Overcoming the unknown

Lessons from exhibiting the Prevent Cancer Super Colon® at the UnidosUS Family Expo

Sharon Jacobs | Published on January 7, 2019

Overcoming the unknown

The UnidosUS conference serves as a meeting and learning environment for individuals within the Hispanic community. The Family Expo that accompanies the conference allows for various organizations to connect with the community as well as provide various goods and services.

I worked as a Programs Intern at the Prevent Cancer Foundation® and though it’s hard to believe that my time in the D.C. area went by so quickly, I have plenty of memories of my work there that I’ve taken back with me to Houston, Texas.

One of my most memorable moments with the Foundation is traveling with the Prevent Cancer Super Colon® to the UnidosUS Annual Conference and Family Expo in early July in Washington D.C. Our bilingual team offered education and information about colorectal cancer risk and screening, while kids ran laps through the Super Colon and parents learned about colorectal cancer.

A few younger children excitedly led their families to the entrance of the tunnel-like colon only to slow down, hesitating as they peered into the darkness and saw odd shapes inside. These reactions weren’t unexpected from children, but what did catch me off guard were some reactions from adults:

“I refuse to go anywhere near that thing!”
“I’d rather not know.”
“I’m afraid of what I’ll find out.”
“No thanks.”
“That’s, umm, really graphic.”

Then I remembered a teammate’s explanation of why younger children sometimes shrink back from the entrance of the Super Colon, even after running up to it so excitedly: It’s because they can’t see through to the end. See, the Super Colon is U-shaped, so peeking through the entrance doesn’t give a clear view of the exit. To a young child, it may be frightening to walk into such a small space without knowing how to get out.

Perhaps the adults hesitated for a similar reason. Maybe they feel uncomfortable about where this knowledge might lead. Maybe the idea of cancer is so anxiety-inducing that not knowing about it seems easier to handle. Like the young kids, maybe the fear of the unknown caused some adults to shrink away from the Super Colon exhibit.

As one put it, “I’m afraid of what I’ll find out.”

One visitor thought the exhibit was very graphic, gesturing to the bulbous cancer growth bursting out from the wall of the colon. It’s an unpleasant visualization of a scary possibility—no one wants to imagine the disease in his or her own body.

But that ‘graphic’ growth represents one of the most preventable cancers. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in the nation; if everyone got recommended screenings, many colorectal cancers could be prevented or found earlier, when successful treatment is more likely.

I sympathize with the fear felt by the person who said, “I’m afraid of what I’ll find out.” But colorectal cancer is Preventable! Beatable! Treatable!® and the possibility of waiting until it’s too late is a far more frightening alternative.

If you’re peeking into the tunnel of preventive screening and hesitating because you don’t know where it will lead, I encourage you to take a step forward. Consider the risk and benefits, and talk with your health care professional about which screenings are right for you.

Sharon Jacobs is a graduate student pursuing master’s degrees in public health and social work at the University of Texas School of Health and the University of Houston, respectively. Her internship at the Foundation was made possible through her summer fellowship from the Archer Center in Washington, D.C.

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