Community Mobile Health Services at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., has long championed breast self-examination (BSE) for the early detection of breast cancer. We log thousands of miles every year teaching BSE, performing health screenings, and educating our public about early detection, not only for breast cancer but for other cancers and diseases as well.
In our dual role as healthcare providers and educators at Community Mobile Health Services, our goal is to reach teenage women and help them to establish self-care habits that could save their lives in later years. Educating young women about breast cancer and the need for monthly BSE is an essential first step toward building awareness for lifelong good health care. Current practice and public education, with all its tremendous promotion of early detection, may unintentionally suggest that breast cancer affects older women only.
Mammograms are recommended for women starting at age 40; these X-rays are not recommended for teenagers. Not only does this eliminate our most powerful early detection tool for thousands of young women, it subtly implies they need not think about breast cancer now. Current guidelines recommend monthly BSE beginning at age 20, which is better, but still not early enough to establish the important habit of self-examination.Members of a local girl’s softball team present a check for $600 to Ellen Strong, RN, and Renee Figurski, RN, to be donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
We found an innovative way to reach one group of young women — scholastic athletes. The idea of using sports to reach young women began after I was asked to attend a tennis match at St. Peter’s High School in New Brunswick and educate both teams about breast health.
Because the program was so well received, I contacted the executive director of the N.J. State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the athletic director at South Brunswick High School and director of the NJSIAA’s Greater Middlesex County (GMC) Athletic Conference. The GMC encompasses 32 schools and enrolls approximately 1,500 female student athletes.
Help from Susan G. Komen
We needed to build an outreach program that would capture the attention of our audience. In addition to the support we received from Saint Peter’s University Hospital, we applied for and received a grant from the Central and South Jersey Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The local affiliate has generously supported our breast care education efforts for the past several years, and most recently they provided us with an additional grant of $14,000 for the sports program. We were ready to reach out.Members of a local girl’s softball team present a check for $600 to Ellen Strong, RN, and Renee Figurski, RN, to be donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
All set to teach
We named our project the Sports Breast Health Recognition and Action Program. Because we were ready to begin in the fall of 2007, we targeted autumn sports — tennis, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball. Our team created a program that would appeal to our young audience. We used teen-simulated breast models for our demonstrations, and we made posters and handouts filled with information. We ordered incentives to pique their interest, including volleyballs, shoelaces, sweatbands, socks, hand-sanitizers, cell phone charms, and pens — all in pink. Renee Figurski, RNC, BSN, OCN, and Ellen Strong, RN, MPH, two of our most experienced educators, who are not only veteran teachers but also have a wonderful rapport with young women, came to the initial set of programs with me.
Many women in the teenage years lack confidence with BSE techniques. Figurski and Strong helped them practice on the breast models and encouraged them to begin BSE right away so they could identify future breast tissue changes. The two educators talked with the competing teams, sometimes indoors and sometimes on the field, with time allowed for questions and answers.
Students received an information packet, incentives, and a brief quiz, which included six true/false questions that highlight students’ awareness of breast cancer myths and serve as an evaluation tool for the program. They completed the quiz after the game and mailed it back to us at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.
We presented our program at 20 sporting and school events and provided breast health education to 1,228 student athletes, families, coaches, and school staff. Our incentives were a hit; at one school, athletes immediately sat down on the field and replaced their shoelaces with our pink ones!
A national model
We received coverage in a local paper and in the Saint Peter’s community magazine, but most exciting was the request from the Central and South Jersey Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, asking us to write up our program as a national model for the organization.
We began the spring sports season with a second grant from the affiliate, which allowed us to tweak and expand the program. We asked team captains to take charge of the quizzes, for example, and increased the return rate to 98%. We were invited to speak at assemblies and health classes, thus reaching a larger audience, and students conducted two fundraisers for the local Komen affiliate, in direct response to our program. Recently, the affiliate approved a third grant for $30,000, which will enable us to reach 40 additional schools. They believe our program to be the only one of its kind in the country.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women. But the more than two million people who have survived are a living testament to the effectiveness of education, mammography, regular checkups, and BSE in early detection and prompt treatment. Until there is a cure, we will continue to spread the word that early detection saves lives.
Editor’s Note: Contact CMHS at 732-745-8600, ext 8903.