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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Dear David: A tale of two parents.

Dear David Cameron and all at the G8 dementia summit. Got five minutes to hear about my mum and dad?

First: Jeannie.

She was 48 when she developed breast cancer. It was found just weeks before she was due to get married (to a man whose wife, sadly, had died of breast cancer). They went ahead with the wedding. A Londoner, Jeannie had worked in the city since her teens. She met Bertie at one of the big banks. She travelled to some fantastic places on business with him - on Concorde once. And when she needed it, the care Jeannie received at London teaching hospitals was among the best available anywhere in the world.

Although Jeannie had some good, 'clear' years, the cancer was to return in a very aggressive form, and she died seven years after diagnosis. She never knew her grandchildren: all of them lovely and sources of great pride.

The disease had claimed the life of one of her five sisters, and was to prove fatal, later, for another. A third sister has beaten breast cancer twice, and has survived into her eighties. So, it's 'in the family' and has knocked at my door too. Because of that, I have regular screening, was accepted on to a pioneering MRI research programme and another looking into DCIS. I feel 'watched over'. In a good way.

Now: John.

Down the mines near Musselburgh at 14, he 'escaped' to London to join the Met police. He was on the beat in London, then selected for royalty protection duties, often solely responsible for the security of key royals. He stayed in palaces around the world, worked the longest days, was an excellent marksman, fit and strong; protecting people. And looking after his family.

He's been battling Alzheimer's for over five years, and so now, we're doing our best to look after him. These days, he's bedridden, but at home. He needs help with every aspect of daily living. His face lights up when he sees me, but sometimes he forgets my name. He got to know the grandchildren well, but now struggles to remember their names or what they're up to.

I never expected to be standing over my big, brave dad with a toddler cup and a feeding spoon, but that's the way it is. His partner and carer, Phyllis, does an amazing job, backed up by visits from a local carer, paid for by Dad. She needs a break. Lots of breaks. Local carers' groups are helping, but it all takes planning, and Dad's not always receptive to newcomers who might 'sit' with him. He's had some bad days lately. Sleepy weeks. Not sure what the future holds, really. It scares me.

I was shocked, Mr Cameron, to see a report by Fergus Walsh on BBC news last night. It contained a statistic from the Alzheimer's Society, on how research into cancer receives eight times as much funding as research into dementia. Eight times! Is one condition more 'cruel' than the other? More deserving of investment into its prevention? I don't think so. From where I'm sitting, they both hurt like hell.

I know you've said you're working to address this, planning to double the amount of funding over the next decade or so, to £132 million, and increasing support for carers, like Phyllis.

But I'd like to hear that you're not 'just' doubling dementia funding... but quadrupling it, and then some. It seems that because dementia was for so long considered to be a sad and inevitable fact of life for some elderly people, it's slipped down the priorities list, and it shouldn't have done. You have the predictions and the projections at your fingertips now.

Cancer and dementia are equally cruel conditions in their way; for patients, and for families like mine. Both are dreaded and feared. I hope you use this G8 summit to make dementia research and care as much of a priority as that surrounding cancer, and as an opportunity to think about devoting more funds to those with other life threatening and life limiting conditions. Please keep support for carers uppermost in your mind. With the dementia timebomb ticking, you're going to need them more than ever. And they will be looking to you, to get the funding, the support, and the respite they desperately need.

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