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Most people think of breast cancer as a disease of middle aged and older women, and as a disease that only those with a family history of it really need to worry about. Researchers and medical professionals know those are myths, which is why Lillie Shockney, MAS, RN, director of education and outreach at Johns Hopkins Breast Center in Baltimore, jumped at the chance to get a local college sorority involved in outreach and education.
The group from the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus wanted to do an awareness campaign on campus. "There had been so many attempts at colleges, but they hadn’t been successful," Shockney says. "And if students did come, I wasn’t confident they learned anything."
She decided if the 13 girls were serious, they would have to prove their commitment by becoming certified breast health educators — something made slightly easier since Shockney was the American Cancer Society’s trainer for the certification program. The girls all signed up for the next three hour course. "It served as a catalyst for them to make a personal investment."
After their course, the sorority was still interested in doing something on campus. "We wanted participants to have to learn something but have them be rewarded for learning," she says. "I had been to health fairs where you go from booth to booth and if you answer a question correctly, they give you a reward at the table — food, a pencil, a magnet, something small to acknowledge you for answering the question."
They built on that idea, creating multiple-choice questions that would be asked at each of eight booths. Each participant was given a passport card that was a map of the pavilion where Breastival was held, as well as a place to get stamps showing they correctly answered the questions.
One booth, sponsored by the Breast Center, didn’t involve questions, but rather demonstrating on a model the correct technique for a breast self-exam.
The participants treated the questions very seriously, Shockney says. "You would have thought they were on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. They were really upset when they got something wrong."
The most common error involved a question about the risk of breast cancer increasing with age. "Most thought the risk peaked at 65 and then started going down. We asked them why they thought that. They answered that it was because their grandmothers only got mammograms every other year. But that’s just a change in insurance."
At the end of the eight booths, there was an inner circle where breast cancer survivors escorted participants. "That really left an impression because so many of them were so much younger than they thought." The reward after completing the questions was a food ticket from the Hard Rock Café, which had a booth at the fair. There were also desserts, full-sized hair care products, and cosmetics. Those who completed the questions could also drop their passport into a "booby prize" box for a chance to win one of more than 100 prizes. "They were nice gifts, too, like $50 gift certificates at restaurants or spas."
The sorority was anxious to get men to come, too, so they included a special "booby" prize for only the 201 men to compete for — a gift certificate for 10 people, all they can eat, at Hooters restaurant.
But it wasn’t just good prizes that brought so many people to the event. The sorority did its homework, asking students what kinds of speakers they’d want to hear. The answer: people telling them how to prevent breast cancer and, if they did get it, someone telling them what they’d look like. A nurse practitioner came to give the talk on the first topic, and a girl from Jazzercize gave demonstrations. There was literature on smoking cessation and reducing alcohol consumption. For the latter topic, a plastic surgeon gave a slide presentation on mastectomies and breast reconstruction surgery. It was so compelling, Shockney says, that some of the people at the other booths stopped what they were doing to watch it.
The women also worked hard to publicize the event, doing traditional posters, as well as handwritten posters that were put up in the bathrooms. They had messages like: "Don’t be a boob and miss our Breastival" and "It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your breasts are?" Another flyer said it was seeking the biggest bra on campus, but didn’t provide any explanation, just a phone number to call. "We wanted it because in the games corner, we filled the bra with jelly beans and had participants guess how many were in it." The games corner also had a "pin the nipple on the breast" game that the men in particular found fun. That game cost a dollar to play, with the money going to breast cancer research.
The event was break even. The posters and programs were professionally printed. Other-wise, all the time and prizes were donated. A local fraternity even served as a "swat" team — when booth participants arrived, the young men emptied their cars in a manner of minutes and filled them up at the end of the day. The fraternity also cooked hamburgers and hot dogs for the event, and created a two story tall pink ribbon made of helium balloons that was visible from anywhere on campus.
There were several measurable goals that the Breast Center wanted to achieve , and by and large they did. It was successful enough that they are packaging the Breastival into a resource and planning kit that includes flashcards, poster facts, how-to’s for the games, and sample solicitation letters for door prizes. The name Breastival was just trademarked, and the kit will be available to breast centers and colleges for $99, says Shockney.
As for Johns Hopkins University, the student turnover is low enough that they are probably not going to make it an annual event. "We might do it every other year here," she says. "But we know it’s a great idea. We had it on a Wednesday, and it was raining cats and dogs, but we still had a great turnout." Held just prior to the Easter holiday weekend, participants went home and told their siblings at other colleges. In the immediate aftermath, there were more than 30 breast centers and 20 colleges that contacted Shockney — thus the creation of the resource kit.
And the sorority, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, which has 47 chapters around the country, may take on Breastival nationwide.
"We really wanted to reach young women," says Shockney. "There is somewhere along the line from being a child to becoming a woman that we learn to fear breast cancer. But if we can teach 18 to 21 year olds that 85% of women beat it, that 82% can save their breasts, and that with breast health habits that are as much second nature as flossing your teeth they don’t have to even get it, perhaps we can turn that fear around.
[For more information, contact:
• Lillie Shockney, MAS, RN, Director Education and Outreach, Johns Hopkins Breast Center, 601 N. Caroline St., Room 8031-A, Baltimore, MD 21287. Telephone: (410) 614 2853.]