Our campaigner Peter Ford talks about his experience speaking at the Britain Against Cancer conference in Westminster.
I was invited by Prostate Cancer UK to speak at the Britain Against Cancer 2012 conference in December on "What cancer patients want from the NHS". The conference is the largest and most important of its kind, and is the main annual event of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer. It is attended by around 450 delegates including parliamentarians, health professionals and representatives from cancer-related charities who look at policies that affect cancer services and how we can work together to improve services in England.
"Just talk about your own experiences like you've done before", they said. Delighted to have been asked, "Fine", I replied, then quickly realised there was a difference between a small round table meeting and standing up for five minutes in front of a knowledgeable audience of around seventy people!
I will confess to a couple of fairly sleepless nights prior to the big day but it was a crisp, clear morning and the brisk walk in the chill air from Victoria station to the venue was just what was needed.
Central Hall, Westminster, is an impressive grade II listed building in the Viennese Baroque style, with wide marble staircases leading to the different levels within. The main speeches take place in the grand hall, with break-out sessions on specific topics in other meeting rooms repeated both morning and afternoon to enable maximum numbers to attend.
On arrival, it was reassuring to meet people from the charity and after a quick coffee and check on our meeting room, it was time for the opening speeches and questions before moving on to the break-out session. I was to speak second and sat nervously through the first speech, hardly taking in a word. To help stay calm, I kept telling myself that no matter how badly I spoke, the audience would still have to sit and listen!
I needn't have worried. They were warm and my home rehearsals paid off. Around five minutes later I sat down to applause - a first for one of my own presentations! There followed some round table discussion and feedback on what patients want at different stages of their diagnosis and treatment and two more speeches, and then it was time for lunch.
It is difficult to assess impact but I soon realised I must have had some when a Director of one of the London Cancer Networks came over to ask a question.
Buoyed by positive feedback from the morning and the experience of having already done it once, the afternoon presentation went well and someone even suggested afterwards how Prostate Cancer UK's quality checklist could be distributed throughout the country.
Back in the main hall the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP then gave an assured performance without notes and answered questions from the floor and after some closing remarks from the Chairman, the conference was over.
This was a stimulating day when I was heartened to learn how much is being done to combat cancer. My overwhelming feeling (apart from relief) was one of humility to realise there are so many dedicated people working for the benefit of cancer sufferers and I just hope I have made a difference.