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Massey Cancer Community Connection Coalition offers support in 2023

Jan 17, 2023

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More than two dozen community members and leaders from VCU Massey Cancer Center virtually convened on Jan. 10 for the first Massey Cancer Community Connection Coalition (MCCCC) meeting of 2023. Representatives from historically underserved groups, external health sciences professionals and other community members comprise the coalition; the volunteers work with Massey to reduce the cancer burden in Massey’s catchment area, defined as the 66 localities served by the center.

The meeting began with remarks by Rudene Mercer Haynes, the MCCCC chair and Massey Advisory Board member; and Debbie Chatman Bryant, DNP, RN, FAAN, executive director of operations for Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) at Massey.

Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., then explained the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) renewal process that Massey completed in 2022. He acknowledged how the cancer center’s community-to-bench model helps to set it apart from other institutions. 

“We have made a commitment to the community,” said Winn, who is also the Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey. “When it comes to psycho-social issues, behavior modifications and how the institution breaks down barriers and approaches prevention, Massey is fundamentally focused on how to do that better.”

Three Massey researchers made presentations at the MCCCC meeting.

Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., associate director for research training and education and member of the Cancer Biology research program at Massey who holds the Harrison Foundation Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research, discussed the Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination (CRTEC) program. CRTEC provides contemporary oncology education and training to emerging scientists. The priority is to attract diverse individuals - from high school through undergraduate and graduate school - who will choose long-term careers in cancer-related research pathways.

After highlighting the successes of several past CRTEC participants, Sarkar made a call to action for the coalition to help Massey make an even greater impact.

“We tell you what we are doing, but at the same time we want your involvement in expanding our program and making our program more meaningful to the community we serve,” Sarkar said. “Through your connections with school, faith-based organizations and youth groups, you can help us extend our ability to reach potential applicants to ensure every opportunity is filled in summer 2023.”

Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for population science and the Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey, led the second presentation on proposed changes to policy that would reduce tobacco-related cancer incidence and mortality across the state. He provided data and projections on the improvements that Virginia would see from tobacco retail licensing, an increased number of tobacco-free colleges and universities, classifying casinos as smoke-free workplaces and a higher taxation on tobacco products.

Among his talking points, Fuemmeler noted that 28% of cancer deaths in Virginia are directly attributable to smoking; every year, approximately 10,300 Virginia adults die from smoking.

“If we look at the prevalence of smoking in certain areas of Virginia, in particular our catchment, we see heavy smoking in many of these communities,” Fuemmeler said. “It is imperative for us to address this disparity because this disparity in tobacco use will lead to disparities in cancer outcomes.”

In the third presentation, Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for COE at Massey, outlined COE’s role in Massey’s Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) team science grant, notably the creation of the  SU2C Lung Cancer Health Equity Research Team. This team is developing culturally-sensitive, community-informed interventions aimed at reducing lung cancer disparities in the Black community.

In 2023, Sheppard said the COE team will focus on educating individuals about lung cancer screening by visiting communities with Massey’s new mobile vans, offering virtual and in-person informational sessions and connecting with individuals for one-on-one services.

“Massey has a goal of infusing the community in everything we do,” Sheppard commented. “Our goal is to be in the community and have the community within our center. That relates to everything we do in COE, and that is why the coalition is crucial to our work.”

Coalition members joined breakout sessions facilitated by each presenter. The open forum setting allowed the presenters to hear feedback and ideas on how to improve the projects and goals discussed throughout the meeting. MCCCC members will now complete action items identified at the breakout sessions.

The next coalition meeting is scheduled for July 2023.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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