Mission to educate North Shields fishing community on cancer

Fishermen on North Shield's Fish Quay told Tom Barton how their way of life has previously come before their health

A campaign has started to help the fishing community on North Tyneside become more aware of cancer.The charity The Fishermen’s Mission is beginning a three-year initiative funded by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Called 'C-Aware', the scheme will recruit cancer community champions and offer flexible cancer education sessions and community focus groups, with the aim of breaking down barriers to accessing cancer screening, treatment, and support.

The programme manager for the scheme, Deb Johnstone, said people living in some of the most deprived parts of the UK are experiencing significant difficulties in accessing personalised cancer care.

“We will be developing bespoke methods to engage with this community to remove stigmas and myths associated with cancer screening and diagnosis as well as pushing for relevant Information and signposting to aid, to rebuild connections to cancer community services and promoting cancer aftercare," she said.

Retired North Shield’s fisherman Brian Chambers' family lives with the BRCA 1 Gene and their lives have been destroyed by it.

The 72-year-old's mother and father were diagnosed with bowel cancer and died soon after.

All three of his sisters, Cathleen, Rosalin and Angela, were diagnosed with breast cancer with only Angela surviving

Of his three brothers, John, Maurice and Kenny, only the youngest Kenny, 59, has not been diagnosed with cancer.

John died last year from secondary lung cancer and Maurice, 60, only recently received the all-clear after he too was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Former fisherman Brian Chambers knows how important it is to catch cancer early. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

“Living with cancer has been a terrible constant in my life because of the risks associated with the BRCA1 gene," he said.

"As a result, our family is tested every sixth months with my youngest brother Kenny the only immediate family member who has not been diagnosed with any form of cancer.”

Brian, who himself has recovered from two bouts of bowel cancer that required surgery, now serves as the secretary to the Retired Fisherman’s Association with 1,000 members UK-wide.

“I just wish a project like this delivered by The Fisherman’s Mission in partnership with Macmillan had been available years ago," said Brian.

"I honestly think with the ability to generate widespread awareness among the fishing community right here in the Fish Quay and other coastal communities would have saved many lives.

“Getting people like myself who served in the profession to speak to the community as cancer champions is a great way of getting the community to listen, engage and hopefully change their behaviour.”

Fishermen often don't follow up symptoms of cancer as they are working out at sea. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Nik Hanlon, 37, has been the North Shields Fish Quay port manager and managing director for 10 years. He has been selected to be a cancer champion.

“It is very important something is being done, fisherman don’t ask for help," said Nik.

"The most effective help I have seen in terms of fishermen acting on their health is when help comes to them. Fishermen are totally dependent on the weather and the tides, needing to go to sea at short notice and the work takes priority over everything else.

“This project is based at The Fisherman’s Mission facilities a very short walk from our operations. That will be hugely helpful in terms of visibility and convenience for our fishing community. I am hopeful this can make a real difference to an ongoing health concern that has never really been addressed sustainably.”

The chief executive of The Fishermen’s Mission, Marc Evans, said: “We will be looking for members of the local community to join us as Cancer Community Champions, who will be provided with training to champion the aims and objectives of the initiative in the area.

“Active fishermen can also undertake bitesize training sessions to help them have important conversations about cancer with their crew, skippers, family members and those in the wider fishing community."

Mr Evans continued: "Creating a safe space for these conversations will enable individuals to advocate for their own personalised cancer care plan, if ever needed, and help them make informed choices that suit them and their lifestyle.

“Healthcare within the fishing community is something that is often overlooked, the importance of C-Aware as part of the national Community Champions Programme is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Deb Johnstone from MacMillan Cancer Support wants to normalise conversations about cancer in the fishing community. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Tina Thompson, partnership manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said an understanding to promote wellness in the community was essential.

“We want to normalise conversations about cancer and health, give practical support and ensure the community know we are available to turn to with questions," said Tina.

"Recruiting and developing community champions for the C-Aware Project in North Shields over the next three years will help achieve these aims.”

Tony Millin, 53, a lobster fisherman who owns a small boat moored at North Shields Fish Quay said: “When the conditions allow, I am out for 10 hours fishing in a day, often at short notice.

"A year ago, I requested a bowel cancer screening kit from my GP as I was experiencing abdominal discomfort. The tests came back clear and just knowing it wasn’t anything more serious than a muscular issue was a huge relief."

Mr Millin said it is a great idea for a community that "often doesn’t feel it has time to prioritise health".

The launch event takes place at Old Low Light in Fish Quay on Thursday 28 March from 10am until 3pm.

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