The Sibley Oncology Clinic at United Medical Center (UMC) in Southeast held its Cancer Awareness Day on Saturday, May 20 as part of a multi-tiered effort to inform an underserved community and tackle the region’s abnormally high cancer mortality rates.
Facing a patient population with declining incomes, rising uninsured rates, lower access to adequate nutrition and some of the highest breast, colon and rectum, and prostate cancer rates in the country, United Medical Center rises to serve the needs of its habitually underserved community.
“In Wards 7 and 8, we have a collection of some of the most complex patients in the area,” said Dr. Raymond Tu, chairman of radiology at United Medical Center, where he’s resided for 40 years. “Our patients face the greatest number of economic and comorbidity challenges.”
More often, patients show up to UMC with highly complicated, advanced stages of cancer and other diseases and face higher chances of morbidity than in any other area that UMC serves.
“Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer less frequently, but they present with the disease at later stages and die from the disease at much higher rates,” Tu said.
In light of these glaring disparities, United Medical Center addresses the community’s unique challenges and needs by hiring a diversity of top-level staff, incorporating education and awareness into their health care practice and making health care resources more accessible.
Through accessible educational awareness, UMC’s Cancer Awareness Day combatted the core issue of Southeast’s high cancer rates in its community: misinformation.
Streaming on Facebook Live to over 140,000 viewers, UMC’s Cancer Awareness Day offered a full arsenal of expertise from National Cancer Institute (NCI), Howard University Hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital, United Medical Center physicians and researchers.
The day was chock-full of health resources: from panel discussions led by foremost medical practitioners to informative sessions from UMC oncologists, surgical clinic directors, holistic nutritionists, and NIH researchers, many of whom are cancer survivors themselves.
Attendees weren’t shy to engage with the panels, which were made up of physicians, cancer survivors and caretakers to ask them questions about cancer and learn more about coping and surviving the disease.
Additional presentations and panels on lifestyle change and healthy eating alternatives were popular with event attendees, unsurprising since poor environment and food quality are acknowledged factors in the area’s high cancer rates.
“In Wards 7 and 8, you’ll find more places to buy cigarettes than to by nice fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Melvin Gaskins, oncologist and director of the Sibley Clinic. “It’s an environmental issue and food desert situation. That’s going to impact cancer rates.”
A dearth of food options in lower-income, minority communities across the country is also a contributing factor in many health issues.
Dr. Ruby Lathon, a holistic health and wellness expert, dispelled rumors and answered questions about proper acid-alkaline balance in the body, soybeans’ potential danger to hormone balance, the toxicity of diet foods and artificial sweeteners, and the benefits of home gardening.
“Food can be medicine,” Lathon said. “Over 70 percent of disease starts in the gut, and your gut helps break down the food. If your balance is off, it will affect the absorption of the food that you’re eating and be a precursor for disease.”
Theresa Kelly, a local attendee, came away with news to spread to her church and family.
“There’s information I had no idea about,” Kelly said. “Lifestyle and nutrition change is a big one. Today was a true educational moment. I didn’t plan to, but I just felt I needed to stay for the whole day because the information was so good. I’m bringing people next year.”
United Medical Center has modeled its health care system to be sustainable, irreplaceable and accessible for the local Southeast community and the greater D.C. region as a whole. The center has engaged the international health care community while featuring such local physicians as Drs. Jose Parungao and Asghar Shaigany of Gastroenterology, LeeAnn Bailey of the NIH National Cancer Institute, and Lori Wilson, chief of surgical oncology at Howard University Hospital.
“With all the talk of building walls and building borders, UMC is working hard to expand our reach,” Tu said. “It’s critical to get the word out about symposium events like this because cancer definitely has no borders, the internet has no borders and people’s worries and concerns have no borders. Our health care has no borders, either.”