Barry Saunders

Saunders: NCCU event targets women’s health

Darned scientists with their science.

I suspect the next thing Joan Packenham, a scientist with National Institute of Environmental Health Services, is going to tell me is there’s no Easter bunny and that it wasn’t Santa Claus – but my Uncle Sweet William – who put my bike pedals on backwards when I was 12 and caused me to run into that tree next to Mr. Noah’s house.

After Packenham stated that women facing health concerns don’t go to the doctor any more frequently than men do, a lot of previously held beliefs have to be questioned. Packenham said one of her goals is to ensure that more women take care of themselves.

“That’s a myth – that women go to the doctor more” than men do, Packenham said. “So many of them are uninsured or underinsured.”

That’s why she helped start the Women’s Health Awareness Day at N.C. Central University on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Mary Townes Science Building.

It’s not that Packenham has anything against us fellas. But, she said, “Women are the caregivers... They’re always taking care of everybody else, so they tend to neglect themselves. If we can get women to take care of themselves, because they are the caregivers, they will make sure that everybody else’s health is well-taken care of – their children, their husband, their parents and extended family.

“That spills over to a healthier community, which spills over to a healthier state, which spills over to a healthier nation,” she said.

But, I asked, what about the Social Security Administration actuarial table – the one which caused my insurance agent to tell me that he could cut my life insurance bill in half if only I were a woman – that shows that women on average live almost six years longer than men do?

“Women may live longer than men,” Packenham acknowledged, “but they suffer from more chronic diseases and disabilities than men do.”

At last year’s inaugural health awareness day, also at NCCU, Packenham said, more than 400 women attended. When I spoke with her Monday, she said 300 had already registered for Saturday’s event and that there’s room for plenty more. You can register for free when you get there.

The daylong event includes seminars and free screenings for issues such as cardio-vascular health. Women can get tests for blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, lung cancer, diabetes, thyroid, pulmonary- and kidney-function, HIV, vision and dental health.

Whew. It may have been easier to ask if there is anything for which they won’t be screening.

The only one for which you had to pre-register was the mammography screening.

Packenham said a veterans health van to provide checkups for military veterans will also be on site.

“This was one of my ideas to improve community engagement,” said Packenham, who in 2010 was awarded the National Women of Color Award for career achievement for her work.

The idea may have come too late for one woman who attended last year. Packenham, understandably, didn’t give the woman’s name, but she told me that the woman complained – while undergoing pulmonary testing – of shortness of breath.

“She thought it was bronchitis or something like that,” Packenham said. “The respiratory therapist told her to go see a pulmonologist as soon as possible... She discovered that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. She had never been a smoker.”

Could I speak with the woman? I asked.

No. “She passed away this year,” Packenham said.

She said there will be a session about cancer called “Keeping It Real,” and there’ll be free radon-measuring kits to measure the odorless, tasteless, colorless carcinogenic gas.

Packenham said she hopes the health awareness event and other outreach efforts let “people know who we are and that we are interested in working with them. A lot of the environmental issues that are happening start at the community level... Instead of us just going into the communities and saying, ‘This is what we want to do here,’ we want to first ask ‘What kind of health concerns, what kind of environmental concerns, do you all have?’”

After what Packenham called the “huge disaster” regarding Flint, Mich.’s leaden water supply, it seems that anyone who’s been paying attention will be concerned with their environment and their health.

Want to know more?

Call 919-541-9844 or visit www.niehs.nih.gov.

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