Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope, Science Museum, Manchester review: bold and courageous
Ten years ago, wild horses wouldn’t have allowed me to approach an exhibition called Cancer Revolution: Science, innovation and hope. I would have walked with my fingers in my ears and found something else involving puppies or ponies. I grew up in the 1960s, when cancer – like divorce – was not mentioned by name; it was really “not in front of the children” and the aunts were saying elaborate words behind our backs.
Now, nine years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I understand. I never liked the word “remission” and don’t like “living with cancer”: “alive” will do, thanks. But the point is that one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer – someone every two minutes in the UK – which means it will touch almost everyone’s lives at some point.
The fact that 50% will survive for 10 years or more (by 2035 it is hoped that it will be 75% of us) is due to breathtaking achievements in research and innovation, and it is quite just that the exhibit, at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum and touring London next year, gives a whole room to the medical giants who are watching over us: the clinicians and physicians who stay one step ahead. They find ways to track rogue cells with liquid biopsies; create viruses to find and explode cancer cells; to collect and train the immune cells of patients, then to restore them, equipped, to annihilate the enemy. The amazing Galleri blood test, currently in trial, will detect signs of up to 50 types of cancer even before symptoms are apparent.
The exhibit is a bold and courageous initiative, set in the museum’s industrial basement space, its exhibits divided by gauzy curtains resembling hospitals. The science is enriched with artistic installations, photographs, personal stories, interactive screens and objects of particular value to cancer patients. I had never known that chemotherapy stemmed from the discovery that the gassed soldiers of World War I had lowered the levels of white blood cells: a certain comfort to be had there.
I would have liked more detailed notes, but we are now a nation of viewers and listeners, rather than readers, so the exhibits have soundtracks and the explanatory labels are short. The whispered hum of hospital noise around the chemotherapy chair brought me back to doze off as the drip entered.
I have mixed feelings about the patient stories and memories: selfishly perhaps, I didn’t really feel like joining groups and talking about cancer, and once the treatment was over, I gladly burned them down. wigs. Everyone handles it differently – some go for parties and pink wigs, others are hiding with a book.