Fred Hutch awards pilot grants to 3 nonprofits to help build their capacity for health-disparities research

Projects range from evaluating health-information needs of cancer patients to increasing cancer-screening rates and removing barriers to physical, emotional recovery
A composite image of Tara Shah of the Binaytara Foundation, Suzanne Pak of the Korean Women's Association and Dora Lipper of Team Survivor Northwest
Pilot grant recipients Tara Shah of the Binaytara Foundation, Suzanne Pak of the Korean Women's Association and Dora Lipper of Team Survivor Northwest Images courtesy of the Binaytara Foundation, the Korean Women's Association and Team Survivor Northwest

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, or OCOE, has awarded pilot grants of $8,000 each to three area nonprofits to help the organizations bolster their capacity for health-disparities research. Health disparities are preventable differences in the health status of people within socially disadvantaged populations.

  • The Binaytara Foundation, based in Bellingham, will use the funding to evaluate the health-information needs of cancer patients and their caregivers in Whatcom and Skagit counties. The goal: to better understand how they use the information to improve their quality of life.
  • The Tacoma-based Korean Women’s Association seeks to improve breast and colorectal cancer-screening rates by better understanding barriers to such screening. They will focus their efforts on African American and Asian American women living in Pierce and South King counties.
  • Seattle-based Team Survivor Northwest, which offers free fitness programs for women cancer survivors throughout the Puget Sound region, will use the funds to expand its reach to socioeconomically disadvantaged women in Columbia City.

Each year since 2014, Fred Hutch has invited community groups to participate in a two-day grant-writing workshop and compete for research funding to help address cancer health disparities. Grant recipients then work with mentors at the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium to implement their proposed research. Fred Hutch and the National Cancer Institute provide the funding to get these projects off the ground. This year, four nonprofits participated in the grant-writing workshop, according to Kathy Briant, the OCOE program administrator.

“We have been working on a needs assessment of the Cancer Consortium’s catchment area. The data reinforces what we know from national trends: There is a bigger burden of cancer among certain populations in our area,” Briant said. “We recognize that it is going to take partnerships to determine what the needs are and develop programming to address those needs. The grants program is one way we strive to do this.” The Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium’s catchment area includes 13 counties in western Washington that include and surround King County. It has a population of more than 5 million; more than 32% are racial/ethnic minorities.

Since the program began, the Hutch has given out $107,500 in community grants (including this year’s recipients), Briant said.

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Meeting unmet cancer-information needs

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients rank the need for education and information about their disease just below their physical and financial concerns. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that research suggests patients who lack information about navigating life after a cancer diagnosis have a higher level of anxiety, depression and poorer quality of life than those who feel better informed.

While most patients rely on their physician or health care team for information, many also seek such advice via the internet, (i.e., “Dr. Google”), social media and other nonmedical — and potentially unreliable — sources.

This thirst for information was the Binaytara Foundation’s motivation for pursuing its pilot study among cancer patients and caregivers in northern Puget Sound. “To the best of our knowledge, there are no studies that have explored the information needs of cancer patients and their families in this region,” said Tara Shah, executive director and board member of the foundation.

Binaytara staff will conduct a series of focus groups throughout the year to explore how patients and their caregivers use health information to improve their quality of life. “The expected outcome of this study is that we will identify cancer patients’ needs for information, the key sources of information cancer patients use, and how they utilize the information to improve their quality of life,” Shah said. Armed with this information, the foundation will then design and implement educational programs for cancer patients.

Understanding barriers to cancer screening

Why do some patients cancel their mammogram or colonoscopy — or just plain fail to show up for their scheduled cancer screening? Is it fear? Mistrust of medical providers? A lack of child care or transportation? All of the above?

Shedding light on this dilemma is the goal of the Korean Women’s Association pilot project, a community-based research partnership with Fred Hutch that aims to improve rates of breast- and colorectal-cancer screening. For the project, KWA staff will conduct surveys and hold focus groups with African American, Pacific Islander American, Vietnamese American and Korean American women, aged 40 to 75. They will collect data from both those who completed their breast or colorectal cancer screening on their first appointment and those who cancelled or were no-shows.

“We want to understand if there are either sociodemographic or attitudinal commonalities or differences between women who complete screening the first time around versus those who cancel or no-show,” said project leader Suzanne Pak, KWA’s director of Community & Behavioral Health.

Using this information, the team will then design a culturally appropriate, patient-centered discussion guide to help address and overcome screening resistance. Fred Hutch collaborators will help design the research project and materials, conduct focus groups and analyze data. The organization also provides patient-navigation services to promote cancer screening, Pak said.

Taking an active role in physical, emotional healing

Since 1995, Team Survivor Northwest has provided free fitness programs for Puget Sound-area women who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, encouraging survivors at any stage of recovery to take an active role in their ongoing physical and emotional well-being. Activities are geared for all ages and fitness levels, from hiking and Nordic walking to triathalon and half-marathon training.

To diversify its reach to cancer survivors in socioeconomically and racially underserved areas, Team Survivor’s pilot project will fund a year-long fitness class for up to 20 cancer survivors in Columbia City, a neighborhood in south Seattle. Kin On community center, a nonprofit that provides care and support for Asian elders and their families, is donating space for the class.

The structure and content of the class will be informed by the input of women cancer survivors who will be identified with the help of health care providers and community leaders in Columbia City. The women will participate in a focus group to help identify potential barriers to participation in the fitness program so they can be overcome.

“This partnership enables us to focus our resources on reaching the participants, engaging a qualified instructor, purchasing equipment and funding other aspects as needed to remove barriers for participation,” said project lead Dora Lipper, executive director of TSNW. “Few cancer-specific support resources are located in the south Seattle area, where many underserved populations reside,” she said. “The diversity we believe will be achieved with this project will be both socioeconomic and racial.”

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Kristen Woodward, a former associate editor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, had been in communications at Fred Hutch for more than 20 years. Before that, she was a managing editor at the University of Michigan Health System and a reporter/editor at The Holland Sentinel, a daily in western Michigan. She has received many national awards for health and science writing. She received her B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University. 

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