From February-May 2016, thanks to generous funding by the New York City Council under the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Members of the Queens Delegation, SHAREing & CAREing presented 13 full days of our flagship Be a Friend to Your Mother High School Outreach program.
We offered 66 presentations to a total of 2439 students and teachers at 5 NYC Public High Schools. This year’s schools were: Maspeth High School, Long Island City High School, Francis Lewis High School, Bryant High School and Landmark High School. Most of the students represented our target underserved communities, including high percentages of English language learners, Asian, Black and Hispanic students. Bryant High School made our collaboration the centerpiece of an entire week dedicated to cancer awareness and prevention.
Each Be a Friend to Your Mother outreach is presented by a trained cancer survivor, nurse and social worker. This unique cancer education program, created specifically for high school students, falls within the NYS Learning Standards for Health and Physical Education. We educate male and female students about health and wellness, and the importance of mammography screenings. We also emphasize the importance of self-awareness in terms of diet, exercise and stress reduction and their role in helping people prevent cancer and other chronic health concerns. The students, in turn, bring this information home to their families, often in their native language, and encourage them to get screened. SHAREing & CAREing then links these women and men to free or low cost cancer screenings and other health care services at our partner hospitals, including NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst and the BEAT program at Mt. Sinai Queens. In the past, this program has resulted in participants and family members receiving early diagnosis—potentially saving lives. We believe the same will prove true this year.
The program requires extensive coordination and expertise, engaging the ongoing efforts of SHAREing & CAREing staff. Six nurses and one physician’s assistant from our partner hospitals including Jacobi Medical Center, Queens Hospital Cancer Center, NYC Health + Hospitals /Queens and NYC Health + Hospitals /Elmhurst all participated, representing a diversity of nursing backgrounds including cancer research, health education and critical care oncology. Students greatly benefited from their medical expertise and the rare accessibility of medical professionals.
Seven trained cancer-survivor volunteers, including three Spanish-speaking survivors, were involved in the presentations. All survivor stories were pivotal in gaining student interest and empathy. While survivors don’t necessarily find revisiting “one of the most horrendous times in my life” easy, their passion for helping others makes the effort worth it. Two SHAREing & CAREing longstanding survivor members shared their stories for the first time. It was particularly thrilling when Marianne Mello presented at Francis Lewis High School, her own Alma Mater!
Feedback for our program was universally positive, having been extremely well-received by students and faculty alike. Students demonstrated a remarkable level of maturity, attentiveness and curiosity during our outreaches. We would open each class asking how many students knew someone with cancer. Invariably, 1/3-1/2 of the students would raise their hand. Clearly, their attentiveness was, in part, due to how closely cancer hits home for many of them.
School staff, especially the physical education, health education and biology teachers were also pleased to have us present information, debunk myths, and lead discussion about cancer in a professional and accessible way. Almost every teacher that we had direct contact with had a cancer story of their own to share. They often approached us privately to ask questions, ask for help, and share stories about their own experience with cancer surviving it themselves, or providing care for a loved one.
Breast cancer, when caught early, is highly treatable. However, Queens has the highest rate of late-stage breast cancer detection in the nation. It is 33 percent versus the national average of 12 percent, according to the Queens Cancer Center. Our program works hard to change this statistic by going directly to students and providing them with information that will benefit them and the more at-risk members of their families, such as their grandmothers, mothers and aunts.
It is the fervent belief of SHAREing & CAREing’s staff and Board, that educating our young people and engaging them in knowing and caring for their bodies is a crucial and needed step in increasing health and wellness among our future generations and in assuring early diagnosis of cancer.