By Alexis Dobranowski
March was Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
To raise awareness about prevention and screening, Grade 10 students were recently invited to research colorectal cancer and develop a video or graphic, and were given a unique opportunity at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in return.
In a pilot project with Bill Hogarth Secondary School, all students who entered the competition were invited to Sunnybrook to view colorectal cancer surgery (a minimally invasive colon resection) live via video hook up with Dr. Shady Ashamalla, renowned surgeon and educator.
Dr. Ashamalla explained what he doing each step of the way, and answered students’ questions in real time.
“The surgery wasn’t actually as gross as I thought it would be,” says Grade 10 student Madeleine Dupuis. “We could see the surgeon’s tools so close up. It was neat to see how the surgeons work inside such a small space in the body — they pump air into the stomach to create more room to work.”
“It was really amazing to watch the surgery step by step,” says Sierra Wild, age 15. “At one point I had a question about if the patient would feel any pain, and I was able to ask the surgeon right away.”
Sierra said she was also surprised to learn that making healthy lifestyle choices not only reduces the risk of getting cancer, it also can impact the outcome of your surgery when treated.
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the colon or rectum. Malignant means it is a cancerous tumour that can grow and spread. This cancer is highly treatable if caught early.
“As a leader in cancer care and in education, Sunnybrook is continually look for ways to engage our community, including high school students,” Dr. Ashamalla says. “This project allowed us to raise awareness about colon cancer prevention, and hopefully turn these students into junior experts on the topic. My hope is they go home and tell their parents and others about the importance of positive lifestyle changes and colorectal cancer screening.”
Dr. Ashamalla said giving the students an opportunity to see surgery and visit other areas of the hospital, like the Simulation Centre, Anatomic Pathology, and several research labs, would hopefully spur an interest in science, technology, engineering or math careers.
Casey Daleman, Bill Hogarth Secondary School head of science, agrees.
“This was an amazing experience for our students to see surgery, talk to a surgeon as well as other healthcare professionals at the hospital,” she says. “And it was a great opportunity for students to learn about careers in the Health and Wellness sector and get an introduction to the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program.”