Tag Archives: Botkyrka

One in three of us: why I help spread the word about cancer


desiree branovici

Desirée Branovici is one of 42 peer advisors who help spread the word about prevention and early detection of cancer in the Botkyrka area of Stockholm. This is quite a challenging community to reach out to due to widespread economic hardship and language and cultural barriers. Desirée’s own multicultural background and fluency in Swedish, Romanian, Italian, French and English are invaluable assets for this role. Here she explains why she gives up her time to do it.

Years ago, when I was living in Canada, I had a conversation with some friends about cancer. One of my friends said that, according to statistics, 1 in 3 women will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. The three of us looked at each other and we could all see fear in each other’s eyes: it could be one of us.

What I saw on my friends faces haunted me. Soon after that conversation I promised myself that I will fight this fear with everything I have. At the time I did not have any special knowledge or support for my fight, so I began to read as much as I could about cancer, about health in general. I became aware of how important it is to be informed about cancer. Information helped me address the fear. I started talking to my friends about it, to my work colleagues, to anyone interested and willing to listen.

Years later I moved to Sweden. While studying SFI [Swedish for Immigrants], a cancer survivor and project leader, Arja Leppänen, came to our class. She told us about a new cancer awareness project that she was leading in the nearby Botkyrka area. We could help spread the word about what we can all do to reduce the risks of cancer.

I was excited to have support and guidance from our municipality (kommun) to educate myself and also to reach to other people and help them. Our training was very interesting. The professionals from the Regional Cancer Centre were extremely helpful and engaging. They were happy to answer any questions and ready to follow up on our suggestions. We were given tools such as flyers to reach out to the many different communities in most spoken languages, and also our own personal cards. Arja and all the other people involved were always ready to help us with anything we needed.

“Understanding how a specific culture deals with sickness is important”

Reaching out to people from so many different cultures is no easy task. Speaking different languages and mostly understanding how a specific culture deals with sickness is important. Some cultures are harder to reach out to than others, but I find that a casual approach to the issue always works. For example, talking about healthy food and lifestyle is a subject that anyone is willing to discuss. Who doesn’t want to be healthy and happy?

I also like to talk to people about exposing themselves to unnecessary chemicals. I always get people’s interest and commitment to be more aware of what they are putting in their bodies and to be pro-active about their health. I always try to make them aware that a body well taken care of will help you win any fight, whether you are fighting a flu, an addiction or cancer. If it happens to one of us that has to fight this battle then one of us will always be there to help you make it through.

Getting cancer information to those who need it most

lena sharp

Lena Sharp is Head of Cancer Care Improvement, Regional Cancer Centre, Stockholm-Gotland

arja_leppanen cropped

Arja Leppänen is a cancer survivor and leader of the Stockholm Regional Cancer Centre’s project in Botkyrka

Associations between levels of education, socioeconomic factors and cancer are well documented. Stockholm is no exception – the data show important disparities across the city in the rates of new cancers, rates of survival and attendance levels at screening.

At Stockholm’s Regional Cancer Centre, we are trying to find the best way to help communities most at risk to take action to protect themselves. We’ve started by focusing on a community with the lowest mean income and educational level in the region – the south Stockholm suburb of Botkyrka, which has a large migrant population, with residents originating from more than 100 countries and speaking 160 different languages.

One part of the project is to recruit and educate volunteers from the community to serve as ‘Peer Advisors’. Their role is to inform their peers about health and how to reduce their risk of developing cancer. We now have 42 peer advisors, women and men, the youngest being only 16 and the oldest 63. They originate from 30 different countries, and each speak at least four languages. Six of our peer advisors have been diagnosed with cancer and the others have family members or friends with cancer.

We will compare participation rates in cancer screening programmes before and after the project, and gather supplementary evidence using  surveys and qualitative interview data. The results from the evaluation will guide our future work on addressing multicultural inequalities in cancer care in the region.

One of the peer advisors is a well-known rapper and song-writer, Dogge Doggelito. He lost his young wife to cancer some years ago, has always lived in Botkyrka, and is a role model for young people in the community. His involvement in the project has been very important and has generated extra attention from media.


Peer advisor Mary-Louise Gwada perfoming at a “Rap-school” for project team and peer advisors, led by Botkyrka’s own Rap-star Dogge Doggelito (left)

20160115 Dogge o Arja

Dogge with project leader Arja

Before the start of the project, the peer advisors were trained for their new role, learning about the European Code Against Cancer, cancer screening, cancer biology and care, patients’ rights, motivational interviewing, and more.

A key part of this project is to organise public information activities in the community to raise awareness about cancer and cancer prevention. Much of this is done in collaboration with cultural organisations active in the community.

Our experience so far is that this work is bringing us closer to people we usually do not reach with other health campaigns in Swedish. The main challenges we’ve encountered include issues related to language barriers, health literacy, and different cultural and/or religious attitudes about cancer.

In addition to the excellent collaboration between people working at local and regional levels, the involvement of people who are not healthcare professionals as well as patient representative at all levels has been very important for the success of the project. The peer advisors are in a unique position to reach populations who may be unfamiliar with the national healthcare system, and may have a low level of health literacy. The fact that the project manager is a cancer survivor seems to have been an important factor in establishing the legitimacy of the project in the eyes of the local community.

The project has attracted good media coverage such as in the local newspaper Södra Sidan , and features on the local council website  and Facebook page. Further information can be found on the website of the Stockholm-Gotland Regional Cancer Centre



Peer advisors spreading information on what people can do to reduce their cancer risk

 We welcome contributions to this blog. If you have a topic you would like to write about, please send your post to Corinne Hall – chall@eso.net You can find our guidelines here – How to write a blog