Be CancerSmart - Become A Digital Champion   And Help Save Lives

Digital champions pic with phone.PNGAn exciting new programme to help tackle cancer, with the potential to save lives through more effective prevention advice and improved early diagnosis, has been launched by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Cancer Alliance and patient-led charity, the Yorkshire Cancer Community (YCC).

Yorkshire Cancer Community.jpgA new network of 'Digital Champions' - people who regularly use social media and have strong networks of online friends and followers - is being set up by the Alliance and YCC to support the sharing of important health messages to a wider range of people, to encourage more everyday conversations about the disease and ways of staying healthy.

The criteria for becoming a Digital Champion are simple - volunteers need an interest in learning about and sharing cancer information; be aged 18 or over; be a regular user of social media and willing to devote just a small amount of time each week to share information and messages provided to them with their family, friends and other followers.

Anyone volunteering as a Digital Champion will be provided with information and messages to share on social media from wherever suits them best - phone, tablet or computer - with people who may not otherwise be aware of them. These may include advice on specific cancer signs and symptoms; what to look out for and when to seek advice; the benefits of cancer screening and how to access services; supporting national and regional cancer-related campaigns, awareness days and messaging.

Digital champions will also benefit from the chance to use their skills for a worthwhile cause and the opportunity to access optional training sessions on a variety of topics.

Recruitment of Digital Champions is the first phase of the CancerSmart initiative, which supports the business of the Cancer Alliance Healthy Communities programme in improving the uptake of cervical, bowel and breast cancer screening, and promoting the prevention of cancer through smoking cessation, healthy weight, physical activity and reduced alcohol consumption. 

The YCC charity is an information and support network for people affected by cancer, their families and carers, to enable their voice to be heard and used to improve the quality of cancer care in the region. The YCC works with health and social care professionals to promote the power of the patient voice, particularly in the design or transformation of services.

Together, the Alliance and YCC will develop the CancerSmart initiative over the coming months within the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated limited opportunities for face-to-face engagement and conversations, with a view to determining the model for its longer term delivery and sustainability.

The initial focus is on two main  approaches, with an emphasis on digital communications but also reaching out to people who are not currently affected by cancer or digitally connected but are able to use their their own extensive personal and support networks to spread messages about prevention  and the importance of early diagnosis.

Future stages of CancerSmart will include the recruitment of Cancer Champions - people who are already affected by cancer and who will take on a broader role in helping to steer the direction and design of the programme. They will be recognised as people who are knowledgeable, committed, and passionate about helping to raise awareness of cancer and helping to save lives through  prevention and early diagnosis.

A third cohort, known as Community Connectors, will also be recruited. These will be people who are at the heart of their community, but not necessarily connected and/or skilled on social media, although they may be part of email groups or have access to local newsletters. Their strength in the context of this programme will come from their connections at local level with non-cancer networks. 

Professor Sean Duffy, Clinical Lead with WYH Cancer Alliance, said anyone getting involved in the CancerSmart programme over the coming months as a Cancer Champion, Digital Champion or Community Connector, would be making a real and significant difference to people's lives across the region.

"Through their work, people will be more aware of signs and symptoms and any unusual body changes; they will feel more confident to visit their GP and discuss concerns; they will understand more about bowel, breast and cervical screening; they will be better informed about lifestyle choices which can reduce their risk, and they will know where and how to access information and support," said Professor Duffy.

"We want people to feel comfortable talking about cancer. We want it to be part of everyday conversations - including on social media. The recruitment of our Digital Champions will be a major step on that journey."

Sara Williamson is Chair of the Yorkshire Cancer Community. She said: “We’re really excited to be working with the Cancer Alliance to deliver the CancerSmart initiative, and the launch of the Digital Champions recruitment is a great start to the programme.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to extend our messages into local communities through people who every day are using social media skilfully to connect with others. We want to tap into those skills to make sure as many people as possible are clued up about cancer – know the signs and symptoms and what to do about them; understand and access cancer screening services and know how to keep themselves healthy through the lifestyle choices they make. Our Digital Champions will be at the very heart of that work.

"For anyone who has concerns about symptoms they think could be cancer, they should, of course, contact their GP as soon as  possible. It may not be cancer, but if it is, the  earlier the diagnosis, the better."

A simple process is in  place for anyone wishing to become a digital champion. More information about how to get involved and save lives is available on the Yorkshire Cancer Community website.