National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States and Canada takes place in October. Breast cancer affects many women and men directly, and many others indirectly through the diagnosis of family members and friends. While awareness campaigns have highlighted the prevalence of breast cancer, the fact that breast cancer affects young women is often not as widely discussed, perpetuating the need to educate young women about their risk of breast cancer. Team Shan is an organization that is doing just that. I had the opportunity to catch up with Team Shan founder and president, Lorna Larsen, this week to discuss Team Shan.
Emily: How did Team Shan get started and when was the organization founded?
Team Shan Breast Cancer Awareness for Young Women (Team Shan) is named after Shanna (Shan) Larsen. Shan was only 24 when she lost her life to breast cancer. Team Shan was founded by family and friends in 2006 in an effort to make a difference for young women following in Shan's footsteps. Team Shan registered as a national charity in Canada in 2010.
Emily: Who was Shan?
Shan was my daughter. She was a beautiful, bright and caring young woman who loved to work with children. Shan was a talented artist, skilled athlete and professional figure skating coach. Her dream was to teach. Shan had graduated from university and was planning to attend Teachers College when she was diagnosed late with metastatic breast cancer.
Emily: Can you explain the need to raise awareness and educate young women about breast cancer?
Shan's symptoms, not unlike many young adults, were misdiagnosed. Medical practitioners assumed the most common diagnosis in an active, young woman and did not rule out the most devastating. Young women need to know their risk of breast cancer.
Emily: What do young women need to know regarding breast cancer and early detection?
Knowing they are at risk of the disease is paramount. Young women also need to understand both the controllable and uncontrollable risk factors, breast cancer facts and symptoms. There is no routine breast cancer screening available for young women. They need to know their breasts, how they look and feel. They need to know when to seek medical attention for identified breast changes and with persistent symptoms be empowered to ask the question "Could this be cancer?"
Emily: Can you explain the need to educate health professionals in the area of breast cancer in young women?
Unfortunately, health care professional awareness of cancer in young adults is also limited. Primary care providers need to understand the risk of cancer in young adults and presenting symptoms that may indicate the disease. Community health professionals including public health and post secondary school health services staff need to promote breast cancer awareness and breast health in their communities and on their campuses.
Emily: What activities does Team Shan conduct to achieve these goals?
Team Shan facilitates breast cancer awareness campaigns on college and university campuses across Canada. Team Shan regularly presents in high schools, post secondary schools and at community events to help reach young women where they reside, attend school or work. Team Shan provides inservice education to community health workers and presents regularly at health care professional conferences. Team Shan also produces and distributes print materials to the public, health care professionals and young women. I have published on the issue and continue to work with others to advocate for young adults.
Team Shan uses a comprehensive health promotion strategy to design, implement and evaluate our campaigns. Shan's face and story are part of the marketing and media design work and our tag line is breast cancer...not just a disease of older women. Shan's sunflower art is used in our graphics and Team Shan logo.
Team Shan public awareness campaigns have been successful in reaching young women regarding their breast cancer risk and breast health information. Young women have responded to Shan's face and her story. They have also appreciated not being forgotten in breast cancer messaging.
Emily: What have been some of the highlights you have experienced so far?
Highlights for me include the positive response from young women to Team Shan activities and the commitment from health care and education professionals to making a difference for young women in their communities. The most gratifying highlight is the feedback from young women, families and health care providers regarding young women who were diagnosed early because of our campaigns, received or were receiving the right treatment and getting on with their lives.
Emily: How do you see Team Shan growing in the upcoming years?
Ideally Team Shan will no longer exist when our goals of early detection and improved outcomes for young women diagnosed with breast cancer are met. The goals will be supported when high school curricula, public health initiatives and campus student health services routinely dedicate health promotion activities to educate well adolescents and young adults at the local level on their cancer risk. What they learn today will last their lifetime. Until then, Team Shan will continue to share the messages using activities that have been evaluated to be successful at making a difference for young women.
Emily: Where should young women go to find reliable information related to breast cancer awareness and early detection?
The Team Shan website teamshan.ca is designed to reach young women with up to date information on their breast health, breast cancer awareness and early detection. Larger organizations including the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Canadian Cancer Society also provide breast cancer information on their sites.
Team Shan will be facilitating breast cancer awareness campaigns in NE, NW and SW Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Calgary, Alberta; Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and Victoria, British Columbia this fall.