Diana Redwood: Colon Cancer Warrior

Diana Redwood

Diana Redwood

Diana Redwood is a senior program manager at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium who specializes in colon cancer prevention and a good sense of humor.  She has been known to suit up as a giant red polyp named Polyp Man, wear an apron printed with abdominal organs and travel with an enormous inflatable colon named Nolan to promote colorectal health and prevention.

Redwood grew up in Palmer, but attended Evergreen State College in Washington to receive a degree in Nutrition and Food Studies before pursuing a double masters in Community Nutrition plus Food Policy and Applied Economics at Tufts University in Boston.  She moved back to Alaska in 2004 and took a job at ANTHC working on the EARTH (Education and Research Towards Health) study to analyze the dietary and physical activity patterns of research participants in Native communities around the state.

“We do a lot of stuff like community education and provider education,” said Redwood.  “Basically looking at the things that cause ill health and trying to address them.  We do a lot of different projects in community health services like tobacco prevention, nutrition research, environmental health and so there’s a lot of different pieces that people work on to try and address.  They vary by area, but obviously cancer and heart disease tend to be the leading killers.”

ANTHC maintains a “tumor registry” of cancer prevalence in the Native population and the data revealed a population with double the average rate of colorectal cancer.   Colon cancer is easy to detect and treat with regular colonoscopies and has a 90% survival rate if it is identified in Stage I or Stage II.  Redwood got involved in 2007 and became the senior program manager for the Colorectal Cancer Control Program in 2009.  Aided by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, the program provides community education and promotes prevention through regular screening.

The CRC program is part of the Alaska Native Epidemiology Center, but does not receive funding from ANTHC.  Redwood manages a complex portfolio of grants from the CDC, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute  to provide outreach and education.  Each grant has a different focus and provides a variety of methods to educate the public, identify lifestyle risks like diet and smoking and engineer creative ways to encourage regular screening.  Her office is filled with informational brochures, educational DVD’s, appointment reminder postcards, t-shirts, berry buckets and coffee sleeves printed with messages like, “Get behind your screening, no butts about it.”  Redwood has even authored some of their humorous marketing messages.

“I will say that I’m a poet.  I came up with, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I love my colon and so should you.”  We put that on a lot of the birthday card kits.  The community health aides can use that and have stickers to decorate and send out to people and that’s been very popular.”

Polyp Man makes an appearance at a community health event. (Photo courtesy of Diana Redwood)

Polyp Man makes an appearance at a community health event. (Photo courtesy of Diana Redwood)

Another educational tool is Nolan the Colon, a towering 25 foot inflatable colon that blows up to more than 14 feet tall.  The exhibit was designed by ANTHC and other clinical providers to offer visitors an interactive opportunity to walk through a healthy colon and see how polyps develop into cancer.  Nolan has made appearances all over Alaska and is often accompanied by a community educator who can answer questions and schedule a colonoscopy.  The exhibit was so popular that ANTHC recently purchased a smaller version named Nolan Junior that is six feet long and weighs only 48 pounds for communities with smaller meeting spaces or weight-sensitive flight service.

Education is an important component, but access to care is also critical.   Alaska’s expansive geography presents difficult challenges and patients often have to fly to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage or a community hub like Bethel to receive their colonoscopy.  Redwood has worked closely with regional health providers to implement training and send teams with equipment directly to communities for mini-clinics.  ANTHC’s Epidemiology Center also employs three patient navigators who identify individuals that are coming in for other procedures and help “bundle” services so they can schedule a colonoscopy or mammogram during the same visit.

“At ANTHC, our mission and vision is that Alaska native people are the healthiest people in the world.  To say that’s what we want to achieve is a lot.  But we do a lot of different projects.  We go and we talk to providers.  We travel.  There’s a lot of different pieces.  We’ve started to see a significant decline in incidents, and though it’s not significant quite yet, a downward trend in mortality.  So we are starting to see some of the screening efforts being reflected in the data.”

Despite great geographic, financial and systemic challenges, Diana Redwood’s dedication to public health is unwavering.  At the end of every day she commutes home on her bike feeling proud that her work is slowly beating the ugly adversary of cancer into remission.

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Don Barrington: The Traveling Piano

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Don Barrington poses with his camera.

When Don Barrington started The Traveling Piano project he had no idea that photography could cause so many problems with local law enforcement.  But it’s hard to run very fast with a piano so when the Alaska State Troopers, Fairbanks police and UAF campus security showed up at various shooting locations he told them all the same thing: I’m doing a photography project.

The Traveling Piano was conceived between semesters at UAF as a personal photography challenge and completed over three manic days in January of 2012.  After an extensive search he found the perfect piano in a local thrift store and spent more three weeks scouting locations.

“I wanted them very Alaskan and I wanted them very different from each other,” said Barrington.  “I wanted them to tell a very unique series of stories with a different way of approaching aspects that were very Alaskan.”

Like most college students he was long on ambition and short on cash.  When he realized he could only afford three days of trailer rental he decided to shoot the entire project in the equivalent of a long weekend.  He enlisted the help of a friend in the film department to assist with lighting and recruited other friends and family to move the bulky piano around town in sub-zero conditions.

Over the next few days Barrington photographed the piano at eight different locations including the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Tanana River, a local bird sanctuary, a set of train tracks, an ice rink at UAF, a sunset hill near campus, a tunnel at Alaskaland and an abandoned cabin destroyed by fire.

The Pipeline was their first location, but to get the right perspective he had move the piano across a bridge and field from the parking lot at the Fox Visitor’s Center.  The piano was much too heavy to carry so the crew devised a “leapfrog method” of sliding it across the snow with a piece of plywood. 

“I just wanted it by the Pipeline somewhere to make it look as small as possible,” said Barrington.  “I shot it very wide because I thought that was really important to see how big the Pipeline is versus the piano.”

His favorite photo came the second day when they took the piano to the Tenana River.  After two hours of moving the piano down to the river and throwing snow around to give it a “natural look” he was losing light fast and still missing the perfect shot when suddenly a dog musher they saw in the parking lot came racing across the ice.

“We were getting ready to wrap it up and then all of a sudden the dog mushing team comes back.  That was basically luck.  It was a moment unlike any of the other moments because it was spontaneous. I was really happy with that shot and how it played out.”

After printing and mounting the photographs into frames he displayed them at a series of events in Fairbanks where he sold all but one of the prints.  The project was most recently shown in Anchorage this summer for a First Friday event at Moose A La Mode on Fourth Avenue.

Barrington graduated from UAF with a photojournalism degree in May of 2012 and traveled to Australia to work with a group of wedding photographers he met on a study abroad trip.  He moved back to Anchorage a year later to start his own photography business specializing in weddings and portraits while continuing to work on personal projects.

“One of the most important things I learned in photojournalism is capturing a frame that actually tells a story.  One moment that you can capture with one image to tell that story.  I really like that sense of natural moments and I try to find that in all the images I shoot.”

For more information on Don Barrington and his photography, please visit his web site at http://donbarringtonphotography.com/

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