By Czerne Reid
At hair salons and barbershops, stylists cut through the unease surrounding colorectal cancer
By Czerne Reid
Photographs by Tracy Glantz
Beauty salons and barbershops are the stuff of legend—where people go to hear the latest news and gossip, and to unburden their chests. In places where conversations can start with the presidential election, veer to gospel concerts and end with warnings about cheating spouses and HIV infection, almost no topic seems off-limits.
Angela Jackson owns Anjae's Hair Studio and Spa in North Charleston, S.C. She joined the Shop Talk Movement to reach out to her customers about cancer.
In South Carolina, that includes colorectal cancer.
Although screening tools can frequently find the cancer at an early or even precancerous stage, it’s still the second leading cause of all cancer deaths in the United States. Each year, about 50,000 Americans die of the cancer, and almost 149,000 new cases are diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. In South Carolina alone this year, about 730 patients will die, and 2,170 residents will find out they have the disease.
But a new initiative is aiming to trim these numbers. Launched in July 2008, the program, known as Shop Talk Movement, is teaching South Carolina barbers and stylists to talk candidly with their clients about colon health. In an environment in which everyone opens up about everything, the organizers hope colorectal cancer can become another ingredient in the talk soup.
A Shave and a Haircut— and a Screening
Shop Talk Movement focuses on reaching out to African-Americans, who generally face more aggressive forms of colorectal cancer than whites, and who die of the disease at higher rates. In South Carolina, the annual death rate from colorectal cancer is 57 percent higher for black men than for white men, and 48 percent higher for black women than white women, according to the most recent data from the National Cancer Institute. And among South Carolinians older than 50, 47 percent of blacks reported having colorectal cancer screenings with sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, while 63 percent of whites said they did, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Currently in a pilot stage, Shop Talk is a sweeping collaboration. Partners include the University of South Carolina’s Center for Colon Cancer Research, the South Carolina Cancer Alliance, the South Carolina Gastroenterology Association, the American Cancer Society’s South Atlantic Division, and beauty industry insiders Tia Brewer-Footman and Gerald Footman, the owners of hair etc. magazine and trade expo.
The organizers hope to expand the program after the pilot wraps up this March. But already, three four-hour sessions in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville have trained an estimated 130 hair care professionals about colorectal cancer and how to raise the issue with their clients. By the end of the project’s pilot phase, coordinators estimate that stylists and barbers will have reached out to more than 2,500 community members about colorectal cancer. Many of these stylists and barbers have also asked their clients to sign a blue-and-white pledge card, on which they promise to get screened or to talk to a friend or family member about the disease.