I am a qualified cancer nurse specialist and manage the iVan, a 27-foot mobile cancer awareness van which travels across Merseyside and Cheshire promoting healthy lifestyles. It was a concept modelled on the Macmillan Information Bus that tours the country.

The iVan contains a comprehensive library of information, including resources from World Cancer Research Fund and other health organisations.

During the week, we visit areas with poor health outcomes and park in public areas such as outside supermarkets and workplaces. The success of the service is in part due to its informal 'hop-on, hop-off' nature and the immediacy of the service. Opportunistic passers-by make up the vast majority of visitors, yet all have genuine questions and concerns.

Visitors can browse the leaflets and take any they feel they need, or speak to me about specific symptoms they’re worried about. They can sit down and spend as long as they like with me while my colleague talks to other visitors about spotting the signs and symptoms of cancer, early detection and prevention.

I find that offering a blood pressure check is a really good way of attracting people onto the iVan, and it’s a great way to start conversations about their lifestyle.

We also offer people a BMI measurement and discuss their results with them – this often leads to conversations around alcohol, smoking, diet and exercise. I like to do a full 'listening assessment', as I call it, followed by asking some direct questions. 

Visitors who appear to be at a stage where they feel ready to address any unhealthy behaviours are referred into local services or given a local number to contact services directly. This is always welcomed as it’s convenient and it takes them one step closer to making a lifestyle change.

Sometimes, that one contact leads to someone making a change they wouldn’t otherwise have made. It really highlights that sometimes we only have that one opportunity to engage someone, so it’s important to make it count.

Debbie’s tips for making every contact count

  • Go to where people are, such as workplaces, supermarkets and town centres
  • Make people feel welcome and at ease
  • Engage people by offering a health test, such as a blood pressure check or BMI measurement
  • Listen to people’s stories to fully understand their needs
  • Offer information and signpost to services, if appropriate
  • Follow up with them a few weeks later so they feel supported

To find out more about the iVan visit actiononcancer.org/index.php

If you are interested in being a Cancer Prevention Champion for World Cancer Research Fund, visit www.wcrf-uk.org/champions for more information.