Throughout December 2019 the Nour Al-Sham Foundation organised three cancer screening awareness and Cancer Champion recruitment events. The first event was held at Somali Citizen Centre in Moss Side and targeted women from the Somali community. The next event took place at Rethink Rebuild Society in Longsight and targeted men from the local Arab community. The final event took place at The Pathfinder Worship Centre in Harpurhey and was attended by members of the mixed African community in the area. Answer Cancer’s Nana Opoku delivered these sessions, working to break down the stigma surrounding cancer by debunking the common misconceptions, sharing accurate information on cancer screenings and cancer risk reduction through healthy living, and impressing the importance of taking this information and spreading it onward throughout the community as Cancer Champions.

Gassim of the Nour Al-Sham Foundation explained that building relationships with the leaders of the groups which they organised sessions with had been key to the ensuring high attendance. With the leaders of the groups on side the events could be effectively promoted through the channels with which community members were most likely to engage. Nour Al-Sham Foundation supplemented this with flyering, social media promotion, and one-to-one conversations with community members through their own networks. Between the three sessions Nana was about to talk to almost 100 people and signed up 76 new Cancer Champions.

In addition to their effective promotion, Gassim attributed the success of the events Nana’s skilled delivery. He praised her clear explanations and her persuasive style of delivery – taking time to respond directly to people’s questions and making clear the benefits of attending screening appointments. Many of those who attended the session at Rethink Rebuild were newly arrived migrants, amongst whom there was a widespread lack of unawareness of the three free cancer screening opportunities available to them. Some of them had received invitations from their GPs to attend screenings but had not responded because their lack of awareness meant they didn’t think it was worth finding time to go. Nana was successfully able to challenge this and persuade those who’d been invited for screenings that they should take the time to attend, while also convincing the rest of the group that when their screening letters came it was something they should follow up on.

The session in Harpurhey highlighted the issue that a few past cases of false negative screening results had damaged faith in the tests amongst the African community in the area. One man in attendance at the session shared that he had lost a family member to breast cancer which was initially thought to be a benign lump, and because of this he didn’t see the point of attending screening appointments. After listening to Nana’s presentation and raising his issues with screenings, he was convinced that are worthwhile in spite of his negative experience. He even signed up as a Cancer Champion so that he could take his experience and use it for something positive. This highlights the power of offering community members the opportunity to talk through their concerns about cancer screening in an environment they trust.

Gassim explained that the greatest barrier to those within the BAME communities they worked within from accessing screenings was a lack of awareness of the benefits of early detection. A better job must be done to improve understanding that early detection of cancers can produce better outcomes for patients, so it’s worth going to screening appointments even when you don’t feel unwell and even if your life already feels busy. Overcoming the language barriers which exist for many community members is core to achieving this. Successfully communicating the benefits of early detection should also serve to break down other significant barriers such as the reluctance of many community members to talk about cancer and screenings because they’re afraid of it. Gassim suggested that recruiting more Cancer Champions who’d survived cancer would be especially effective in encouraging others to go for screenings because of the joy and hopefulness of the personal message they could share.

The Nour Al-Sham Foundation are keen to continue working with Answer Cancer as an Organisational Cancer Champion. They plan to continue engaging with members of the Syrian community in which they primarily work, explaining the benefits of cancer screening and cancer risk reduction through social media campaigns and one-to-one conversations.