As part of their activity for the Answer Cancer grant programme, Cancer Care Diaspora organised three community events across Manchester between November 2019 and February 2020.
The first of these was a community event at the Jubilee Conference Centre in Gorton, attended by around 15 people from Black African and wider BME communities. This event was a very casual way of introducing those within Cancer Care Diaspora’s wider network to the importance of attending cancer screenings and living a healthy lifestyle and was also used this as an event to recruit new Cancer Champions.
This event was followed up by a Christmas get together at Transformation Community Resource Centre in Longsight. This was an event with a festive feel with food and drink shared by the 25 people in attendance. Though celebratory, the event was also a forum for conversations around cancer screenings and risk reduction through lifestyle factors – drawing both on the organisation’s considerable expertise and the lived experiences of several people in attendance. Again this event provided another good opportunity for the recruitment of Cancer Champions.
Cancer Care Diaspora’s activities culminated in a health and wellbeing seminar at the Chuck Gallery in Longsight in February. The organisation arranged for a range of specialist doctors and nurses to present at this event – sharing their expertise on cancer, screenings and healthy lifestyles with the 30 attendees. In addition to Answer Cancer’s three target cancers, Gilbert an existing Cancer Champion, talked about his experiences with prostate cancer and some of the inspiring work he’s been doing raise awareness around this.
Across the sessions several common issues were identified which created barriers to some members of Manchester’s Black African and wider BME communities. One major problem was a lack of awareness of the screening services which are offered and the benefits of early detection. This was often compounded by a sense of fatalism around the subject of cancer, with the sentiment – we’re all going to die at some point, so better to live in peace than to live with the burden of bad news – being a common one. This was perhaps linked to the fact that there’s a strong stigma around cancer in these communities, which means some people are reluctant to access screening services for fear of being associated with cancer.
Another barrier to some people accessing cancer screenings was the misconception that HPV (the virus which can lead to cervical cancer) can only be transmitted sexually. This barrier is most prevalent within communities where sex before marriage is taboo. The expectation in these communities is that many women of cervical screening age are not yet sexually active and therefore don’t need to access screening services. This contributes both to a culture of unmarried women being advised that they’ve nothing to gain by attending their cervical screening appointments and to the attending of cervical cancer screening appointments being marked with the same stigma as premarital sex. One women in Cancer Care Diaspora’s sessions even tried to encourage others present not to avail themselves to cervical cancer screening for these reasons.
Through these events, Cancer Care Diaspora had great success in overcoming these barriers, understanding the facts about cancer more clearly, and recognising the importance of talking openly about cancer and cancer screenings within their communities. Creating a space where dialogue could happen, rather than just sharing information in a one-way stream, had been key to working through community members’ anxieties around cancer and motivating them to become active Cancer Champions. This was especially effective when experts (either by professional status or by lived experience) were present to participate in these discussions.
In the future Cancer Care Diaspora like to continue to improve their reach by working to build partnerships with existing groups such as mosques, churches and other Organisational Cancer Champions.