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TMH pushing lung cancer awareness with programs in county

Rachel LeBeane Breeze-Courier Writer

TAYLORVILLE — If someone asked what the biggest health problem was in Christian County right now, what do you think that answer would be? Heart disease? Diabetes? Strokes?

Believe it or not, none one of those is a pressing concern in the community right now. The Taylorville Memorial Hospital (TMH) ran a community needs assessment last year. This assessment discovered that the three biggest health concerns in the county were mental health, obesity, and cancer – specifically, lung cancer. In honor of November being Lung Cancer Awareness month, TMH opened up about the ways it has tried to help the county overcome one of its biggest health hurdles. After all, the only way to fix a problem is to talk about it and recognize a problem exists.

Lora Polley is the Director of Ancillary Services at the hospital. She was upfront about the problems Christian County faces in the future. “Cancer of all types are a problem here, but specifically lung cancer. Christian County has one of the highest smoking rates in all of Illinois.” Because of that high smoking population, the risk and chance for lung cancer in the county is exceptionally high. 

The best way to prevent lung cancer is, of course, not to smoke. In order to help the current smokers reach that goal, TMH offers smoking cessation classes. These programs offer smokers who are wanting to quite ongoing support and assistance to kick the habit in a healthy and sustainable way. TMH also offers pulmonary rehabilitation programs. 

“These are normally used by lung cancer survivors, or people with other pulmonary diseases. It helps them get back on track.” Polley explained. Getting into the rehabilitation classes does require a doctor’s order, but the benefits are noticeable for those who take part. 

Polley also highlighted a preventative screening care TMH offered. For people in the age ranged of 55 and older who have smoked before or still smoke, the hospital offers CAT scans for lung cancer screening. “This scan is like mammograms for smokers,” Polley stated, “it catches lung cancer in the early stages. Most insurances do cover the scan, and you do need a doctor’s order to have it done.” Polley highly recommends the screening for those in the increased risk category for lung cancer. Early detection is key to treatment. 

Perhaps the biggest push TMH has made to prevent lung cancer in Christian County has been through outreach towards the most vulnerable and impressionable group – children. Youth vaping has been a huge topic of discussion among the federal government, but sometimes those concerns can seem far away. Those issues are present close to home, though. Look no further than the Taylorville Junior High School.

The school has a huge vaping problem. 

Darin Buttz, the Director of Community Health at TMH, said he couldn’t believe it when he was first brought into the school. “We had students going into the bathroom just to vape, or vaping in class. They would hide the vapes in their sleeves and blow the smoke back down it while in class. They were vaping multiple times a day, saying they had to ‘hit their nic.’ Kids would run to the bathroom before an exam to vape. Eric Bruder, the principal, came to us for help.” 

Buttz started an anti-vaping program for all students in the junior high called “Catch My Breath.” He estimated about 500 students were involved in learning about the real dangers presented to them by e-cigarettes. 

“They didn’t realize they were being targeted,” Polley said sadly, “The bright colors, the fruit flavors, the TikTok influencers, it’s aimed at them. That’s not for me – I don’t care about that. It’s made that way to get the kids.”

In order to combat the rampant vaping at the school, anti-vaping alarms were installed in the bathrooms that sent alerts to the principal and vice principals as soon as someone vaped in the rest rooms. While Buttz realizes he can do very little about what the students do at home, he was hoping to at least help them cut back on their behaviors while in school.

In response to the Catch My Breath program, Buttz had students approaching him asking for help to kick their nicotine habit. He immediately brought in Polley. She helped them realize that their smoking was a habit born of anxiety, and provided them with healthier alternatives to deal with their anxious feelings and peer pressures. Journaling was one suggestion she gave. Joining track was another for those who craved the adrenaline rush and increased heart rate that nicotine gave. 

Polley said she successfully put those students through the Not On Tobacco program through the American Lung Association. “I worry about them, though. Going into the high school where there is no program, there is no support, there are no vaping alarms in the bathrooms. I worry.” She shared. 

Buttz wishes to implement a Catch My Breath program at the Taylorville High School, as well as in other schools in the county as well. It might even be necessary at the elementary school levels. Buttz shared that a group of third grade students – children around eight or nine years old – were caught vaping. He feels that many people don’t realize vaping is even a problem. With all the other concerns schools face daily in this world, vapes get pushed far down the list of priorities. 

For many parents, the idea of vapes being bad doesn’t appear on their lists at all.

“In many cases, the parents vape. If the parents smoke, there is a higher likelihood the kids will smoke. And since the parents don’t think the vaping is hurting them, they don’t see anything wrong with their kids doing it.” Polley said. Educating everyone on the dangers of smoking and vaping is the first step to addressing the prevalence of lung cancer in the county. TMH hopes to do that with their outreach programs at the schools and through their screening and cessation programs at the hospital. 

Open up dialogue with family at Thanksgiving this year. Offer information about the smoking cessation programs at the hospital. Ask the kids about vaping, and if they vape. The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that the problem exists, and no one can do that without first talking to someone. 

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