On community awareness and reducing the stigma of cancer

Participating in the World Cancer Summit was a great opportunity for us all around. 350 delegates from 65 countries were there together with hundreds of volunteers and Livestrong staff.

For myself, I would say that I learned a lot about the importance to increase awareness of cancer facts as well as about the need to reduce the stigma of cancer.

When we talk about stigma, we mean the fears that a community associates to a diagnosis of cancer. And when there is fear, people avoid getting screened, people feel isolated, people don’t feel that they can fight. Reducing the stigma will help reduce isolation, will help people be more likely to be screened for cancer, and will help people living with cancer feel like they can fight their disease.

Our work with patients and patient groups has done a lot to reduce the stigma of cancer, even though we have never articulated it in this way:
– By helping people feel secure to say “I have cancer”

– by bringing people together and reducing isolation

– by calling ourselves people living with cancer instead of patients

– by helping people give back to the community, thus showing others that it is possible to live with cancer

As many of you are working with patients and groups to celebrate their lives in October, keep in mind that we can start talking about the ways in which we are working together to reduce the stigma of cancer and increase community awareness.
MaxStations and POs are the best equipped to decide for each group, what message could we give in the meeting to start articulating these concepts. As an example, as I have attended some group meetings in India, Mexico, Malaysia, I have said “you are not patients, you are people living with cancer” and I explained the difference. I remember that this usually resonates with group members and gives a sign of hope and empowerment.
Where does awareness fit? Awareness has to do with the larger community understanding better the needs of people living with cancer, as well as understanding that cancer does not need to equal death. It is good to help our group members see how they increase public awareness every time they are willing to talk about their diagnosis, or every time they orgnize an event.
For us here in our global office, we feel that our job is to increase global awareness of the actions and realities of the survivors we are working with in so many countries (survivors, another term that can be used instead of patient). In October we will launch the virtual art Exhibit and we hope that this will be a tool to increase global awareness of people living with cancer in so many countries.
Reducing stigma and increasing community awareness leads to social change. It must be done in small steps, but it can be quite simple too.

There were many cancer advocates in the Dublin Summit who are doing just that with very simple actions but very memorable: the fellow who rides his bike around in a naked looking suit to call men’s attention to the need to be screened, and the guy who walks around with a big huge bag which looks like a testicle, and yes, he is trying to increase awareness of the need to be screened for testicular cancer.

Counting on Viji and Sasha here to provide proof of these great examples and more…

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