Students practice collaborative community outreach in Birmingham in preparation for solving the world's problems.By Rosalind Fournier
Kathryn Van Marter-Sanders is preparing for a career in the Peace Corps with a master’s degree from the UAB School of Public Health. But before she travels abroad, the second-year student has already tackled real community health problems in Birmingham as part of the UAB Interprofessional Global Health Service Learning (IGHSL) program.
The program, which launched in spring 2013, begins with classroom instruction in health disparities, global health, project planning, and interdisciplinary teamwork. Then students join together in small groups to implement these lessons in a real-life project with a community partner. Van Marter-Sanders chose the homeless-advocacy group One Roof for her project, working with UAB undergraduate students Stephen Voss, William Carter, and Agam Dhawan to design a vulnerability index for homeless individuals in Birmingham. Vulnerability indexes are used in other communities to identify those who face the highest health risks and should be prioritized for spots in available housing.
Van Marter-Sanders says she learned first and foremost that no one area of expertise can solve a problem on its own. “There are so many factors involved,” she explains. “Whether it’s fighting homelessness, disease, or other issues related to public wellness, if I were just to look at it from the perspective of my background in public health, I would be missing so many other factors that are just as important.”
Medicine in Motion
A Spin Through UAB’s New CyclotronBy Matt Windsor
Imagine you want to find tiny outposts of cancer, track the growth of Alzheimer’s plaques, or detect early signs of heart disease—things that you just can’t do with a traditional MRI or CT scan. One way would be to attach a homing device to a normal body compound, like glucose, insert it into a patient, and see where it goes. That’s positron emission tomography (PET) imaging in a nutshell.
The first step is making the homing devices. In the PET world, they’re known as tracers, and to produce them you’ll need a cyclotron. Cyclotrons make tiny particles go very fast. Using paired magnets, they accelerate protons and other particles to more than a million miles per hour, then shoot them in a beam at a target just outside the machine.
The goal is to convert a stable element into another, unstable element—that is, to make a radioisotope. The more power you have, the more isotopes you can make, and the more body processes you can image. UAB’s 24-million electron-volt cyclotron, which was installed in April 2013 as the centerpiece of the new Advanced Imaging Facility in the Wallace Tumor Institute, is the most powerful cyclotron at any U.S. academic medical center.
Young Breast Cancer Survivors Find Support and Strength
By Nancy Mann Jackson
After two mastectomies and reconstruction surgery, La'Rhonda Scott struggled with returning to a normal life until she discovered the Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network.
La’Rhonda Scott was diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 years old. The single mother underwent two mastectomies and reconstruction surgery, along with the accompanying emotional turmoil, while attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy for her three-year-old son.
Scott celebrated when she was declared cancer-free, but struggled with how to move forward with a “normal” life—how to dress with one breast, how to discuss what she’d been through with dates and her son, and how to process the ordeal personally.
Theresa “TJ” Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 45, “in the prime of my career,” she says. Once her treatments were completed, Bradley worried about how her illness would be perceived at work and whether it would affect her future career opportunities. While she wanted to start getting back to normal, “I did not feel normal,” she says. “I felt fatigued. My wig was hot and itchy. My body was different. My looks were different. My sleep was irregular, further adding to the chronic fatigue. I had survived my cancer and treatment, but now I had to learn to survive the ‘new normal.’”Young breast cancer survivors—those who are diagnosed before entering menopause—may share the health and body image concerns of survivors at all age groups, but they also face unique challenges, says Karen Meneses, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research at the UAB School of Nursing, who was named to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women in 2013.
“These women are starting careers or continuing careers, and they may have lots of questions about what to disclose at work about their health,” Meneses explains. “Some wonder how the disease will affect their ability to have children. Others have young children and must think about how to handle their diagnosis with their children.” Having breast cancer also represents a financial burden for many young survivors, Meneses adds.