A message from Lynda Thomas

CEO Lynda Thomas marks the release of Macmillan Cancer Support's 2021 Annual Report by reflecting on the year in a personal blog.

Published: 1 August 2022

A photograph of Macmillan Cancer Support CEO, Lynda Thomas. She is smiling and the backdrop is blue.

Last year the impact of the coronavirus continued to hit people with cancer, hard. At a time when many were celebrating the end of COVID-19 restrictions, hundreds of thousands with a cancer diagnosis were still unable to return to normal life.

Their risk of serious illness remained heightened, and their physical and mental health was hit by ongoing NHS disruption, causing delays to critical cancer treatment and support. They were stuck in limbo, feeling helpless and anything but ‘free’.

This is where our incredible supporters, volunteers, professionals, colleagues and partners stepped in to do what they do best. To do whatever it takes for people with cancer. In fact, in total, we supported 2.4 million people with cancer through our services last year.

This includes giving 340,000 people a safe, confidential space on our Online Community to discuss worries and questions with our experts and others with cancer.

Another 3,000 people were helped through our Macmillan Buddies scheme, giving people someone to talk to at a time when many were feeling isolated.

We supported more than 100,000 people through the Macmillan Support Line, and we identified almost £315 million in financial gains for people experiencing money concerns.

'I'm passionate about the work we are doing to reach more people from underrepresented communities.'

I’m also hugely passionate about the work we are doing to reach more people with cancer from underrepresented communities who don’t always get the information, support or care they need. Good care is a lifeline, not a luxury, and it’s vital we help address these gaps.

As part of this, last year we carried out an audit of all our support services for people living with cancer to make them more accessible and inclusive, and we worked closely with external organisations, projects and partners to better inform our work and to raise awareness in these communities about the support available.

We also launched a series of short films on social media to highlight the challenges people with cancer from ethnically diverse backgrounds face at home, in their communities and in the healthcare system. Barriers we’re determined to help them overcome.

The Mother Tongue videos feature people talking about their cancer diagnosis in their first language with members of their family. People like Della, whose Nigerian relatives wrongly believed her breast cancer could be contagious and did not go to see her after her diagnosis. This left her feeling isolated and alone until her Macmillan nurse, Charmaine, encouraged her to join a local support group where she could open up for the first time.

It’s no exaggeration to say that our services, and support like this, are a lifeline for many people with cancer. It is some of the work our organisation does that I am most proud of. We see and hear the impact they are having every day, and our Annual Report for 2021 – published today – is full of these inspiring stories.

People like father-of-four Naveed, who was diagnosed with a rare heart cancer and turned to Macmillan’s Support Line when he was incorrectly refused Universal Credit while undergoing treatment. We fought hard for him to get what he needed and didn’t stop until he got it.

To be able to do this, now and in the future, Macmillan has had to work tirelessly to recover from the financial impact of the coronavirus. We rely on donations for 98% of our income and I am endlessly grateful for the dedication of our fundraising teams, supporters and corporate partners, who make our work possible.

Last year, their hard work and generosity enabled us to get back to pre-pandemic fundraising levels, and to invest even more in critical services for those who need us most. This is a phenomenal achievement at a truly critical time, and we are committed to ensuring every penny we receive works as hard as possible to help people with cancer.

'We are committed to ensuring every penny works as hard as possible to help people with cancer.'

But the truth is, there is also much more we need to do. More people have cancer in the UK than ever before, and the critical safety net Macmillan provides is simply not able to catch them all.

Millions are still struggling with ongoing disruption to care and treatment, on top of a significant loss of income, the rising cost of living and everything else a diagnosis brings.

It’s important we are honest and acknowledge there is also more to be done at Macmillan for us to be the best organisation we can. We must be transparent about this. As set out in the Annual Report, a great deal of work is underway to address the areas we want to improve as a priority, and we will be reporting on the progress we’ve made next year.

As I write this, I am heading into my last six months at Macmillan after 21 years here, with seven of those as CEO. I want to finish by expressing my huge thanks to every person who has helped Macmillan achieve everything it has so far – not only in 2021, but since we started supporting people with cancer 111 years ago.

Our founder Douglas Macmillan began in 1911 by delivering coal to families who were trying to keep someone with cancer warm. This year, we’ve already given out thousands of grants to help people with cancer pay their energy bills as they struggle with the rising cost of living.

The nature of our work hasn’t changed. But the scale of the demand and the urgency for the solution is only increasing. Things are tougher now than before the pandemic for many, and we must do more than we’ve ever done before to help them. We’ve got to do whatever it takes.

Lynda Thomas, CEO
Macmillan Cancer Support