By K. Rose Samuel Evans aka Ms. Rose, Lazarex Cancer Foundation Community Engagement Specialist
It was impossible to ignore what was happening when cancer started taking people around me. The trend was clear and troubling – one person after another from my community started dying – and it was happening to them young – in their 40s and 50s. It made me realize that health was an area where I needed to help others – and truthfully myself too.
So first I doubled down personally to ensure I was staying on top of my own health – following through on all check ups, listening closer to what I should be eating and working to build habits to help minimize my cancer risk. I see nothing but opportunity in my neighborhood where I grew up, and still live, and it is part of my life mission to bring important health information to my community, while helping others to improve their health and wellbeing.
That’s what led me to joining Lazarex Cancer Foundation as a Community Engagement Specialist. I’ve long said that our health is our wealth – and now in this role, and with this program, I’m helping people make changes in their lives to protect their health. My work is now focused on accelerating a healthy movement in the Promise Zone of West Philly, an area where the City of Philadelphia says people are living with challenges as a result of ‘living in deep and persistent poverty.’
Here are three ways we’re focused on this important and meaningful work.
1. We’re meeting people where they are and prioritizing conversation
Our philosophy is that we can make the most difference when we meet people where they are. We go to them and do not wait or expect them to come to us. We bring experts, information and resources into the community at days and times that are convenient to access
For us, everything also starts with a conversation. We don’t do anything unless we first talk to the community. We are meeting people where they are and partnering with them to figure out what they need and how we can support them.
Some people are afraid to talk about cancer and their health. There are a lot of fears and myths to bust too. I hear from a lot of my neighbors that they don’t want to talk about a problem they’re experiencing because they don’t want to look weak. One woman I worked with was told by a friend that eating a special kind of pancakes would help with her cancer. We try to separate fact from fiction.
We work hard to understand what people know and believe, to identify barriers and then break them down by building trust and helping people cross bridges. We want to open folks up to think about what’s bothering them and to share so we can find solutions together. In that way, the Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB serves as a powerful platform for connection, information and support. What we’re finding is that opportunities to learn are provided consistently to people who want to learn and know more. A positive cycle is created that drives better health outcomes throughout the communities.
2. One size DOES NOT fit all
People in our community are busy. They have a lot of responsibilities and a lot on their plate. For as much as they have in common, they’re also very different. So we make sure that our offerings are provided in different ways by different people to encourage people to find the place and the space that works best for them. .
We offer health checks, monthly chats and drop in hours at the Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB in the Dornsife Community Center. We hold workshops around different cancers, lifestyle choices and providing opportunities to speak directly to doctors. We have mental health professionals on staff that create opportunities for community members to explore and create better mental health for themselves. We offer and attend community events where we set up tables and make it possible for the community to connect with us in whatever way they are most comfortable.
Every (Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB) Community Health Ambassador works differently. Some speak at community events, churches and senior centers. Others connect with people on the street or approach them on their front steps. We utilize every mechanism of outreach we can think of – with a focus on a grassroots approach – to reach as many people as we possibly can.
3. We empower people
Medical mistrust runs high in vulnerable communities so it’s important to us to put people in control of their health. We teach them about eating right and avoiding negative impacts that can increase cancer risk – from drugs and violence to clean water, mold and mildew, food insecurity and more.
We help advise community members on what types of questions to ask when they see a doctor, what they should bring to the doctor, and what to do if the doctor doesn’t give them enough time.
We have weekly chats where people can share their stories and then inform their families, so that together we all become more comfortable with open conversations around health.
We teach people what it means to be in tune with their bodies and how to be proactive about it instead of just reacting to signs and symptoms.
And we bring survivors together.
We are creating connections and building trust and in the process. I believe we are also changing health disparities and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this life-changing work.
To learn more about Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUBs in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and the Bay Area, visit Lazarex.org.