Editorial: Fighting cancer is everyone's concern

Last updated 16:18 31/03/2014

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OPINION: Cancer strikes so widely and indiscriminately that most people will know someone with it.

It's impossible to fully understand what those diagnosed with the various forms of the disease are going through, and it's sometimes hard to know the best ways to help.

But on a basic level, the least people can do is to show compassion and respect for sufferers and their awfully hard journeys.

That did not happen for Lynley Miller in a Richmond branch of Westpac bank this month. After chemotherapy for breast cancer her hair fell out, and she became comfortable wearing a headscarf covered by a cap in public.

While waiting in the bank queue she was told to turn her cap around by a staff member, in line with a bank security policy to have faces showing clearly.

Taken aback, she took her cap off, leaving her feeling exposed and vulnerable. The aggravating aspect of the case is that despite her questioning the worker, and then another staff member, and explaining her situation, she was met by seeming indifference and a reiteration of the policy.

It's a clear case where rules cry out for flexibility and an application of empathy.

Mrs Miller was reluctant to go public with her experience, but did so to help raise awareness of the issues cancer victims face.

She deserves praise for doing so. Her tempered response in making a wider point about greater awareness and understanding for cancer victims, rather than pointing the finger at individuals, is commendable.

Ironically, part of her decision-making after the shock of losing her hair was "not wanting to make anyone feel uncomfortable".

A spokesman for Westpac has publicly apologised for the distress caused, and says there was no intention to do so. The unfortunate incident is closed, but hopefully the lessons learned will carry on.

Mrs Miller's strength of character is echoed by another Nelson woman battling cancer.

Annette Taylor, the Nelson College director of boarding and international students, was last week named Nelson's Most Wonderful Woman.

She is a worthy winner of the inaugural event designed to celebrate women who make a difference.

Melanoma has spread to her liver and spleen, leaving her with a darkened skin tone.

Despite that she has carried on with her school roles equipped with a remarkably positive attitude, and her students have responded with respect and support.

That's more than she has received out and about sometimes through the stares and comments of strangers, but again her willingness to speak out will help spread more awareness and consideration.

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As research into cancer continues to make advances - Annette Taylor is on a new drug trial - the prognosis for sufferers is more hopeful, with more patients able to live longer, fuller lives.

Family and friends will provide their crucial support systems outside of medical treatment, but the rest of the community can play its part as well with greater understanding.

- Nelson

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