Taking Cancer Awareness into Schools; HEALTH Professionals and Cancer Survivors Have Been Teaching Children about Cancer and What Symptoms to Look out for. STEVEN IMPEY Reports

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Byline: STEVEN IMPEY

CHILDREN as young as 13 are taking lessons in cancer and how to avoid it.

The North East has one of the highest death rates from the illness.

Now, a pilot project aims to reduce it.

Twenty-one pupils aged 13 to 16 took part in the region's first cancer awareness day at John Spence Community High School in North Shields.

They were shown how to identify early signs of cancer and how this could increase chances of survival, and were introduced to cancer survivors.

The pilot was the brainchild of the Healthy Communities Collaborative set up three years ago between the North Tyneside Macmillan group and the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to help prevent lung, breast, and bowel cancer. Healthy Communities Collaborative project manager Lesley Davie said that across Newcastle and North Tyneside, cancer was a major cause of early death.

She said: "One of the main reasons is that people delay seeking medical attention.

"It used to be a case that you were on your own if you were diagnosed with cancer. Now, hospitals can offer a lot more support.

"This means when you're diagnosed you shouldn't see it as the end, but just the beginning of your journey.

"Cancer is no longer a death sentence."

Firstly, Lesley and her team carried out research to distinguish what aspects of cancer pupils wanted to learn about.

Lesley said: "This event was about getting young people to recognise the early signs of cancer by taking them through some of its different forms.

"It''s all about getting to know your own body and what your norms are, and encouraging people to see their family doctor if something isn''t right.

"That is our message." During the day, students used bowel cancer testing kits on fake poo, and learning about lung capacity by sucking through straws to lift ping-pong balls.

The HCC campaign involves trying to eradicate a fear of cancer, doing so by introducing talks with cancer survivors.

Jeanne Ogg, a 75-year-old retired teacher from North Shields, suffered two bouts of breast cancer 27 years apart.

Her first was in 1970 as a 36-year-old mother-of-one - although at the time she considered herself fit and healthy. She was one of the volunteers at the cancer awareness day at the John Spence Community High School.

She said: "I found what I thought was a little lump in my breast.

"I went to see a doctor who told me not to be so silly and then told me to go away and forget about it.

"My neighbour told me about a clinic in Monkseaton. As soon as I saw a doctor there, I was sent straight to see a consultant. I had malignant cells in my breast. In those days, when malignant cells were found, most people seemed to die in only a couple of years.

"I was devastated; unable to imagine not seeing my son grow up. I had essentially given up."

Jeanne anticipated she would grow weaker over time, but this did not happen.

She said: "I had a full mastectomy which took me more than three months to get over.

"Of course, when you return to work afterwards, you worry because you do not know if the cells have moved somewhere else.

"I lead a full and wonderful life."

Turning the clock forward 27 years, Jeanne received a letter from her doctor telling her she should go for another mammogram.

Jeanne, at 63, almost did not go. Looking back in hindsight, however, she said it was very lucky that she did.

She said: "The mammogram found a grade-three tumour in my breast; the fastest growing of its kind.

"You were never lucky twice in a lifetime, so I thought that must be it for me.

"But the biopsy came back and the results showed that it hadn't spread.

"That''s how I began my story at the high school. I said 'I have two pieces of bad news and two pieces of good news. …