As always after a conference, the following few weeks are busy. People getting in touch who have found my work for the first time, and others looking to arrange more talks. These days it is not only what happens behind the scenes but also the contact through all of my social media channels. My website gets more readers, and people want to contact me through Twitter and Facebook too. For large presentations I estimate one month of work. Two weeks to prepare and present, then two weeks to deal with the work afterwards. I am not complaining at all, and am only too happy that people want to learn from my story.
This week I am going to throw open the question of inclusion and diversity within cancer support. It is a subject I thought little about during my working life, but have encountered so much since I entered the cancer world. Having travelled the world whilst working for myself I met many people from different countries, and having lived and worked in London for my entire life am used to a very diverse community in every aspect. I am a ‘live and let live’ man and was never really interested in race, religion or sexuality, I only ever see a person, not defined by any of those or other factors.
Since I have cancer I have had to register my ‘disability’ to ensure that I am not discriminated against! Now there’s an irony, surely I am being discriminated by having to register that I have cancer? I then started volunteering with charities and the N.H.S. and started to hear more equality and diversity talked about. This interested me because I had never been in an environment where these things were even mentioned, let alone had whole departments to look into these matters. So what is the definition of diversity? Below is the best one I could find.
‘The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.’
Naturally we are all unique as people, and everyone who is involved with cancer has their own story, but I would like to concentrate on the thing that we all have in common and that is cancer. As I get more involved in cancer support I see more and more people talking about different groups that need help in different ways. Young people, old people, Afro- Caribbean people, Asian women, Asian men, gays, lesbians, people who are transgender, and so the list goes on. Of course, these people all have things that are unique to them, but ultimately we all have!
I would like to open this up for discussion, as my own view is that although groups like this may be helpful in the short term, I’m not convinced of the sustainability for society, or long term gain for a majority of people. Should we not be concentrating on the things we have in common, and not the things which are different? In the larger picture we talk about Government not truly reflecting the people, in terms of race and sex etc, but how will that happen if even when we are sick, we are encouraged to stay within our own groups?
Of course when you are ill, you are at your most vulnerable and being comfortable in your support environment is key, so I do understand why these groups exist, but I have spoken at many different groups across many origins and they all laugh when I say I am still looking for a white English support group. It sounded crazy to them, but I then asked if for example, the Afro Carribean men’s group would accept me, and again they all laughed, but understood the point I was making.
With financial resource at a premium, I have to question why we might want several different groups all discussing cancer, within a few miles of each other. Would it not be better if we were all sitting round the same table learning from each other? I totally understand the cultural differences, and I guess if that encourages people to receive support where they may not have done, then it is a good thing. I also understand the different requirements that old and young people have, and the improvement in age appropriate care is fantastic. But surely there is a limit to how many sub groups we can create to cater for the needs of our ever dividing society.
Of course certain cancers are specific to either male or female, and some more common with different ethnic backgrounds, so there will already be an element of division here. I have worked for six years in cancer support and the groups I attend have never ever reflected the local population in terms of diversity, and I have asked lots of people why? My conclusion is that many people are just not interested in being proactive in their care, and not because facilities are not appropriate for them as individuals. This is not a criticism more an observation.
I see more grants given to new groups appearing frequently, and of course I’m sure some are successful, but I look at the bigger picture of cancer support, with limited facilities and funding? A lot of what is happening now is headline making but not sustainable. New schemes are opening but old ones closing too. With the progress of social media, things must of course move with the times, but I feel now is the time to encourage people to support each other, and not work harder to separate us. Only by working together can we improve the cancer world as it is the one thing we do have in common.
The above are my opinions formed from years of multi cultural living and working, and numerous years in cancer support. I am aware that everyone has their own views on this subject and please feel free to share yours.