Swansea City join lifelong fan Julie's JGHR breast cancer pledge
It may well surprise many to learn there is no legal right for someone to be given time off work to attend any form of cancer screening in the UK, and that it is one of the main causes of missed potentially life-saving cancer screening appointments.
Julie Grabham, a lifelong Swansea City fan - whose memories of wet and windy winter evenings stood at The Vetch watching her side struggle in League Two are just as fond as her memories of watching Premier League upsets and League Cup glory - discovered this during a routine mammogram in September 2022.
She went to the appointment – which is offered free by the NHS to women over the age of 50 - feeling well and expecting to receive the usual ‘everything’s fine, see you again in three years’.
But, this time, that would not be the case.
Instead, Julie received a stage two breast cancer diagnosis, and her world was knocked off its axis.
As a HR expert, Julie knew she wasn’t entitled to paid time off for screenings, but she also knew that she could try to do something about it and use her cancer journey to champion cancer support in the workplace.
She launched the JGHR Pledge, which aims to have employers commit to providing paid leave for routine breast cancer screenings, with Swansea City among the organisations to have signed and committed to it.
“It’s called the JGHR Pledge and is named after my business, which is JGHR Solutions. We’re based in Lampeter with clients across the country and things were going really well at the time of my diagnosis,” says Julie.
“The business was successful and I was well within myself. Then, this time last year, I went for a routine mammogram and was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
“I had no symptoms whatsoever, I was really fit and never in a month of Sundays did I think that the routine mammogram was going to be anything other than a case of ‘everything’s fine, see you in three years’.
“At the mobile unit, I noticed it was quiet and they said that up to 10 appointments are missed per day. That can be for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is work.
“Being in HR and an employment law expert, I know there is no legal right for women to have any time off to go for routine breast screenings.
“So, if you don’t work for a very good employer and if you don’t have symptoms, some women won’t go for those screenings.
“Had I not gone for my screening last September, I might not be sitting here today.
“So, I thought ‘I’m in a good position here, I can do something about this’.
“The idea actually came about at 5.30am while I was out for a run, that’s the best time for ideas, and I felt I could do something about this situation.
“I wanted to change legislation, that is my aim. But, because employment law hasn’t been devolved in Wales, it has to go to the UK parliament and it requires 100,000 signatures just to get a potential change discussed.
“That is a heck of an aim. So, I’ve tried it and you can find that petition online.
“But I knew that we could do something else. My clients know me as someone who makes a difference without legislation, and that is where the JGHR Pledge came about.
“It’s just about asking companies and organisations to pledge to give paid time off for routine breast screenings.”
Julie’s main focus over the past year has been on her treatment, but she still found the time to share the pledge with other businesses.
In September 2023, Swansea City joined other companies across Wales and formally signed the pledge, committing to paid time off for employees to attend cancer screenings.
“It was amazing that the club signed up,” says Julie.
“It’s one of my biggest achievements with this pledge so far, and I hope that other football teams in Wales and at national level will follow.
“We are aware the Swans women’s team is getting stronger and that football isn’t all about men. So for the Swans to say ‘yes, we will look after the women in our club’, I think that is fantastic.
“The council has signed up as well so Swansea really is leading the way.
“Swansea City came on board, but there are over 80 businesses signed up already to the pledge.
“But that rolls on, we’re talking about breast screenings but a lot of organisations have said they can do a lot more and many are now giving time off for other screenings and offering additional cancer support in the workplace.
“I haven’t really done a lot of work on marketing because I’ve been going through treatment, so it’s been about word of mouth and social media. The companies who have signed up have been brilliant at spreading the word.
“We think that if you can’t give paid time off for a routine screening, maybe you shouldn’t be an employer.”
As well as becoming a cancer champion and campaigner, Julie has been undertaking her own cancer journey, which has included using the services Maggie’s offer.
And so, when the Swans launched a kit dedicated to Maggie’s as part of a ‘Tackling Cancer Together’ campaign centred around sharing stories and raising awareness of the struggles that come with a cancer diagnosis, it was an emotional moment for Julie.
“The kit that Swansea have, that’s just phenomenal because it’s getting people talking and it’s making people aware of Maggie’s,” she adds
“You’d be amazed how many people don’t know that the Maggie’s centre is there, and not only in Swansea, but throughout the UK.
“Often you don’t know about Maggie’s until you have to use their services, but wouldn’t it be a better world if we all knew about the support and we were all talking to our friends, and we can just say: ‘Have you been to Maggie’s? Have you seen what Swansea City are doing? Have you signed up to the pledge?’
“I love the kit. As soon as I saw it, I loved it. When you see the stories behind it, and I know you have the campaign to share your stories, you see there are so many people that cancer affects.
“To have a football club who want to support that … to be honest, it makes me quite emotional. You don’t always associate football with that side of things, and it’s a great kit!
“Everyone who has shared their story because of the shirt is amazing. It’s not easy, it’s not emotionally easy to keep talking about your cancer journey, but we know that it helps other people.”
Julie is among those brave, amazing people who have shared their cancer stories, and she would encourage everyone to attend their routine screenings.
“Be a little bit brave go and get the screening done,” she said.
“Nine times out of 10, you’ll be fine, but even if you’re not, like I wasn’t, the earlier you get it detected the better.”
And for those who know someone with a cancer diagnosis, she concludes: “You can make a difference to someone else’s cancer journey, whether that’s by being a support to people going through it, or whether it’s signing up to the pledge and supporting your workers.”