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January 2011 Issue

Kathryn Wikenhesier-Brokamp, MD, PhD, speaks at an outreach program at St. Xavier High School
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Cancer Outreach Program Aims to Spread Awareness From Teens to Their Families and Beyond

By Amanda Harper
Published January 2011

When pathologist Kathryn Wikenheiser-Brokamp, MD, PhD, stepped up to the lectern, the whoops and whistles that greeted her made it obvious this was not your typical scientific lecture on cell cycle and cancer.


That and the candy she sent flying out into the auditorium as motivation for the attendees to "listen and learn something.”


Wikenheiser-Brokamp, an assistant professor at the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center pathologist, recently spoke to about 300 junior-level biology students at St. Xavier High School. The presentation was part of a new UC Cancer Institute community outreach program called "Cancer, Clear and Simple.”


Created by William Barrett, MD, medical director for the UC Health Barrett Cancer Center and chair of radiation oncology at the UC College of Medicine, and community advocate Julie Isphording, the program offers customized 25-minute presentations related to cancer at local high schools.


Its tripartite goal is to educate students about cancer prevention and risk reduction, reach the students’ parents and extended families by inspiring conversation based on what the kids learn during these presentations and motivate participating schools to create their own cancer education programs.


At the conclusion of each session, the schools are presented with small challenge grants to implement a school-wide cancer education program of their own design. The grants are made possible by funding from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and Buck and Patti Niehoff.


"By planting important seeds of knowledge about cancer prevention in young people, we hope the impact will spread exponentially as they go out and talk about what they learned,” says Barrett. "Perhaps we’ll even inspire a few of those students to use their talents in the fight against cancer someday.”


So far, the UC cancer team has hosted three sessions at area schools. For the recent event at St. Xavier, Wikenheiser-Brokamp worked with biology teacher Kathy Menno to create a custom presentation that would supplement the students’ current biology coursework.


"Our curriculum explains cell reproduction and the cell cycle, but we don’t have a chance to get into what happens when the cell cycle is disrupted by cancer,” explains Menno. "Dr. Wikenheiser-Brokamp’s presentation was a great way for our students to become more aware of how cancer tumors form, spread and are treated, as well as how the disease is relevant to their own lives.” 


Core concepts from the presentation were pulled out in a handout that prompted students to answer questions during the presentation. Some of the same questions will be incorporated into their testing.


Barrett and his team partnered with St. Xavier in May 2010 to pilot the "Cancer, Clear and Simple” program by sharing personal stories about resilience, fear, death, hope and courage he has absorbed during his time treating cancer patients.


The second session—held at St. Ursula Academy—addressed breast cancer awareness and featured UC Health reconstructive surgeon W. John Kitzmiller, MD, and his sister and breast cancer survivor, Sally Heidelberg.


All the presenters had a common message for students:  You each have unique talents that can be applied to benefit the community at large. Reach high!

From the students’ mouths…


"I learned from the presenter that having cancer doesn't mean that you are guaranteed to die. It was very comforting to know that the world is trying to find a very efficient cure for cancer. I am now interested myself in studying the effects of cancer. I would really like to help those who have cancer. It is a topic that I did not care for that much until it was mentioned to me in depth. Now, I am interested.”


"While listening to the presentation on cancer, I thought of my great-aunt who recently lost the battle with cancer. When she passed away, I became very angry. I felt she didn't deserve to have cancer and definitely not die from it. I felt alone, but now I realize that there are many others who have dealt with or are dealing with cancer. I learned that one-third of people will get some type of cancer and everyone will face difficulties with it. Although I don't plan on spending my life researching cancer, I will attempt to help out. Whether this is by raising money for research or just visiting patients with cancer … we don't all have to be scientists to raise awareness of the need for cancer research.”


"Something interesting that I learned about cancer was that there are so many different ways to cure cancer even though there is not a magic medicine that cures all cancer.”

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