During an unusually hot and muggy July weekend, over 2,100 patients and 1,400 volunteers gathered at the Wise County Fairgrounds, in the heart of Appalachia, for a Remote Area Medical (RAM) event. Since 1985, RAM has provided free medical services to hundreds of thousands of patients across the country. People who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to full dental care, vision services, hearing exams and aids, cardiology, lung and women’s health services make a weekend trip to receive the care they need for free. In Wise, hundreds of people came in the early hours, some even camping out, to wait their turns for medical care.
The Prevent Cancer Foundation supported this amazing effort with the always crowd-pleasing Super Colon™ exhibit. The large inflatable colon traveled to Wise to educate patients and volunteers about colorectal cancer and how it can be prevented. Participants walk through the inflatable colon to learn what normal colon tissue looks like, how polyps can develop and turn cancerous and how the four stages of colorectal cancer look so different.
We also passed out materials and talked to everyone about several types of cancer and ways they can help Stop Cancer Before It Starts!™ I wasn’t sure that people with such immediate health needs would be interested in learning about preventing cancer through healthy eating and exercise habits and screening, but I was pleasantly surprised at the crowd’s reception of our message. I learned some valuable lessons over those two days:
- You never know when you have a chance to change someone’s mind about prevention. My very first conversation about the importance of prevention and early detection happened before we even got to our tent. One of the volunteers, who worked as a guard at the local prison in Wise, helped carry our materials for the quarter-mile walk to where the Super Colon was set up. He was extremely reluctant to even think about getting screened. “No way,” he said. But in our short walk, I was able to convert his absolute “no” to something that he would “think about.”
- Everyone is interested in learning about how they can prevent cancer. I was completely wrong in thinking that people with more immediate health needs wouldn’t be interested in learning about prevention and early detection. In fact, after spending time learning about prevention, most of the patients were extremely motivated to stay healthy. That’s Eddie in the photo with me. He stopped by to get some information on oral cancer. He quit smoking 15 years ago. He was a heavy, three-pack-a-day smoker and has a family history of lung cancer, so he makes sure he sees a doctor and gets screened regularly. His advice to other smokers: “Quit if you can.”
These were long days, but the time flew by. Everyone who stopped by knew at least something about one or two of the preventable cancers and was eager to learn more. After we asked if they knew their family history, we talked about screening and encouraged everyone to keep making healthier food choices and getting regular exercise to reduce their risk of several cancers. And most importantly, to take this information back home to their friends, family and communities.