Educating the public to reduce cancer stigma across South Africa

"People are still struggling with [cancer stigma]," says Rita, a two time cancer survivor. "Even my friend who is going through surgery didn't tell me that she has cancer. She is afraid that I will tell her boyfriend," Rita explains.

Rita's family and friends have watched her come close to death while fighting cancer. And yet, one of Rita's closest friends, who has seen her beat this disease more than once, is afraid to talk to Rita about her own battle with cancer. "Stigma," Rita says while shaking her head. "It is all about the stigma."

Rita, with her friend David. Both are cancer survivors who are working to reduce cancer sigma by speaking out.

Cancer stigma in South Africa can be reduced through consistent efforts to educate the public that cancer can be beaten. This is the aim of the John Snow, Inc. (JSI) and LIVESTRONG Cancer Anti-Stigma Initiative, which works to reduce cancer-related stigma through culturally relevant and targeted messaging that raises awareness of cancer and cancer stigma. By collaborating with local cancer organizations and encouraging survivors to tell their stories, the Initiative spreads knowledge and awareness messages in order to successfully confront fears and misconceptions about cancer among the South African public.

Rita's story is being aired on the radio and in health clinics (via television) across South Africa. Rita also has been a keynote speaker at several Initiative events. Her story has had a serious impact on the community. After hearing Rita on the radio and seeing her featured in a newspaper article, a friend of Rita's grandmother called her to seek advice about a pain in her breast. Additionally, another friend, a traffic policeman, approached Rita after hearing her on the radio—saying he never knew that Rita had cancer.

The outcomes of these interactions have been positive. Rita's grandmother's friend went to a doctor, was found to have breast cancer, had surgery, and today is living a healthy and productive life. After learning about cancer from Rita, the policeman then proceeded to share his newfound information with two friends. Those friends then went on to share knowledge about cancer and cancer treatment to their family and friends. As these stories show, Rita is opening her community's eyes to the fact that cancer affects everyone, including the person you would never expect.