Pitching Prevention

The Kick Cancer campaign brings cancer education and prevention programs to children and families.

The Cancer Center's Telisa Stewart, MPH, DrPH, teaches youngsters, as well as adults, that a day in the sun is a beautiful thing but that if kids aren't protected, it can also be dangerous.

Focus article photo

One of the SunSafe posters drawn by a member of the third-grade class at Woodsville Elementary School.

Playing baseball with pals on the lush, green grass of a well-kept ball field on a sunny afternoon is one of the joys of an American childhood. And that's why Telisa Stewart, MPH, DrPH, Norris Cotton Cancer Center's Director for Community Education and Prevention, is in Haverhill, NH, on Picture Day for Little League, talking to kids, parents, and coaches. She's teaching these youngsters, as well as adults, that a day in the sun is a beautiful thing but that if kids aren't protected, it can also be dangerous. Studies show that demonstrating the value of healthy behaviors to children, such as protecting their skin from the sun's harmful rays, can have a positive impact on future risk for developing cancer.

Cancer is a serious problem in New Hampshire and Vermont. Approximately 7,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year in New Hampshire and 3,400 a year are diagnosed in Vermont, leading to 2,600 deaths from cancer annually in New Hampshire and 1,200 a year in Vermont. In fact, New Hampshire cancer rates for both males and females are significantly higher than the national rates. Overall, nearly two-thirds of all cancer deaths in the United States can be linked to behaviors that can be avoided or changed, including habits acquired in childhood.

The visit with Little Leaguers is part of a Cancer Center pilot project, the Kick Cancer campaign. "The Woodsville-Haverhill area is an opportunity for us to build a model for preventing cancer in the community, with the idea that we can bring it to other communities in the future," says Dr. Stewart. "The Cancer Center wants to bring awareness to the community about behaviors that put people at more risk and to offer resources to help motivate them to want to change those behaviors. We're looking to inspire action in the community so that people will use these resources to prevent cancer."

Education by Example

Stewart's education program touches the community in several ways and includes distributing the results of cancer prevention research conducted at the Cancer Center. She worked with teachers and student mentors from Woodsville High School to teach students at Woodsville Elementary School about sun-safe behaviors, using educational materials created by the SunSafe program at the Cancer Center. The youngsters then drew posters showing sun-safe behavior at the beach, by the swimming pool, and playing outside, and the posters were displayed at local businesses in the Woodsville-Haverhill area. "The children were amazingly inventive, and the posters were really vivid and colorful," Stewart says. "Kids love to draw, so this was a great way to tie in our message with something they love to do. And they were all really proud to see their work displayed around town."

Education is also a matter of showing by example. Research by Dartmouth's SunSafe Program shows that when kids see their parents protect themselves with sunscreen, they're much more likely to put on sunscreen too. The same can be true in reverse for other behaviors, however—smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking too much alcohol, and eating poorly. If children see their parents engaging in health-risky behavior, they're more inclined to do the same.

That's one reason the Cancer Center's outreach effort isn't aimed solely at children. As part of Kick Cancer, Stewart developed a series of flyers about the hazards of smoking and chewing tobacco that were inserted into the pay envelopes of employees of the largest employers in the Woodsville-Haverhill region. Partners included Woodsville Guaranty Bank, Grafton County, and Cottage Hospital. Stewart also networked with other community organizations and institutions, including Horse Meadow Senior Center, Grafton County Nursing Home, the Three Rivers Business Association, local radio station WYKR, the Woodsville-Wells River 4th of July Committee, and the North Haverhill Fair Committee, to bring the cancer prevention message not only to children but parents and grandparents as well as businesses and community groups.

Next year, the Cancer Center will assess the impact of Kick Cancer campaign, with an eye toward expanding the program. "We have a big opportunity here to make a real difference in New Hampshire's and Vermont's health," says Stewart. "Kick Cancer isn't just about preventing a terrible disease, it's about giving people the tools to live healthy, happy, fulfilling lives in our beautiful region."

October 20, 2010