Penny Paul is a Community Health Education Specialist for the City-County Health Department in Great Falls, Montana. On any given day, you might find her doing research, developing awareness materials and ideas for her sites to distribute or brainstorming how to make each of her health campaigns bigger and better than the last. She is a constant resource for cancer prevention and wellness information. And lucky for us, nearly four years ago Penny got involved with National Dress in Blue Day. Since then, her local footprint has only continued to grow. Her passion and dedication to saving lives and creating change is invaluable, unstoppable and truly contagious. (The polyp suit says it all, right?)
I mentor worksites through the Montana Cancer Control Programs in the areas of worksite wellness and cancer prevention. I started using the Dress in Blue Day resources and information in 2011. After we did colon cancer activities and awareness that year, screening rates increased by 25% at those specific sites. We also did a press release and had great news coverage during the month.
What kinds of activities have you been involved with?
In 2013 we saw some amazing things happen at our worksites during March! Some of my personal favorites:
- Wellness team members shared testimonials about colon cancer and how important screening is along with a healthy lifestyle
- Tools (hammers, wrenches) were used to convey the different colon cancer prevention messages during a staff meeting. For instance, the hammer said “quit smoking.” Other tools had creative prevention messages
- In the spirit of “blue”, blueberry muffins were provided to the employees
- Colon cancer flyers were posted on wellness bulletin boards
- Dress in Blue Day posters were hung throughout different buildings, encouraging the 150 staff members to wear blue and support colon cancer awareness on the first Friday in March
- Employees got screened!
One of my proudest moments was getting this testimonial from one of our wellness team members. This means what we’re doing is working! After this, two more employees came forward at the site to share they had been checked for colon cancer.
“Penny I just want to let you know that because of all of this cancer talk, two of my guys, both in their 50’s had colonoscopies this week and both had polyps removed. The doctor told one of them that he was sitting on a time bomb and was so fortunate that he came in. Thanks for the good work and all of the info you pass on to us.”[caption id="attachment_1080" align="alignright" width="398"] Dee Strending holding a blue hard hat reading "Colon Cancer Prevention." Dee chairs the Public Works Department’s wellness team and is a hero at that site! She is zealous for colon cancer education and screening.[/caption]
Last year we connected with our local police department and they got involved. They did a fantastic job their first year and had some great ideas!
- Provided employees with blue and white ribbons to wear which they called “Rump Ribbons”
- Staff stepped up to assist the wellness team by creating the ribbons and preparing tasty blue treats for staff. This included “colonoli’s” – little cannoli’s with a blue ribbon piped on them
- Colon cancer and Dress in Blue Day flyers were posted throughout the site
Why do you do what you do?
I am passionate about wellness and prevention. I want to help employees stay healthy so they can be all they can be at their jobs and for their families. Wellness is not what we do to people, but what we do for them. Cancer has had an impact in my life. I lost my grandmother and father to leukemia, a good friend to breast cancer and my sister is a breast cancer survivor. They continue to find that lifestyle and cancer are linked.
I have found doing worksite wellness that cancer prevention is so appreciated by employees. They may not be ready to hear about physical activity and nutrition, but they all relate to cancer in their lives in some respect. Employees have told me how much they appreciate their employer offering cancer prevention information. With over 60% of Americans in the workforce, we have a captive audience for addressing cancer before it occurs.[caption id="attachment_1081" align="alignright" width="238"] Penny Paul (right) with City of Great Falls Public Work’s wellness team, Dee Strending (left) and
Paula Baroch (middle). Both ladies have experienced colon cancer in their families and are very proactive at their site.[/caption]
Why is Colon Cancer Awareness Month so important?
As public health professionals in Montana, we want to increase screening rates and provide education to individuals whether they have insurance or not, and Colon Cancer Awareness Month is a great avenue to do that. It’s so rewarding to actually see your efforts creating change and positively impacting people’s lives, particularly moving individuals to get screened. We also want to reduce the stigma around this cancer.
What is your best advice for someone looking to get involved with March who hasn’t been before?
Honestly, check out the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Dress in Blue Day site. I went to the website and saw all the creative ideas, resources and information. It was such great materials and so many neat ideas on how to incorporate awareness at the workplace that I was immediately inspired and knew I need to get myself and my team involved. The work is a lot easier with organizations such as yours.