Navigating the healthcare system when coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be challenging. For Chinese and other non-English speaking patients, language and cultural barriers can add further uncertainty to the experience. Nowhere in Canada is this more of a reality than in British Columbia, the country’s most ethically diverse province. In Vancouver, over half of the population speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, Chinese (not otherwise specified), or Punjabi most often at home[i].
Canadian Cancer Society: Chinese Programs
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is dedicated to working with the Chinese community and other community organizations to eradicate cancer through research and prevention and enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. Some of the resources available to Chinese patients, their family and friends through the Society and BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) are listed below:
Cancer Prevention and Health Promotion Initiatives
In the Vancouver area, a CCS Chinese Programs Coordinator runs workshops and outreach activities on topics related to cancer and healthy living. These initiatives aim to break down misconceptions about cancer prevention in the Chinese community and increase awareness of dedicated Chinese resources. Chinese-speaking individuals value the opportunity to ask questions and share their experiences in a supportive environment, without the need for translation.
To find out more about the Society’s Chinese Programs, call 1 888 939-3333 and look for events and news stories listed in Chinese print and social media sources, including the Sing Tao Daily. Through connections with organizations such as ELSA (English Language Services for Adults), the Society also reaches out to Chinese immigrants who are new to BC.
Chinese Cancer Information
Cancer Information Service: this free, confidential service is available in Cantonese, Mandarin and over 100 other languages. It provides reliable information about all aspects of cancer and resources in the community. To access the Cancer Information Service, dial 1 888 939-3333 and select “2” for service in Chinese through an interpreter.
Print materials: pamphlets are available in Chinese about specific cancers and a wide range of other topics, including risk reduction, living with cancer and questions to ask your doctor. Call the Cancer Information Service to order free copies or visit www.cancer.ca to download a PDF copy.
CancerConnection: this free, confidential support program connects people with cancer with a volunteer who’s been through a similar journey. Language support is available at the start of the program, and connections are made with Chinese-speaking volunteers or through an interpreter service.
Chinese Cancer Support Groups and Counseling Services: professional counseling and practical support information is available in Cantonese and Mandarin through an interpreter service for patients and families at the BC Cancer Agency. Support groups coordinated by Chinese professionals are also available for patients and their families to share their experiences. Call the Cancer Information Service for information on support services available through a variety of organizations in your area.
Chinese Culture and Supportive Care:The way information and support is provided can be as important as the information and support itself. The Canadian Cancer Society’s engagement with the Chinese community has highlighted some ways to make communicating with a Chinese-speaking patient or their family more meaningful:
Emphasize confidentiality and privacy: In Chinese culture, there is a stigma associated with cancer that can prevent people from reaching out for help or talking about their diagnosis. Immediate family or friends may be called upon to inquire in confidence on behalf of a patient.
Respect family first: Traditional Chinese culture values family over the individual. Health-related matters are considered deeply personal and may not be discussed with non-family members. Chinese society is patriarchal and hierarchical, and this can mean that decisions about health care may be based on a person’s role in the family, rather than their individual needs.
Avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions:Communication in Chinese is often indirect; it is rare to say ‘no’ directly and confrontation is avoided. Open ended questions are more likely to gain an understanding of a patient’s feelings or concerns.
Clarify the dialect of the individual: (e.g. Cantonese or Mandarin). There are many Chinese dialects so it is important to make a distinction before requesting an interpreter or offering translated materials.