Cancer outreach worker targets community groups
BY AMY ADAMS
When volunteers at the Palo Alto-based Community Breast Health Project field queries from breast cancer patients, they turn to the National Cancer Institute's voluminous Web site for help.
What are the risks and benefits of different forms of radiation therapy? What types of reconstructive surgery are available? What does the gobbledygook of a diagnosis mean? It's all there—somewhere.
But the site is so extensive that volunteers are often unsure where to look.
As luck would have it, the volunteers reported this concern in a survey conducted by Rachel Mesia, who was hired last year as an outreach program coordinator for Stanford's comprehensive cancer center. Among her many roles is to help nonprofit groups make the best use of NCI resources. Mesia has agreed to train the breast health project's volunteers on using the NCI Web site later this month.
The best way to reach people in need of health information, Mesia said, is through doctors and organizations they already trust. Her mission is to establish partnerships with these players and work with them to do cancer outreach in the most effective ways available. "I try to look at how these partners will use my expertise to generate an outcome," Mesia said. "People have different definitions of outreach. Mine is impacting the general public in ways that address health disparities."
In recent months, Mesia has helped to establish an effort to deliver cancer education in Filipino communities; workshops in Spanish for cancer survivors, patients and family members; a faith-based program to deliver health information, and a drive to promote free breast exams to impoverished women over the age of 40.
Mesia works from the cubicle maze of the Cancer Clinical Trials Office's space on California Avenue in Palo Alto, and her job comes with dual responsibilities. One set of duties involves educating the community about cancer clinical trials at Stanford and helping underserved minorities access those trials.
The other demands that she serve as a partnership program coordinator for the NCI's Cancer Information Service—a role overseen by the Northern California Cancer Center, a nonprofit health information service that conducts epidemiological studies and does outreach work.
The NCI has coordinators throughout the country, including four others in California, whose job it is to help community-based organizations develop programs to promote cancer prevention, early detection, smoking cessation and clinical trials. Coordinators also promote NCI's Cancer Information Service toll-free cancer helpline, 1-800-4-CANCER.
According to Miriam Bischoff, facility director of the Cancer Clinical Trials Office, Mesia's presence helps the school reach out to the community and to underserved minorities—one mission of an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which Stanford hopes to become. "There are a lot of medical school people at the cancer center going out and talking to the community, but she is the first person who is doing this full time," Bischoff said.
Mesia's work with the breast cancer group is part of what she calls her "train the trainer" approach. After contacting the group earlier this year to offer her assistance, she worked with Irene Liana, who oversees the group's volunteers, to produce a survey on how volunteers felt about their training. The survey determined that in addition to wanting help with the NCI Web site, they wanted a basic briefing on breast cancer. Mesia can help with both tasks.
Sharon Davis, who oversees Mesia and other program coordinators for the NCCC, said that in every partnership they try to help in ways that have been proven to work. Rather than reinventing the wheel, partnership coordinators such as Mesia can look up what has worked in the past to ensure their efforts have the best results.
With Mesia on board, Davis hopes that people from the Peninsula down into Monterey County can better leverage both NCI resources and Stanford's expertise. "Now we can have an even broader impact on a community, where so many people are underserved in different ways," Davis said.