Patrick and his wife Pam, who died of bowel cancer, aged 52.
How exactly do you create an exhibition looking at the hugely complex and emotive subject of cancer?
You do exactly what the Science Museum has done in its superb exhibition, Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope, which I had the pleasure of attending last month.
Cancer is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. It’s a complex disease and the science and innovation behind is just as complicated. On top of that, there are so many myths and misunderstandings surrounding it.
All these aspects are tackled head on in the most engaging, accessible and informative way.
What makes this exhibition so successful, though, is that it puts people affected by cancer at the very centre of the story.
The people behind the innovations
As you walk in, one of the first things you see is a history of cancer starting with a dinosaur bone, which is not something I ever expected to see at such an exhibition. The exhibition then moves from the pre-historic to the latest technologies and immunotherapies that are advancing care today.
It’s a very visual exhibition, housing a wide range of historical artefacts, models, sculptures, videos, audio stories and personal objects.
Throughout, you get to see scientists as real people, who are passionate and dedicated to improving outcomes. And in each section we see people affected by cancer and reflect on their personal objects, thoughts and memories, something I’m sure we can all relate to in our own individual way.
I had the honour and privilege to supply an artefact that’s included in the exhibition. It is a simple, factual “diary” of my wife Pam’s final two weeks before she died from bowel cancer, aged just 52. It was a hugely emotional experience seeing it on display and reliving those last few days with her. It is a reality of cancer for some and the ‘end of life’ section doesn’t shy away from this reality.
There are other personal artefacts that represent the full range of people’s experiences. Those who were diagnosed early, treated successfully and those who are still in treatment. Each object is very personal – one was a view from someone’s widow that motivated them to get up every day to face whatever was in store during their treatment.
These are what make sense of the research. The science and innovation somehow seem so much more accessible and real. The exhibition is a great credit to all involved, including Cancer Research UK and the patient involvement team that helped the Science Museum Group’s team to create it.
Hope for the future
Along with the themes of science and innovation the final theme is one of hope.
It is inspiring to see some of the latest innovations that will improve cancer outcomes in the very near future. I was reminded of Cancer Research UK’s bold ambition to get to 3 in 4 surviving cancer by 2034 and leaving the exhibition I felt more optimistic that this really is an achievable target.
I felt inspired and motivated to keep volunteering, to keep fundraising in the knowledge of the life saving innovations being developed now. Such innovations won’t benefit Pam, but she now has 3 grandchildren. They will never get to meet her but in 2034 they will be aged 16, 14 and 12 and I left the exhibition feeling optimistic that they will benefit from that world where more people survive cancer.
I can’t recommend this exhibition highly enough. I guarantee you’ll come away not just informed but hugely hopeful and optimistic for the future.
Patrick is a member of Cancer Research UK’s Patient Involvement Network
The Science Museum Group, with support from us, presents Cancer Revolution: Science, innovation and hope, which recently opened at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, and runs until March 2022.
The exhibition will be opening at the Science Museum in London in Summer 2022. If you aren’t able to attend in person at the moment, you can learn about some of the groundbreaking research featured in the museum online instead.