Based on the experience of former student Amy Brechon, an awareness of breast health may be no stronger at any high school than Belvidere North. That awareness could be reinforced by a program offered to the school this week by Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, founder and executive director of the Get In Touch Foundation. The Connecticut-based foundation honored Brechon — a breast cancer survivor after she discovered a lump at age 13 — as its 2009 Woman of Strength last fall and asked the high school for a chance to present its program.
Based on the experience of former student Amy Brechon, an awareness of breast health may be no stronger at any high school than Belvidere North.
That awareness could be reinforced by a program offered to the school this week by Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, founder and executive director of the Get In Touch Foundation which advocates teaching girls in grades 5 through 12 the importance of and how to do a breast self-exam. The Connecticut-based foundation honored Brechon — a breast cancer survivor after she discovered a lump at age 13 — as its 2009 Woman of Strength last fall and asked the high school for a chance to present its program.
“I’m talking to the other school nurses to see what they want to do and if they are as receptive as I,” Belvidere North school nurse Phyllis Dake, who met with Wasil Nilan on Tuesday, said in a telephone interview. “It’s promoting health and having the connection with Amy just seems the reason to bring it home.”
Dake said she sent information about the foundation’s program to the nurses at Belvidere High and Belvidere Central and Belvidere South middle schools to gauge their interest.
“If the middle schools are going to be involved,” she said, “I guess that would have to be approved by the school board, but I’m assuming that if the nurses are on board that would pretty much be the determining factor.” Dake said, if the other school nurses approve, going to the board would be her next step.
Wasil Nilan, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2004 at age 39, said the foundation’s copyrighted Get In Touch Girls’ Program and Daisy Wheel “is not about breast cancer, it is all about breast health.
“We developed this program specifically because we want girls to be aware of their own bodies, to know what is normal for them. We target girls grades 5 through 12 specifically because fifth grade is typically the grade in which school nurses or health educators begin to talk to girls about health and hygiene and we feel like it’s a golden opportunity to incorporate breast health practice into an educational program.”
A key to the program is providing the foundation’s Daisy Wheel, which guides users through eight easy-to-understand steps, or “petals,” to a breast self-exam using age-appropriate language.
The final “petal” encourages the user to discuss any concerns with their mother, a school nurse or teacher or another trusted person.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to know what your breasts feel like,” Wasil Nilan said. “Be smart, not scared. I say that over and over.”
When a school joins the program, the foundation provides Daisy Wheels to a school nurse or another health educator who gets them into the hands of the students.
“What they do with it at that point is up to them,” Dake said, “but the idea behind the foundation is that it’s repeated year after year (from 5th grade through senior year) so that, by the time they graduate, they’ve heard it eight times.
“It’s like washing your hands. You know the importance of doing it and you just automatically do it. You don’t have to analyze why you put soap on your hands when you’re washing your hands, so this concept will make it a learned behavior so you don’t have to have this grand all-out effort.”
The Daisy Wheels are provided free to the schools but students and faculty are asked to participate in a “GIT Your Pink On” Day on the third Friday in October each year and make a $1 donation to Get In Touch. The foundation also provides a free breast self-exam video on its Web site at getintouchfoundation.org.
More information about the program is available on the Web site or by calling (203) 283-5127.
Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the group
What: Get in Touch Foundation
Who: Founder and Executive Director Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, a five-year cancer survivor
Where: P.O. Box 2144, Milford, Conn.
Contact: email@example.com, (203) 283-5127