Patrons & Partnerships

Ep 18: Cervical Cancer Awareness with UF Health Cancer Center

January 27, 2022 Library Partnership Branch, Alachua County Library District Season 1 Episode 18
Patrons & Partnerships
Ep 18: Cervical Cancer Awareness with UF Health Cancer Center
Show Notes Transcript

Thank you for listening to Episode 18 of Library Partnership’s podcast, Patrons and Partnerships. Our guests for this episode are from the UF Health Cancer Center.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that cervical cancer is highly treatable if found early and that there are ways to help prevent cervical cancer from occurring? Sarah Szurek, PhD, Program Director for the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, is joined by Community Health Ambassadors, Shereka Nicole and Tarcha Rentz, PhD,  provide information on the importance of prevention and early detection.


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You can view a transcript of this podcast on ACLD's YouTube Channel.

Tina:

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Today, we are here with three guests from the UF Health Cancer Center Sarah Zurich, I'm Tina and welcome to another episode of Patrons and Partnerships. [music]

Dr. Szurek:

Hi, thank you so much. I'm very happy to be here today. My name is Dr. Sarah Szurek, and I am a faculty member in UF’s College of Medicine. And I'm the Director of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at the UF Health Cancer Center. So we work to develop and manage community based programs to reduce cancer burden and amplify community strengths in North Central Florida. Since 2004, I've been doing community based work, and I'm really passionate about community-engaged research, which is a framework to improve health outcomes by involving the community, however they define themselves. That's by geography, by race, ethnicity, or some other affiliation. So in our work, we're really committed to the principles of community engaged research, which aim to form equal partnerships among researchers and community members. And we really focus on a commitment to mutual co-learning, transparent communication, honesty, and trust. So with that focus on community partners, I'm really happy to be joined today by two members of our steering committee, which is committed to increasing cervical cancer screening in Alachua. County.

Dr. Rentz:

I'm Dr. Tarcha Rentz. I am a Community Outreach Engagement Ambassador for the UF Cancer Center, I'm personally a breast cancer survivor, and I’ve had a lot of experience in that particular space. And so as I'm engaging survivors, sometimes I actually run across women who previously had breast cancer, and now they have some kind of gynecological cancer. And in the eyes of many doctors, once you’ve had breast cancer, and the cancer shows up somewhere else, it’s still considered breast cancer. When I was asked to be a part of this work, I couldn't help but become a part of it. And I think for me, personally, it's important that African American women, black women, underserved populations, are informed; that they receive the resources, the preventive care that's necessary; that they're able to live long lives and be there for their children or for their families. So I think this is a powerful work, and I'm excited to be here. Hi, I’m Shereka Nicole, and I'm super thankful to be a Community Outreach Engagement Ambassador as well for UF Health Cancer Center. I was dealing with the loss of my mom when I got the invitation to be a part of the steering committee. And so it was, it was a challenge for me, because, when you think about it, I was still grieving myself. But I said, you know, I owe it to others to take on the things that I've seen and what I've learned, and also help empower other families to maybe take more preventative measures and learn more and know more. So when I got the invitation, I definitely wanted to be a part of it. I myself, I'm a cervical cancer survivor, as well. So when my mother passed, I was able to do more research into my family history to find out different things that I didn't know that now I know. And that's why I'm so adamant on early detection and just the importance of what we're doing.

Tina:

Thank you very much. So there were a couple of statements that you all said that brought up some questions for me. I know that you've had some events that you've planned throughout the month. But for those of our audience that don't know you know, what Cervical cancer is, could someone please speak about that?

Dr. Szurek:

Absolutely. So cancer is, at its core, uncontrolled cell growth, and it's always named for the part of the body where it starts. So cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix. So the cervix is the lower narrow end of the uterus that connects the vagina, or the birth canal, to the upper part of the uterus. And anyone with a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over the age of 30. And every year, unfortunately, about 12,000 women in the United States get diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Tina:

Dr. Rentz, you had mentioned wanting to inform women of color, especially about cervical cancer and the risk factors. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Dr. Rentz:

Yeah, so very similar to what we're seeing in the area of breast cancer, we're seeing African American women, black women being underdiagnosed, or when they're diagnosed, it is so far gone, that it's almost impossible to treat. And so we want to really provide an audience a safe place that we can have these discussions with women about preventive care, like Shareka talked about. Because sometimes we get so busy taking care of the kids, taking care of everyone else, that we overlook our own health care. And some, there are some communities - and I have relatives like this - they've had children, and they think that's it. I go to the doctor when I feel something, or when I can't treat it with Tylenol, or treat it with Father John, or whatever the remedy is. So we have to have us - have, as women- have safe places where we can have courageous conversations, I like to say. I grew up in an era where my mom, and I’m sure it came from her mother, they didn't really talk about your body and reproduction. I heard things like, don't get pregnant [laughs]. You know, I was taught about our menstrual cycle as a young woman, but to have conversations about, do you have pain? Do you have leakage? Or do you have- you know, these things aren't really being discussed. And I think in some situations, they're still not being discussed. And so to me, this is a great opportunity for women, and particularly African American women, black women, underserved women, who are busy trying to take care of families, husbands and even parents, in some cases, for us to slow down and make sure that we're taking care of each other and taking care of ourselves. I like to say we're each other's keepers. So asking each other, have you had your Pap smear? When's the last time you've been to the doctor? And also knowing what things are kind of not normal. You know, it's not normal to have a period for two weeks. And being able to say that, I like to say get rid of the fear. Because when people hear the C word, they get scared. And that makes sense. But there are a lot of women who actually survived cancer. Look at Shareka here, she's a survivor! And I'm a survivor of breast cancer, and there are others. So don't allow the diagnosis to paralyze you.

Tina:

You talked about preventative measures, prevention, screenings. Shereka, can you talk a little bit about the, some of the things that you're trying to bring awareness to in the community?

Shereka:

So I would say first Tina, for me, for women to be, like Dr. Rentz said, to be empowered and not to be in the fear zone, just with cancer period, and cervical cancer. And it's - that's easier said than done. Because I know for me when I got my diagnosis, in the timeframe that I got it, totally was afraid! I thought, Oh, my life is completely over, you know. But that's not the time to be in fear and live in fear and stay there. Because this is why we're here, early detection. And there's so much that you can do and be proactive when you find out versus living in fear and then things spiral and then stuff does happen! So that's why we’re here today, to be proactive, talk about preventative things and what you can do, and I'm going to turn it over to Sarah to give some more information about what we're really trying to do and what our mission is.

Dr. Szurek:

Yeah, thank you. So we're really excited to be creating a community-based partnership to increase cervical cancer screening in Alachua County. And I'm so excited to be working with this vital, dynamic, amazing group of steering committee members who are working through the UF Health Cancer Center. So we're all about collaboration. And this collaborating is going to be happening with, within the cancer center, with our clinical researchers, with our clinical partners, such as UF’s mobile outreach clinic, and local families and organizations to, as I said, increase cervical cancer screening, and engage with community members about the benefits of cancer prevention for women and knowledge about cancer, and knowledge about trusting our own bodies. So I really connected with those comments. Even if we are not taught, you know, the specific information about our reproductive systems or about how cancer occurs, we still have to know and trust our own bodies. And that's really important because early on, unfortunately, cervical cancer might not cause any signs or symptoms. And Dr. Rentz, as you mentioned, you know, things like unusual bleeding or discharge, you have to know what's going on in your own body, know when something's wrong, and go get it checked out if so.

Dr. Rentz:

I was going to also say that, very similar to breast cancer, we encourage women to have breast checks, monthly breasts checks that you do yourself. So even before you go to the doctor or whatnot, knowing your body, knowing what your breasts feel like, that's a part of the preventive care. And so when we look at cervical cancer, there are things that we need to be doing. So we don't just wait for it to just happen or to have a diagnosis, we’ve got to be proactive and making sure we go to our doctors and get yearly checkups. Having your gynecologist check out what's going on down there, having your Pap smears, trying to check and make sure that you don't have any wild or an accumulation of radical cells that are developing. And then we have HPV, the vaccination that's available as well. Some parents may have seen it on television, or you may have heard your pediatrician suggest that your children take the vaccination. I know that we're having a lot of vaccination talk right now. But both of my children have had that vaccination. And they're both in high school. But I didn't understand. I saw it on television, I heard the cancer piece, but I didn't realize it was connected to the cervical cancer piece. That Oh, okay, here's the missing link, you know, because I'm a pretty intelligent person. But I think that the community needs to know that there are some preventive things, even though it's considered like a silent killer, you don't necessarily have signs and symptoms all the time. But those proactive things can really help. You know, making sure you get your Pap smear so you could check and see that things are good.

Tina:

I want to talk about the HPV vaccine for a second, just because it's recommended that…

Dr. Szurek:

I have the CDC - Tina: Prepubescent females - Yeah. [crosstalk] Yeah. I have the CDC guidelines here. Yeah. So it is recommended for preteens, both boys and girls, aged 11 to 12 years, but it can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26.

Tina:

Okay, so that's what I was curious about, what the age, if there was a maximum age limit to the vaccine.

Dr. Szurek:

I think they're increasing it because this is a vaccine that prevents cancer. So the recommendations are changing to include older age groups to protect people throughout the course of their life.

Tina:

What happens if a person, when a person goes in for screening, what type of - other than a pap smear, are there other types of screening that can occur?

Dr. Szurek:

So that's a great question. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest gynecological cancers to prevent with regular screening tests, and it's highly curable when found and treated early. There happened to be two tests that can find cervical cancer early. The first one we've already talked about, that's the Pap test. So this is also called a pap smear. And it happens during a pelvic exam by a healthcare provider. And this is the test where you're looking for precancerous cell changes on the cervix so that it can be detected and treated early. The second test is the HPV test. Now this HPV test doesn't look at cells, it actually looks for the HPV virus that causes most kinds of cervical cancer. So one test, the Pap test, looks at the cells; the second test, the HPV test looks for the virus. Health care providers can also do those at the same time on certain occasions, and that's called co-testing.

Dr. Rentz:

So, as we’re talking about doctor's appointments or seeing your health care physician, and I know we have the mobile clinic that is in our communities. And that's an opportunity for women to actually have an examination as well. We might ask who should be seeing the gynecologist or who should be seeing the doctor. And if you have a teen that’s sexually active, they need to be checked. It's recommended that at the age of 21, you should start seeing a gynecologist or having your health physician give you a pelvic exam and so on. So, it's important that people know that. For me, personally, I started when I was a teen, seeing a gynecologist for various reasons. But for some people, they don't know this. And so it's important that you start early, getting in the habit of, you know, getting yourself checked. And knowing that this is a routine kind of thing. And making sure that our young girls, our daughters, our nieces, that they are too aware of, you know, this particular cancer, and how they can get off get ahead of it, rather than allowing it just to be a reactive response.

Shereka:

And two things I kind of want to jump into breakdown as well, Tina, is that, as Dr. Rentz kind of touched on, is that with HPV, it is sexually transmitted. And so we need to also empower our boys because that's how the ladies get it. That's how the women get it, from the carrier as the male. We sometimes put a lot of emphasis on empowering and knowledge for the females. But also, our boys need to know that because they are the carriers of it. Another thing that should be noted, which I'm dealing with now, in my own organization, Premier Moms - is that some of the women are thinking that because they've stopped being sexually active, that it’s not an issue for them any longer. Like Dr. Rentz says, they've already had their babies, they're past that stage. But with HPV being a virus that can lead into cervical cancer, and sometimes you don't even know that you have HPV. So with that being said, if you stopped being sexually active years ago, the virus can still be in your system. So it's still imperative that you get your Pap smears and things of that nature, because it could still be in your system, which could then lead to cervical cancer. And anyone else can touch on that. But that's very important.

Tina:

Thank you for adding that, I was actually going to ask about, after Sarah had mentioned that males could also get the vaccine, ask more details about that. So thank you. With all of this information that you provided, can you talk more about the activities that your committee is working on throughout the month, the different events, and then also things to expect from the committee in the future?

Shereka:

So I'll jump in first, and then you guys can jump in. So one thing that's happening, which everyone can catch the recording of it, We have a Tell the Town Cervical Cancer Awareness, it's a webinar, and it will be available because it's going to be recorded. So people will be able to go back, check out the UF Health Cancer Center social media to find that recording. But that's a great webinar with different information that they'll be able to take part in.

Dr. Rentz:

And so that particular conversation or webinar is going to happen on this coming Tuesday, January the 25th, from 6 to 7pm. And so we're excited to have the other ambassadors. So Shereka and myself will be a part of that webinar, as well as the other ambassadors that are with us and that are a part of this work. And we also will have a health professional with us. They'll also provide some insight into the mobile clinic and what that might look like, if somebody doesn't have insurance, don't let that stop you from getting the care you need, the preventive care you need. I think sometimes we think about that, I don't have insurance, I can't afford it. Just think about the importance of you being here, for your children, for your family, for your grandchildren. That's invaluable. There are ways in which you can get, you know, the health care that you so deserve, without having insurance. So I think it's going to be a valuable conversation and for everyone to listen in on. We are also looking at connecting with women in our community. Women from the faith-based communities, women that are leaders in the community that have women's groups, we want to talk to small groups, individual groups. So we're really trying to form those relationships with people to bring attention to cervical cancer and the other gynecological cancers that people just don't think about. And so we're engaging folks, and we want people to engage us as well. They can actually, like you said, Shereka said, go to the Facebook page for UF Cancer Center inbox, and say, hey, I want you to come speak to my group, invite an ambassador to your group. So it could be a Girl Scout group, it could be some women that you play bridge with, or, you know, maybe a wine club that you have. But we want women to, to know that we're here, and we want to be able to support them and connect them with resources and information. We've also been in communities already. We meet in the club houses and just tell them our stories and try and engage women and build a community of trust.

Tina:

So you it sounds to me like even though January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, you plan on carrying this information out beyond just the end of January, January 31st?

Dr. Szurek:

Oh, yes, we're just getting started.

Tina:

Okay. [laughs] That's good, because it is important information to have. And not just for one month a year. Shereka: Right.

Dr. Rentz:

And there's also the mobile unit that will go out into the community for different events. So if you're having a festival or some kind of fair - for example, Pink Fest is coming up in June at Celebration Pointe - the focus in the past has been on breast cancer. But as I've said, we've found that many of our breast cancer survivor friends are struggling in this area at some point in time, unfortunately. So we don't want to just limit ourselves to January, as you said, this is a year long fight and battle. And we’re going to bring attention to it not just in January.

Dr. Szurek:

If I could, I'd love to talk a little bit more about UF’s mobile outreach clinic, just to get people familiar with it and just how we plan to partner with that group. Tina: Okay, yes, please do. This mobile outreach clinic is just what it sounds like. It's a large bus. There are two exam rooms. They have a lab and a waiting area. They rotate locations throughout the week in Alachua County. So they have a pretty regular schedule. They are on Facebook, and one day a week, they do offer virtual care. So if meeting the mobile outreach clinic bus is not an option, you can do a telehealth option. And as Dr. Rentz mentioned, this group is really committed to serving all members of the community, regardless if they're insured or not. So we're really excited about partnering with this group of clinical partners. And through the next coming months, we're going to be having some Saturday screening events with our partners, and we're really excited about that. So that's more that you can look from our collaboration group.

Tina:

Okay. Thank you. I know that the mobile bus used to come here to the Library Partnership; now they're just down the street at the, at the church, Highlands…

Dr. Szurek:

Highlands Presbyterian Church. Tina: Presbyterian Church, about a block and a half away. Yeah, they're there every Tuesday nights. And I believe that that night is a women's health focused night, so every Tuesday.

Tina:

So I do want to give each of you an opportunity to add anything that you would like to, if there's anything else you would like to comment on or talk about. Shereka, would you like to start?

Dr. Szurek:

I just had one more kind of event thing to talk about.

Tina:

Oh, okay. Dr. Szurek: Yeah.

Dr. Szurek:

So one final event that I also want to discuss is that we plan to have a report back to the community at the conclusion of our project. I mean, our partnership is going to continue. But at a certain point in time, it becomes really important to let community members know what we accomplished. And this is also in alignment with those principles of community engaged research that I talked about in the beginning, where if you're engaging with the community, partnering with them, it's important to report back and let people know what came of all of our efforts, all of our collective efforts.

Tina:

And where would the report be available for viewing?

Dr. Szurek:

Probably on the UF Health Cancer Center website. Yeah, I think that we will, we will do some written reports. But the report back is going to be kind of an event, you know, kind of a town hall where we have our community health ambassadors come and speak and, and share results back to the community.

Dr. Rentz:

[inaudible] with COVID. And just trying to make sure that we stay safe, and consider our community. One thing I was gonna say, too, we know that some in our community have a difficult time trusting the health community, health professionals. And so we want our community to get a chance to engage the ambassadors, and get a chance to know who we are. And we want to be open and candid about what we're doing. But at the same time, we want to protect your privacy as well. So don't fear that, okay, what they are doing with my information? So I just want to encourage people in that way, because sometimes we talk ourselves out of getting treatment and out of getting help. And we want to try to put your minds at ease. And hopefully on Tuesday night, when you join us, you'll recognize some of the faces that are part of the ambassador group. They're familiar people, they're women in your community, they look like you, they've gone to school with you, some of them church, they're in different clubs and organizations such as yourself. So hopefully, you'll be able to identify with that. And if you have questions, I'm sure that none of them would turn you away with those questions. So we're excited about what's going to happen on Tuesday night.

Shereka:

Yeah, and I just want to close with everyone just to feel even more empowered. That's why we're here. Like we said, we're not just stopping with cervical cancer awareness month, it's going to continue, and like we talked about, we're going to be reporting back and letting the community know what we're doing. You know, we respect your privacy, nothing's gonna be done with your information. But the important thing is not to feel alone. I feel like with my own personal story, that my mother was fighting a fight that she felt alone. And so we just want everyone to know, to feel empowered, that they're not alone, and that's why we're here, we're bringing information for everyone to be aware, and to know that there's lots of resources out here to help. I always say we're better together.

Dr. Rentz:

You know, I was thinking about something Shereka said one of our events that we had recently, where people were explaining or expressing that it wasn't until someone passed, unfortunately, from the cancer or from whatever it was, cervical or breast, that they realized what that person was dealing with. And I agree with Shereka, we don't want any woman to feel alone in this. If anything, we want to be able to develop a community of support for those individuals and also information, because I think that sometimes can be the thing that can make or break you. You just don't know what the options are and what's available to you, the services that are available to you.

Tina:

I’m very thankful that you’re doing this as well. We’ve worked before with an organization, a nonprofit here in Gainesville that works with breast cancer survivors, and that was one of the things that inspired her I think to start her organization was that going through the process alone, and not wanting anyone else to have to go through that as well. So, thank you very much for the work that you’re doing. I really appreciate that you’re here. We really appreciate that you came here.

Dr. Szurek:

I just wanted to say that I’m so grateful to be working with such an amazing group of women and our other collaborator, Pastor Gerard Dunkin. But the women on the steering committee just bring so much insight and expertise, and I’m really excited for where we’re going with this project, so thank you both.

Tina:

Thank you. Shereka: And thank you. [music]