By Lauren S. Rosenthal, Global Health Program Manager, American Cancer Society
Cancer has been the leading cause of death in Japan for more than three decades. However, the mortality rate attributable to cancer is gradually decreasing thanks to medical advancements and various awareness raising initiatives. This makes it the ideal time to think about how we can create a society where cancer survivors can live life fully.
The American Cancer Society and Livestrong Foundation, along with the Health and Global Policy Institute in Tokyo, Japan, supported the implementation of the grass roots patient empowerment support campaign, “Over Cancer Together” (OCT). This Campaign is aimed at encouraging and training cancer survivors to talk about their own experiences. In this Campaign, “Cancer Survivor” includes anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer as well as family, friends and caregivers.
One of the highlights of this campaign was the launch of the Over Cancer Together Survivors Forum in Tokyo on December 7, 2013. This Forum helped bring visibility to cancer survivorship by empowering survivors to become cancer control advocates and to utilize their voices to engage in the policy making process. This Forum showcased a dynamic group of survivors, government representatives, medical experts, and community leaders who shared their experiences at this landmark event. The auditorium was filled with 180 guests and the event was live-streamed over Ustream.
The Over Cancer Together Survivors Forum was a wonderful success. Survivors shared their experiences and raised awareness among policymakers, healthcare providers, the media, and the general public about the challenges that cancer survivors face. The three main challenges raised by cancer survivors include: community around the survivor (family and work), concerns around treatment, side effects and life planning, and stigma in society. Common themes were access to accurate information and support, communication among survivors and the general public, and promotion of survivor's stories. The personal stories and experiences presented throughout the campaign culminate in a call to action where these key messages are carried forward to achieve positive change in Japan.
The OCT Campaign, which is based in Japan, aims to achieve a society in which all citizens, including cancer patients, know about, confront and don’t give in to cancer. This Campaign will be key in helping raise the profile of cancer in Japan and helping cancer survivors stand up to the stigma that faces them.
The American Cancer Society and Livestrong Foundation have been working collaboratively on this program since 2009, and have implemented similar trainings and have supported similar Campaigns and Forums in South Africa and Mexico.