of being blamed, of being told it’s their own fault if they say “I’ve got lung cancer”? Well they shouldn’t be and they shouldn’t be made to feel they should be!

The point was brought home to me in the other day, shortly after seeing those old heavy metal maestros Black Sabbath on their farewell tour. Now there’s a band! Ozzy Osbourne and the gang, they’re getting a lot of attention in the media at the moment.

But here’s the thing: a couple of the days after seeing Sabbath I saw a memorial notice for their former keyboard player, Geoff Nicholls, and it actually said that he had died of lung cancer.


Geoff Nicholls, keyboard player for Black Sabbath, who died of lung cancer in January 2017

Now, whilst it’s true that Geoff Nicholls didn’t attain anything like the celebrity status of Ozzy, it was still so refreshing (in a peculiar way) to see the words ‘lung cancer’ actually appear in print in the same sentence as a celebrity – and for those around him not to feel they had to hide it away as some kind of guilty secret.

If the families and friends of a few more celebrities actually let it be known that they died of lung cancer, then we might be able to erode at least some of the stigma attached to it.

That’s why I really welcome, and admire, the decision by the family of the scriptwriter Alan Simpson to ‘go public’ with the fact that he had died of lung cancer. Alan’s work on classic comedies such as ‘Steptoe and Son’ and ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ brought something new, honest and realistic to British television comedy.

That honesty and openness could really help us put lung cancer centre-stage – making it easier to raise awareness of its symptoms and help us fund vital research into ways to treat it or spot it earlier. Let’s make some noise about that!

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