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UMass Chan Medical School students help screen firefighters for cancer at Polar Park

Medical students Maximilian Kinne, Alice Tan, Christopher Fay, Morgan Groover and Emilee Herringshaw, with Jessica St. John, MD, MPH, MBA (middle).

Nineteen T.H. Chan School of Medicine student volunteers helped screen more than 100 Massachusetts firefighters for skin cancer at Polar Park in Worcester on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

According to DetecTogether, a national education and advocacy organization that teaches people how to detect cancer early, cancer is the leading cause of death in firefighters. Occupational exposure to carcinogens means that firefighters have a 21 percent increased risk for melanoma, so it’s crucial to spot skin cancer early.

UMass Chan Medical School and UMass Memorial Health partnered with DetecTogether and Polar Park to administer free full-body cancer screenings. Attending physicians, residents, fellows and nurses also conducted head and neck exams, took blood pressure readings and provided counseling to determine if firefighters were due for a colonoscopy. Firefighters also have an increased risk for colon cancer.

Third-year medical student Christopher Fay, who led efforts to install sunscreen dispensers throughout Worcester and founded a student organization that offers sun safety education, was instrumental in planning the event. His passion is fueled by his father’s melanoma diagnosis.

“Put simply, I hate cancer,” said Fay. “I’m energized by the skin cancer screening at Polar Park because I know these firefighters are someone’s loved one, too. Hope is one of the most important things in life. And, what gives me hope is seeing how our UMass Chan community shows up.”

Fay’s mentors are Heather Maykel, director of partnership & program development for DetecTogether, and Jessica St. John, MD, MPH, MBA, assistant professor of dermatology.

Second-year medical student Maximilian Kinne, who was helping at the event, participated in cancer screenings in the Boston area, where he used to work as a medical assistant. He got interested in community cancer screenings after a patient confided that they hadn’t visited a doctor in several years because of a busy work schedule.

“During their skin cancer screening, a dark spot on their back was biopsied and showed stage III melanoma, an advanced skin cancer,” said Kinne. “Fortunately, this lesion was detected early enough that treatment was successful. I started wondering: ‘What about others in our community who are unable to access care? How are their health needs being met?’ I’m excited to help first responders get the care they need to continue to keep our communities safe.”

Tom Mulcahy, an active firefighter in Grafton for nearly 48 years, said UMass Memorial physicians and UMass Chan students made him feel comfortable during the screening and he will return if the event is held again next year. He said he enjoys helping people through his job, and appreciated the time the volunteers gave to him.

“(Firefighting) is my way of giving back,” said Mulcahy. “"I always say if I dropped dead tomorrow, and my epitaph says, I was a good father and I helped everyone that I could, that I’ve lived a good life, how can you go wrong?”

Related media coverage:
Spectrum News 1: Massachusetts firefighters receive free cancer screenings from UMass medical students
Worcester Telegram & GazetteMessage to firefighters in Worcester and beyond: Cancer screenings save lives
MassLive: Worcester firefighter diagnosed with cancer following free screening  

Related UMass Chan news stories:
Remillard Family Community Fund announces recipients of grants to improve local health
T.H. Chan School of Medicine student working to install sunscreen dispensers in Worcester