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Episode 8, Part 2: Engaging Communities to Advance the Quest to End Cancer

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Episode 8, Part 2: Engaging Communities to Advance the Quest to End Cancer

Jun 18, 2024

We discuss Huntsman Cancer Institute's innovative community partnerships to end cancer, including unique strategies involving dentists and peer-to-peer teen advocacy to address challenges like teen vaping.


Heather Simonsen, MA
Public Affairs Senior Manager
Huntsman Cancer Institute


Cari Herington
Executive Director
Nevada Cancer Coalition


Star Jones
Cancer and Chronic Disease Unit Manager
Wyoming Department of Health

Welcome and Introductions (00:51)

Heather Simonsen: Hello, and welcome to [our podcast], where we ask the question, how can we deliver a [future without cancer]? I'm your host, Heather Simonsen. Community partnerships are vital to Huntsman Cancer Institute's vision to end cancer through the Mountain West. We've just been speaking with Rachel Ceballos and Garrett Harding from Huntsman Cancer Institute's Community Outreach and Engagement Team. Now, we're going to turn to the other side of the relationship. We're going to talk to some of our community partners to learn what collaboration with a comprehensive cancer center looks like for them. We've invited two guests from neighboring states to chat with us. Star Jones is the cancer and chronic disease prevention unit manager at the Wyoming State Department of Health. Cari Herington is the executive director of the Nevada Cancer Coalition. Well Star, Cari, it's very nice to meet you and a pleasure to have you on the podcast today.

Star Jones: Thank you.

Cari Herington: It’s nice to be here.

Harnessing the natural gifts of small towns (01:55)

Heather Simonsen: Why don't we start off with each of you telling us a bit about your organization. Star, why don't you go first?

Star Jones: Sure. I'm with the Wyoming Department of Health and we receive funding to support and facilitate the Wyoming Cancer Coalition, otherwise called the WYCC. And that is a group of individuals and organizations who come together to align their efforts and leverage their resources to reduce the burden of cancer in Wyoming.

Heather Simonsen: And Cari?

Cari Herington: I'm with Nevada Cancer Coalition, and very similar to what Star described, we are a statewide organization. And we bring together anyone and everyone, public health, private health businesses, individuals, to work together on reducing the burden of cancer in our state. Here in Nevada, we are a separate 501c3 nonprofit. We actually have a staff of eight for the entire state, but our strength really relies on our 600 coalition members. Really those community partners across the state.

Heather Simonsen: Wow. Busy, busy ladies it sounds like. What do you both love about where you live? I mean, I'd love for you to just paint a picture for us. Star, what do you love about your hometown?

Star Jones: A lot of people will say we're so small that everyone is your neighbor. Everybody's super friendly, you'll hear stories of people going out of their way to help other people. Somebody broke down on the interstate, they'll stop by and help them. They heard that their neighbor's freezer went out, so they'll figure out how to store their food while they get a replacement. Or they'll find another friend that has the part that needs to fix that refrigerator. So, it's really a close-knit community, and I love that. I know that the people who are working in the public health space, or even in health care, they're very passionate about their communities. They're passionate about being neighborly, and doing what's right. So, it's very easy to find people that are passionate, or to find champions, because they just want to do the best thing for their neighbors and for their communities.

Heather Simonsen: And so, it's like harnessing that natural gift of the small town for good and for ending cancer. 

Star Jones: Oh, yes. 

Heather Simonsen: Love that. And Cari?

Cari Herington: Oh gosh, so many things about Nevada. I'm originally from California and wasn't sure that Nevada was going to be my place, but it's pretty darn amazing. And I don't know where else I would move. The outdoors, and believe it or not, I know we talk about casinos and those kinds of things, but people that live here love interacting with the outdoors. From hiking, to skiing, to lake activities, etc. People are very health oriented for the most part, I think. And similar to what Star shared, I think that almost small community in some ways. But people seem a lot more apt to help each other, partnerships. I've worked in a number of coalitions in various aspects of health care over the years. And the ability for organizations, oftentimes competitors, to connect and partner for the greater good has been pretty darn amazing. And I haven't seen that everywhere I've lived, but I really have enjoyed that here in Nevada. And I think it's pretty special.

Heather Simonsen: Well, both places sound amazing. It strikes me how important that is. That we here in Salt Lake City at Huntsman Cancer Institute, we don't know all those nuances. You know? We wouldn't know how to approach a big issue or prevention discussion. Like Cari, you mentioned the outdoorsy-ness of Nevadans. Sun protection and sun safety, that's a preventable cancer. And yet, you've got to know how to get the message across in the right way. So, thank you for your partnership with us.

Cari Herington: Absolutely.

Unique health care challenges in Nevada and Wyoming: Addressing rural access and resource scarcity (06:40)

Heather Simonsen: What are the unique barriers to serving each of your states? I mean, what's different in Nevada versus Wyoming? Let's start with you, Cari.

Cari Herington: Sure. I think we're similar in a lot of ways. I will say Nevada is the seventh largest state in landmass. So, while the majority of our population resides in either Clark County, the Las Vegas area, or Reno, and we're actually seven hours apart, we do have a small portion of our population that live in our rural and frontier counties and communities. Which is quite a large area across our state. They can be three to four hours from cancer care. We're also a health care provider desert, there aren't enough providers in Nevada to serve our communities. Definitely not enough specialists per capita. And then in the state of Nevada, historically, our state does not fund public health efforts. So those are a few of our barriers.

Heather Simonsen: Wow. That must be a big one. The funding issue, I would think.

Cari Herington: That one is a big one for sure.

Heather Simonsen: And Star, what about you?

Star Jones: Very similar, in that Wyoming is considered mainly a rural state. We have less than 600,000 people in our state. So, we actually have more antelope in our state than we do people.

Heather Simonsen: I love that comparison, that is a great way to say it. What are some of those unique barriers?

Star Jones: So, what that means for our state is that the people who are working in health care, or public health, or even in coalition work, they are most likely wearing multiple hats or they're at capacity working on very similar projects or priorities. And so, the barrier for us is that these people are being asked more, and more, and more. Especially healthcare providers, they're having to see more patients every day. Or for patients, it takes a lot longer to get into an appointment. So, they end up being sicker by the time that they're able to get seen by a provider. It's just a complexity of not having enough resources for the people in your state, but not having enough people to garner more resources.

How partnership can open doors for research, education, and innovation (09:10)

Heather Simonsen: Well, and what does a partnership with Huntsman Cancer Institute mean for each of you? Star, we can start with you.

Star Jones: When I think of the work that we do with Huntsman [Cancer Institute], I think of new innovations and ideas. The team at Huntsman, I always feel they're ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing. So, working with Huntsman has been great for my team and for the organizations in my state. For example, many of our cancer centers use the patient navigation services that are available at Huntsman as well as the resource library. So, they're able to get up to date educational information that we may not have had access to. [The institute] does a lot of research, where we don't necessarily have anyone in our state doing research. So, we can kind of tap into some of those things that Huntsman is working on without having to have set aside staff or funding for those opportunities. A few of our clinics have worked with Huntsman on an HPV vaccination project. So, they were able to work with Huntsman and their team, and expertise in effective strategies and research when it came to that project.

Heather Simonsen: Oh, that’s so good to hear. And Cari?

Cari Herington: I would echo what Star has shared. And we've borrowed, for example, a Huntsman expert and physicians to share cutting edge care and treatment education with our Nevada providers, to really bump up treatments and care in Nevada. We've also worked, as Star had shared, in partnership with them on some research projects. [The Cancer Center] has both the expertise and experience to run these projects, and it's been a phenomenal experience. A couple of them have been focused on tobacco prevention and early detection, for example. Looking at unique ways to really prevent tobacco use. So, we are looking at working within the dental arena with teens. We know vaping as a huge issue with our teens, but we know most of them don't go to a health care provider. So, a doctor might not be able to talk to a teen about quitting. But we do know 75% of our teens do go to the dentist. So that might be an opportunity to really reach out to them and talk to them about quitting, or just not vaping whatsoever. It's been nice to have that expertise and experience to work with them in some unique research areas, as well. And Huntsman serves many Nevadans who are much closer to Huntsman as a cancer care provider. So, it's been a great partnership working in conjunction with them for some of our communities and our patients with cancer.

Heather Simonsen: I appreciate you sharing that.

Cari Herington: I did want to add in the camaraderie that they provided with other states serving the Mountain West. All of us states with similar challenges, rural and frontier populations, they've been able to provide that connection for all of us. And that's been phenomenal and much appreciated.

Heather Simonsen: Well, and help us understand that. Like you mentioned the vaping. I mean, that's such a huge problem. And there's so many misconceptions among teenagers and young adults that there's no nicotine, and it's not addictive, and it's not harmful. I mean, how do you how do you reach those teens?

Cari Herington: Oh, my gosh, that is a big question. Well, that's what we're trying to determine, the best way to reach them. And we thought, hey, this might be a unique opportunity. So, we're doing some research with dentists and hygienists in our area. Also focus groups with teens, to say, hey, is this an opportunity to talk with you about this? We know you don't want to hear it from parents, you don't want to hear it from the government, but might the dental office be an opportunity? So, we're just in the in the early stages of that research. Really working with teens across the state to see what might work and what might not. And finding those team champions that can help share the messages outside of the health care realm. Instead of us telling them what to do, having teens, basically that peer to peer, talk to each other. So those are some of the strategies we've been employing or researching in Nevada. But it is that never ending challenge, and I know we're not unique. Vaping, unfortunately, has joined the ranks in many states of pulling those teams back into the smoking realm.

Making connections and building trust through collaborations (14:17)

Heather Simonsen: So, let's talk about your contributions to this partnership, the ways you're able to help us.

Star Jones: So, I kind of feel like my role within Huntsman [Cancer Institute} is the connector for my state. There are a lot of tiny organizations in Wyoming, and they're not easy to find. You can't just go Google who does this. So, whenever Huntsman reaches out to me and says, hey, we want to do this type of project, or we're looking for this type of organization, do you know anyone? I can say yeah, and then I can make the connections and do the introductions. And it helps Huntsman know exactly who to get in contact with within those organization, but then it also lets that organization know that this is a trusted partner. They've been connected by somebody in their state that they know and they trust. And so, they feel better about diving into a relationship with Huntsman on a project because they know that they've kind of been vetted by somebody in their state that has worked with them on other things.

Heather Simonsen: Oh, that makes so much sense. Cari, do you have anything to add?

Cari Herington: Absolutely, totally agree with Star on that we're able to connect Huntsman with those potential partners. We like to call it “coalitioning” here in Nevada: connecting people and organizations together. So, to be that connector on the larger realm. I think we also provide expertise in our respective states and with the communities we serve, because Huntsman does serve patients in all of our states. And we're able to give them some of that information, and again, that expertise on what may or may not work in Nevada, and what's going on with patients coming back to Nevada, how to connect them back into resources in our various states. And then again, researching. Expanding those research opportunities, connecting Huntsman [Cancer Institute] with participants for potential research, and recruiting partners for those projects as well.

Heather Simonsen: And what goes into making a successful public health partnership?

Cari Herington: That's a really big question, too. I think we're always working to improve these partnerships, and build more partnerships in public health in our coalitions in our states. I think definitely shared goals. So, if these partners have shared goals in increasing, basically health care. That quality of life in their communities, that's a huge piece of it. The ability to work with others. Oftentimes, what could be considered a competitor, you may have to work with in a coalition. Dedication, definitely dedication. Being willing to share strengths and resources with other partners. And creativity, we look for public health partners that can be creative. Let's come up with solutions for those we serve and let's move together on those creative solutions. And if something doesn't work, let's change direction. I do think public health partners also help identify those barriers in their various communities. So, we rely on them to say, hey, here's what's going on in Washoe County. Or here's what's happening in the Hispanic community. And how do we work together to address this?

Community Advisory Board members share wins and challenges (18:08)

Heather Simonsen: Wow. So, so important. And you're members of Huntsman Cancer Institute's community advisory board, right?

Cari Herington: Yes.

Heather Simonsen: What does that look like for you?

Star Jones: It's a win-win for me. I get to hear about all the great ideas from Huntsman and the other states or partners that are in the community advisory board. I get to hear about what they're doing or what they're thinking about exploring. And then I can bring those ideas back to my state and say, you know, hey, do you want to work on something similar to this? Could this work in our state? How can we modify this to meet the needs that we have? And then on the flip side, I get to share what we're working on, or areas that we might be struggling with. And I can ask for ideas and resources from the other members. Then we get to have our voices heard by Huntsman and saying like, this is a real challenge in our state. And perhaps they can staff a project to kind of work towards that challenge, or they can do a research project about that challenge. And so, it's a great opportunity to have your voice heard, but also to hear a lot of great ideas from other people working in a similar space.

Heather Simonsen: Great answer. Yeah, go ahead, please.

Cari Herington: Oh, absolutely. I'm really proud to be a part of the board. It also means being a part of the discussion and solutions for the Mountain West as a whole, which is pretty cool. It's connecting with passionate and talented people and I consider them, including Star, friends. We're all working towards similar goals. So yeah, it really means a lot to be a part of that. And as Star shared, it's really a win-win situation for all of us.

A brighter future through quality, access, and ‘leaving things better than we found them’ (19:49)

Heather Simonsen: I love to hear the friendships that have developed. Our last question is something we ask all our guests. And that is, what does [ending cancer as we know it] mean to you? Cari?

Cari Herington: Oh gosh, that's a big one. So, sort of my vision would be healthy communities across our states with equitable access to quality cancer care. Actually, equitable access to health care and support. I would love to see all of us cancer-free. Or at least with the ability to support those cancer survivors across our states.

Heather Simonsen: Beautiful. Star, what does [it] mean to you?

Star Jones: I mean, cancer is a universal term. Everyone that we know has been impacted by cancer in one way, shape, or form. Or they know someone who has. That means that there's a lot of work to do, but also that there's a lot of people willing to chip in. So, I don't know that I will ever see [the day when cancer is gone from the face of the earth] in my lifetime, but I know that the work that I'm doing today will mean that my children will grow up in a different world. And perhaps their chances of having cancer, or knowing someone who had cancer, will be lower. That's one thing that I actually know I'll be able to leave in a better condition than when I found it.

Heather Simonsen: And that is such a good feeling, wow. Well, I'm so grateful to both of you for your contributions today. Thank you for being here.

Star Jones: Thank you so much for having us and for all the work that Huntsman is doing. We really appreciate having a strong partner like Huntsman. 

Thank you (21:32)

Heather Simonsen: Thank you so much to Star Jones and Cari Herington for joining us today. We're so grateful they could tell us about how our community partners engage with Huntsman Cancer Institute, and vice versa. And to our dedicated listeners, we are so thankful for your support. For additional resources, be sure to check out our show notes. And if you want to stay connected with us and be the first to know about upcoming episodes, subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. Please log on to Apple podcasts and leave us a five-star review. This helps other people like you find this podcast. And if you have questions, comments, suggestions for future episodes, or a personal story you'd like to share, please visit our website I'm your host, Heather Simonsen. It's been great to be with you today. A special thanks to the Huntsman Cancer Institute Communications and Public Affairs team. And The Pod Mill, for their help with this episode.