A few distant musings about the cancer telethon ‘Stand up to Cancer’

The term ‘telethon’ sounds almost antiquated in an era when social media is in the ascendancy doesn’t it?

But Cancer Research UK/Channel 4’s ‘Stand up to cancer’ telethon demonstrates that television still has the biggest muscle in drawing together a mass audience at a given time, in a given place and for a given cause.

Next week we will learn more about plans for the telethon to be held in October. A similar event has been held in the United States for a number of years. We are already promised a similar format of stars and and entertainment with a week of special programming in the run-up.

We are no strangers to the format here in the UK, with Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need seemingly going from strength to strength each year that they are staged by the BBC. ITV has also followed suit in recent times with some ‘Santa’ thing whose title has escaped my mind (I am writing this from distant shores by the way).

The obvious difference between these and ‘Stand up to cancer’ is the latter’s much narrower focus. In that sense it arguably breaks new ground for the UK and represents something of a risk for both the broadcaster and charity but a risk they clearly both think is worth taking.

True, if any ‘single issue’ (a misnomer I know) can sustain the format this year – and perhaps in the future – then cancer is it. In fact if you were at CRUK you’d be asking why you were not trying out the idea at the very least wouldn’t you?

I suspect much attention will focus on the projected and actual amount raised from the public. But I am more interested in where it goes. The concern that it all ends up in CRUK labs (although you could argue why not since they are doing all the work) has been assuaged to some extent by the intimation that funds will be awarded to applicants by open competition.

The detail of how this will be done is very important. As I once tweeted, Cancer Research UK, doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas (and i don’t think they believe they do either); there is a rich and vibrant community of cancer charities, patient groups and others out there who have considerable knowledge and expertise in areas that should – nay must! – be cultivated. This includes strengths in things like psychosocial research and public involvement.

Perhaps the telethon is therefore just the sort of avenue by which to fund the best, only across many disciplines and involving a wider number of partners.It is an opportunity, therefore, to balance out the portfolio if you like.

From my standpoint ‘Stand up to cancer’ naturally represents a golden opportunity to raise awareness not just about cancer, but also about the importance of research, and the different roles that the public play in making this happen. For instance, if it ultimately means more men and women having a discussion with their doctor about taking part in research then that’s got to be a good thing don’t you think?

Fingers crossed that – it being Channel 4 – the subject matter will also be viewed with a fresh and insightful eye, and that the opportunity will be taken to engage people in the ‘how’ as much as the ‘why.’

I wonder whether we might see similar events focus on other diseases and conditions in the future? Heart disease, dementia and mental health seem immediate candidates. I note that there was an Alzheimer’s telethon in the US in 2010. But I can only assume it was not a spectacular success as it does not seem to have been repeated.

I think the stark fact is that only a few charitable organisations – or alliances of organisations – have the capacity, capability and desire to pull these things off – always assuming the broadcasters are interested of course.

But I suspect many will be watching closely, as I will be.

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