Throughout the month of September, we have marked childhood cancer awareness month, gynaecological cancer awareness month, blood cancer awareness month and lymphoma awareness month. It’s important to acknowledge these campaigns carefully designed by disease-specific groups. But why? And when RCA supports a community of people facing over 200 different cancers collectively, what is our role?
Awareness campaigns are not necessarily intended to improve the public’s understanding of the medical details, nor to create hypervigilance for the possibly random symptoms. Sometimes they are intended to highlight a new report or spell out statistics that paint a bigger picture. Awareness campaigns are largely created to expand the public’s understanding of the issues that challenge the people whose lives are affected by the diseases.
And that is where RCA can add our voice. We share awareness campaigns because we see our role as contributing to better outcomes and that includes helping to make sure those effected by cancer have their time to be seen and heard. Even cancer communities who are well supported deserve to highlight the plight of ordinary people being diagnosed with life-changing diseases. Many require treatment that may or may not be funded, often consuming their daily existence, in a system that doesn’t readily recognise the whole person – physical, emotional, financial, psychological and practical costs at every turn.
Abstract knowledge of cancers and associated issues will not necessarily convert to a desire to act, donate to or support those suffering and the danger lies in the public’s misconception that ‘raising awareness’ is enough. Awareness campaigns in and of themselves are plentiful and varied and they are fantastic for shining the light. Awareness is only part of the process for better outcomes, not the whole, or the end. The value lies in recognising the people and their families affected, and carving out a space in the crowded calendar to say, we see you, we understand, we care.
Dr Emily Isham and Christine Cockburn