Teaching kids about cancer

A new cancer education programme has been designed for use in South African schools – where there is a big need.

The Be Cancer Smart School Programme is a new cancer awareness information package, which is part of a nationwide effort to promote cancer awareness and its impact on the lives of individuals, their families and communities and to help decrease the stigma associated with cancer, using educational materials.

“Some might think children are too young to be confronted with cancer information. But they would be wrong,” says Torsten Koehler, founder of Love Your Nuts, the organisation that is bringing the cancer programme to schools, in association with People Living With Cancer (PLWC).

Research shows that one in four South Africans is touched by cancer, either by having the disease themselves, or through having a family member or friend battling the disease.

Koehler says although cancer typically presents in older people over the age of 55, a small percentage of children are also affected by cancer – including leukaemia, brain tumours and even cancers that are predominantly associated with adults, such as testicular and breast cancer.

“People don’t know that testicular cancer is a young man’s disease, targeting young men between 15 and 38. It is a very aggressive disease and if left untreated, is fatal within a year. But if diagnosed early, it is very responsive to treatment,” he says.

Koehler, himself a survivor of testicular cancer, is passionate about the subject of cancer education. After his recovery he founded Love Your Nuts, documenting his story in a book, Love Your Nuts: Testicular Cancer Touched My Life.

The school programme has been adapted from the successful American LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION AT SCHOOL programme and has been changed for use in schools in South Africa, where cultural taboos, stigmas and a lack of knowledge about cancer exists.

The programme consists of information about the disease, treatment and how to support those living with cancer. For teachers, there is a manual on how to generate classroom discussions about cancer and how to become involved in spreading awareness in communities.

Programme content also includes videos of young cancer survivors telling their stories. Koehler recently interviewed and produced videos about three teenage survivors – a concept specifically adapted from LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION AT SCHOOL videos, which are shown to children as part of the cancer awareness education. These videos address issues such as: diagnosis, fears, support from family, friends and others, treatment options, dealing with physical changes in the body, and the road to recovery.

“We are very excited about our own survivor story videos as a powerful means to educate and inspire other children. These children have not only braved and survived cancer but are going on to start their own organisations and awareness programmes,” says Koehler.

Many children in South Africa do not receive effective treatment for cancer because they are diagnosed at a late stage, if they are diagnosed at all. This is why the South African Children’s Cancer Study Group (SACCSG), in association with the Childhood Cancer Foundation (CHOC), have prepared a set of warning signs to improve early diagnosis. These include a new thickening or lump in any part of the body, a new mole or a mole or wart that changes appearance, sores that don’t heal, nagging coughs, changes in bowel or bladder habits, persistent indigestion or difficulty swallowing, prolonged fever, weight loss and easy bruising or bleeding.

Koehler believes that although there are a few awareness drives in South Africa that specifically focus on awareness in communities where cancer stigma is prominent, there is little focusing on education for children specifically and in a context that they can relate to. He believes messaging through humour, videos and other visual, social content, the programme can make a big difference in changing the fears and negative perceptions surrounding cancer.

“The children of South Africa need to know that cancer is not a death sentence – it can be treated and there is much hope and support for each person along their cancer journey.”

Love Your Nuts eagerly welcomes sponsorship and collaboration with the Be Cancer Smart School Programme. For inquiries, please contact Torsten Koehler (CEO and Founder) at mailme@torstenkoehler.de or www.love-your-nuts.com.