Left to right: While remaining socially distanced, York Housing Authority employees Tasia Washington, Bill Carlisle and Erma Dubose gather in a large conference room at their office to participate in “Sister Talk,” a virtual breast cancer forum presented by the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement on Oct. 13. (Photo submitted by Renee Pringle) Left to right: While remaining socially distanced, York Housing Authority employees Tasia Washington, Bill Carlisle and Erma Dubose gather in a large conference room at their office to participate in “Sister Talk,” a virtual breast cancer forum presented by the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement on Oct. 13. (Photo submitted by Renee Pringle)

Leaders of the York Housing Authority are determined to bring essential health messages to their residents, even as they remain physically separated during the pandemic.

York, Alabama, housing employees this week participated in a virtual conversation with more than 100 other people about breast cancer detection, treatment and survivorship.

“Sister Talk” was the first of two interactive virtual conversations about breast cancer presented by the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I wanted my staff to understand that this can happen,” said York Housing Authority Executive Director Renee Pringle. “We pray and hope that it does not, but we know there is that possibility, and we want to have ourselves prepared for that.”

Staff members joined this candid conversation about breast cancer, its treatment and its aftermath via Zoom. The event included personal stories from survivors themselves, who talked about their individual challenges and triumphs over breast cancer.

“I thought it would be good for them to listen to people who have been through it and listen to their journey,” said Pringle, whose mother is also a decades-long breast cancer survivor.  “For the men, you have women in your life that you love and care about, and it’s good for you to have an understanding about the people around you if they have to go through this.”

Tuesday’s virtual event began a discussion among the York Housing Authority employees that continued long after the Zoom computer screens went dark.

“It was very good for them to get this education, and it came from people who actually have been through this and have actually survived,” Pringle said. “It showed that this is something that you can beat. Hearing the women’s journeys and the stories they shared was uplifting to them.”

Adjusting to change, continuing the mission:

Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this month is usually one of the busiest times of the year for cancer health advocates, but Glenda James said the pandemic has forced an unexpected change in the way awareness events are conducted.

As the chair of the York Housing Authority and as a longtime O’Neal Cancer Center community outreach coordinator, James extended a virtual invitation to Tuesday’s “Sister Talk” to Pringle and her staff, as well as a variety of other groups and individuals to whom she would have normally presented in person.

“Because of COVID-19, we have to think of safe ways to get the word out,” James said.  “This is a way to get the word out in a different manner. We can’t meet in person, but we can still touch people’s lives and increase screenings in our community.”

Join the York Housing Authority and the O'Neal Cancer Center's Office of Community Outreach & Engagement at noon on Monday, Oct. 19, for "Breast Cancer 101," a virtual lunch-and-learn session.

Pringle said that all of those at the York Housing Authority who participated in “Sister Talk” on Tuesday left the virtual session with vows to share their newfound insights on breast cancer with friends, family members and the residents they serve.

“I told them to share it,” Pringle said. “Don’t just keep it to yourself. Tell them what you witnessed and what you’ve learned.”

This breast cancer forum is the latest in a series of virtual events from the O’Neal Cancer Center to safely continue education and awareness activities throughout the state during the ongoing pandemic.

The Cancer Center will also host a second virtual breast cancer education event, called “Breast Cancer 101,” at noon on Monday, Oct. 19. For this event, Pringle will invite other York Housing Authority residents to participate and will provide each attendee with a take-out boxed lunch.

In order to meet social distancing guidelines, Pringle says that a few residents will be able to join her in the office to stream the virtual session in person, while others will join the session online or on the phone.

“I’m trying to encourage them to go online and watch with us, even if they can’t be with us,” she said. 

Pringle said she believes it’s critical to encourage residents to continue their regular medical exams and mammograms, despite the pandemic.

“Breast cancer is not going to stop because of COVID-19, so we have to find a means to educate people,” Pringle said.

Register for Monday’s “Breast Cancer 101” Zoom lunch-and-learn session at go.uab.edu/pink101.