Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the man cave: Prostate cancer support group

prostate cancer support group

Prince George Prostate Cancer Support Group

I spoke recently with John Kason of the Prince George Rotary Club. Like most Rotarians, he likes to keep the spotlight on the work being done by the club in collaboration with Canfor – in this case, men’s health screenings for prostate cancer.


On November 10th of last year, the Rotary Club of Prince George organized a men’s health and prostate cancer awareness fundraiser called the “Big Blue Ball,” the first of its kind in northern B.C.

The end result was a sum of money for quarterly men’s health clinics throughout 2013, and startup funds for a local prostate cancer support network (now established, called the “Prince George Prostate Cancer Support Group”). The next sessions are Saturday, May 11, 2013 and Saturday, August 10, 2013.

Don’t you just love the sound of that rubber glove snapping onto the wrist in poetic majesty? The ‘dread,’ or DRE, otherwise known as the digital rectal exam is here to stay.

Please Doctor, why can’t I just have a blood test? 

Well you can but the DRE is a must have. The PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test is the simplest way to get tested but it can give higher reading for different reasons so the DRE is indeed necessary.

I do know this though – over the years, a sense of humour has been very appropriate to break the ice at that particular moment (while the doctor slips into something more comfortable – that aforementioned rubber glove). It is at least an excuse for a few jokes at work.

Here is where I put in my disclaimer. Some prostate cancers are very slow growing and, in my opinion, the jury is out as to the value of treatment at all, however, it is better to know what is going on and be monitored by your doctor than to bury your head in the sand.

The groups have organized screening events which continue throughout the year. Testing is being provided at no cost to participants and registration is now open.

Please visit or call 250.617.2711 for more information and to register.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


MAN Profile: The Big Blue Ball

Big Blue Ball

A full room at the Big Blue Ball.

In the time that I’ve been with Northern Health’s men’s health program, doing community consultations and talking to men across the region, I’ve seen that men face unique challenges when it comes to their health. One of my biggest goals as NH men’s health coordinator is finding ways that we can make health more accessible to men. We’ve heard from men everywhere that they’re more likely to be responsive to a direct approach where they’re involved in the conversation, and this is why I’m thrilled about the success of The Big Blue Ball.

The Big Blue Ball was a fundraising event in Prince George that took place November 10, with the aim of raising awareness and money for men’s health, prostate cancer programs and Rotary Club community programs. About $46,000 was raised at the event!

Fake mustache

The event was a hit, complete with fake mustaches!

I talked to John Kason, one of the event’s key organizers, and he explained the rationale for organizing the event: “We wanted to create a type of event that can be replicated across the region. We know there was a need in the community, because often men don’t talk about their health until it might be too late.”

The Big Blue Ball is an example of community partners coming together from across Prince George to raise awareness about men’s health. The night featured great entertainment by Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne and a keynote address by Dr. Art Hister.

“Health care is something that affects everyone,” John noted, and thanks to the effort of this great event’s organizers, men’s health awareness continues to grow in our region.

Please visit for more information on Men’s Health, and to participate in the Month of Man activities we have going on for the month of November!

Brandon Grant

About Brandon Grant

As the NH men’s health coordinator, Brandon Grant travels across the Northern Health region speaking with community members about the health issues men face and what we can do to improve men’s health. He has worked with a variety of community-based organizations, including the Nawican Friendship Centre and the Northern Family Health Society, and holds two master’s degrees, one in social work and one in public administration. To stay active, Brandon enjoys playing golf and tennis, and whenever possible, visits tropical destinations to go snorkeling. (Brandon no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


Calling all community partners: Apply for a Northern Health IMAGINE Grant to increase HIV awareness in the north

Local artists with the mural project

These local artists were among the 16 contributors to the mural project located on an outside wall of the Firepit drop-in centre in Prince George. The mural project was funded by an HIV Awareness IMAGINE grant.

On October 25, 2012, I attended the unveiling of a collaborative public mural which featured 16 panels painted by local artists who focused on the topic of HIV awareness. The unveiling took place at the Firepit drop-in centre in downtown Prince George.

Funded by Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grant program, the mural project was unique in that it involved many street people who wouldn’t normally participate in a community project. It gave them the chance to draw upon their individual skills and talents to help create this important artwork.

It was a truly inclusive team effort and certainly defines the meaning and intent of the Imagine Grant program, which provides grants to Northern Health’s community partners who are interested in helping to improve the health and well-being of people living, working, learning and playing in northern B.C.

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants are offered in eight different streams. The HIV stream provides grants to initiatives focusing on HIV awareness — an innovative approach to increasing HIV awareness throughout all communities in the north.

In 2012, a total of $200,000 in grant funding will be available to community groups submitting applications for the HIV Prevention IMAGINE Grants.

Northern Health itself has been raising awareness about HIV/AIDS since 2010 through its participation in the STOP HIV/AIDS project. STOP — which stands for Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention — is a four-year provincial pilot project initiative running from 2010 to 2013 in Prince George and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

A key component of Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project is our educational and awareness campaign. Launched in May 2012, the campaign is designed to spread the message throughout northern B.C. that anyone who is sexually active (ages 13 to 65 — and beyond), uses injection drugs, or is in a high risk group, should be encouraged to take an HIV test.

According to the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an estimated 25 per cent of people who are HIV-positive are not yet diagnosed. These same people are believed to be responsible for 75 per cent of new HIV infections.

Northern Health’s call to action — encouraging northerners to seek early HIV testing — complements the grassroots work that our preventive public health department has been doing with community partners and others. That work has focused on actively supporting the HIV-positive population, connecting them with existing services, as well as developing new testing initiatives.

We’re working with many community partners on the STOP campaign, including Central Interior Native Health Society, Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, Positive Living North, and health care providers throughout the north.

Together we’re focusing our campaign on HIV education and awareness, and it features:

  • Advertisements in online and traditional media — running from May 2012 to March 2013 — with messages designed to encourage early HIV testing and treatment.
  • Our new website,, which offers comprehensive information about HIV testing, treatment and support services in northern B.C.
  • Promotional items, which are being distributed throughout the north and are designed to break down barriers about HIV and get people talking openly about HIV/AIDS.

Our campaign is reaching many people, but we can do so much more with your help. If you or your community organization would like to help us increase HIV awareness, work to eliminate the stigma around HIV/AIDS, and help reduce the spread of HIV throughout the north, apply for an HIV IMAGINE Grant today.

For information on how to submit a grant application, visit our IMAGINE grants website.

Bareilly Sweet

About Bareilly Sweet

For the past 17 years, Bareilly has worked in various programs within Northern Health and is currently the Regional Coordinator for Blood Borne Pathogen Services, overseeing the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Her greatest passion is to advocate for those who are challenged daily with the stigma attached to their illness, such as HIV/hepatitis C or mental health and addictions. After working as a millworker for 14 years, she began her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, graduating from the College of New Caledonia as a registered nurse in 1994, and then completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) at the University of Northern BC in 2004. Born and raised in Prince George, she is an avid outdoorswoman who is loves to hunt and fish. She is also an active community member who is passionate about educating the next generation of nurses.


It’s World Breastfeeding Week next week: Let’s talk about the benefits


This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme is “the road to lifelong health begins with breastfeeding!”

World Breastfeeding Week will run from October 1-7, 2012, to recognize the importance of breastfeeding, promote the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, as well as social and environmental benefits.

As parents, we always want to do the best for our children, and if it’s an option, why not breastfeed?! I found breastfeeding created a special bond with each of my babies; all three loved to breastfeed around the clock. Although this was tiring, I look back at it now and realize that I got to spend quality time with each of my boys at a young age, knowing that I was promoting health and well-being, and in the end, creating the foundations of a healthy lifestyle to live by for each of them.

Did you know that you can protect the health of our planet by helping mothers to breastfeed? The International Lactation Consultant Association’s (ILCA) motto is the Road to Lifelong Health Begins with Breastfeeding and go green!  Producing infant formula has a devastating impact on the environment:

  • If the 550 million cans of infant formula sold annually just in the United States alone were stacked end to end, they would circle the earth 1-1/2 times, leaving 86,000 tons of metal and 1,230 tons of paper labels. (sourced from
  • Approximately 10,000 square meters of land is required for every cow used in the production of milk to be used in infant formula. (sourced from

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits which cannot be duplicated in any other form of feeding:

  • It has hundreds of antibodies, enzymes and other factors that protect your baby from infections and diseases.
  • Breast milk is easy for your baby to digest.
  • It’s always at the right temperature.
  • It’s easy to provide.
  • It’s always handy and changes as your baby grows.
  • It’s free.

In fact, infants who are not breastfeed are at increased risk of developing:

  • ear infections
  • childhood obesity
  • type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • (SIDS) sudden infant death syndrome
  •  asthma and many other acute and chronic illnesses

In addition, mothers who breastfeed are at decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancers, and osteoporosis. It also helps mothers’ return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.

This year, the theme of World Breastfeeding Week is The Road to Lifelong Health Begins with Breastfeeding. To kick off the festivities in Prince George, breastfeeding families are invited to celebrate the 12th Annual Prince George Breastfeeding Challenge on Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 10 a.m.  The event is held annually around the world in hopes of setting a new international record for the most breastfeeding babies at one time. It also provides the opportunity to recognize the special bond of breastfeeding between mother and baby. The event will be held in the Keith Gordon Room at the Bob Harkins branch of the Prince George Public Library. Registration begins at 10 a.m. with official latch-on time starting promptly at 11 a.m. The entire family is encouraged to attend this free, fun-filled event.

We are also hosting a booth at Pine Centre Mall on October 5, to end World Breastfeeding Week, and to share information about breastfeeding and services available to mothers.

For more information on breastfeeding,visit the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada or the BC Baby Friendly Network.

Laura Ravlic

About Laura Ravlic

Laura is a public health nurse who works for the children and families Team in Prince George, BC. She has three energetic boys who keep her busy out in the community with their many activities, including bike riding, class outings and soccer, for which she is an assistant coach. She is also involved in the Baby Friendly Initiative which promotes a breastfeeding friendly environment.


The making of a flash mob

Flash mob 1You know we want people to live healthier – what better way to get the idea that every move counts in your head than to show you?!

Last month, a group of us at Northern Health decided to create the September Healthy Living Challenge to get northern B.C. residents thinking about ways to live a healthier lifestyle. We wanted to show you examples and offer practical advice around eating healthier, getting more activity and bringing the balance of health into your day-to-day life – all following the guidelines set out in NH’s position work.

In order to wrap up this month with a bang, we started organizing Northern Health’s first ever flash mob, with the very enthusiastic and talented choreographer Lisa Cassidy from Be Unique Fitness. I’ll admit that at first, I wasn’t entirely sure how this idea might be received by NH staff and administration, but I’m very proud to report that everyone embraced the idea with excitement!

Flash Mob 2With every rehearsal, more and more participants showed up, eager to be a part of this event and dedicated to learning the steps. Lisa was a fantastic help – she created videos to help us practice at home and attended several rehearsals to walk us through the steps personally. By the big day, we had over 30 people ready to move and groove in the University of Northern BC atrium!

The crowd was bigger than we expected, but nerves did not get the better of us. The music started, and as we counted our beats, I heard someone from above suddenly yell, “Flash mob!!” and with that, we were off. Everyone did a fantastic job with their parts – the dancing mob and the staff that held up signs with some of our healthy living messages, tips like “Sit less, move more” and “Cook a meal together!”

Thank you so much to everyone who practiced, practiced, practiced – and to those that came out to watch and cheer us on! A huge thanks also to Lisa for her hours of time; to Nicole and Ben Gibson from Yellow Ribbon Photography for taking these fantastic photos (more of which can be seen on our Facebook page); and to Paul Alberts from Ardor Media for taking the video.

Remember, health can be fun – even if you’re dancing around to your own beat! Just get moving!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)


A well-deserved award for one of our own

Andrew Burton and Dick Harris

Andrew Burton (left) with MP Dick Harris, receiving his medal at the awards ceremony. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

A member of the Northern Health team has achieved a great honour!

Andrew Burton has received well-deserved recognition this week as a recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris, as appointed by the Queen through the Governor General of Canada, presented Andrew with the award on Wednesday August 8 for his “service to the community,” said Harris.

The award honours Canadians with significant achievements, and thirty of them have been given to residents of northern B.C. In addition to the specially designed medal, recipients of the award received a letter of commendation from the Governor General, on behalf of the Queen, an official certificate and lapel pin.

Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team, where he develops programs to help people quit smoking and lead healthier lifestyles. He was anonymously nominated and received this award for his volunteer work with the Street Spirits Theatre Company, a Prince George-based youth program that aims to bring awareness to big societal problems through workshops, stage performances, and community interaction.

I talked to Andrew about his work with the theatre program and what winning this award means to him.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

What is this award for?

This is an award primarily focused on my work with theatre. The award is here, in Prince George, and that means a lot to me, because I started the theatre program about 13 years ago, we travel a lot and teach workshops all over North America, and we still run into a lot of people in Prince George who have no idea who we are. This local recognition is really nice for us.

What is the theatre program?

The program I started is called Street Spirits Theatre Company. We work with young people from the Prince George area, who are all volunteers, and create stage performances about real problems in the world – HIV/AIDS, homelessness, bullying, sexual assault, family violence, drug use, poverty, eating disorders, racism, poverty in third world countries, and many others. We also teach workshops, called Theatre is Research, which involves going into a community and talking to people about what they think are issues in their community and then creating a performance about it. We give the community an opportunity to recognize the problem and generate grassroots solutions for it, and then we do a stage show about it. We also do social action theatre, called forum theatre, where members of the audience can get involved by entering the play and try to change it. We do about 25 shows a year, and two or three major workshops a year, and we have had people come from as far away as Australia to come train with us.

Why did you start this program?

We started the program to provide an opportunity for involvement for youth at the Youth Around Prince Resource Centre. Initial support came from the Future Cents program, Youth Around Prince, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Prince George Native Friendship Centre and Prince George Alcohol and Drug Services. We asked the youth coming in to the centre what they wanted and several said they would like to learn acting skills. To meet that need, and to provide a service to the community, we started Street Spirits. I took the lead because I have background in theatre and training in therapeutic theatre practice.  It is important to the youth to not only take part in acting but to do so in a way that benefits the community. The work involves young people in activities that develop self esteem, life skills social responsibility and personal ethics. It also raises awareness and responsibility in the audiences who we perform for.

How do youth get involved?

We currently have 15 active members, but membership is usually lower in summer. We like to keep around 15-20 involved but we don’t turn people away. It’s all free of charge, supported by donations and we occasionally get grants, including from Northern Health.

Youth from our audiences will come up to us and want to be involved, some kids bring their friends and we do get referrals from social service agencies.

We meet at YAP Friends (Youth Around Prince) across from City Hall every Thursday at 6pm. Anyone is welcome to come and get involved. And this October, we’re doing a presentation at an international festival in New York City called Performing the World. Travel will be arranged through fundraising efforts with the members.

What does this award mean to you?

The award is coming to me for this work, but this work exists because of probably over 200 young people who have volunteered over the last 14 years, 25 adults who have volunteered to help facilitate and run the program, and because of the support for the Youth Around Prince resource centre, Ministry of Children and Families and the local businesses and organizations that have given us support over the years.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)


He led me up the garden path – and I liked it!

Anne, trail running

Anne Scott, running on the Otway trails.

You’ve heard it before, but exercising with a friend is great – motivation, competition, and pushing your boundaries, all in one sociable package. I thought about this last night when I asked my husband if I could come on one of his runs on the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club trails at Otway, near Prince George.

The Otway trails are mostly narrow and steep, and Andrew has been running there since the snow melted. Meanwhile, I’m cautiously returning to running after hip problems. Here’s our email exchange:

Me: “Hi, dear! Can I try a trail run with you? I could run a little way and then go back and read in the truck while you finish your run. Let me know!”

Andrew: “We’ll do a light 15-minute trip to give you the lay of the land, and then you can decide if you want to continue or head back.”

A light fifteen minutes — that sounded doable! I jumped out of the truck at Otway excited about my first trail run ever.

Exactly 41 minutes later, I staggered back into the parking lot.

In the interim, Andrew led me up and down Curves, Mad Dog, Upper Levels, Dirt Bag, and other creatively named trails. We ran over roots and rocks, brushed past thistles, and panted up a steep, lonely hillside where I was sure the discovery of our bear-gnawed skulls would make headlines in a year or two.

As I ran along, I could think about only three things:

  • What my physiotherapist would say (I’m supposed to increase my time/distance by only 2-3% each run).
  • Northern Health’s position statement on Sedentary Behaviour and Physical Inactivity recommends that adults get “at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.” Was I going to get mine all in one shot?
  • How much I was loving this!

The weather was perfect, we had the trails to ourselves, and the scenery was stunning. I ran much farther and with more enjoyment than I would have if running in our suburb, and I loved the feel of the trails under my feet. At every turn there was something interesting…a patch of glorious wildflowers, a fallen log, a glimpse of the view, a scary animal noise (Mel Brooks was right about fear being the earliest form of transportation).

It was also a huge confidence-booster to find I could go farther that I’d thought, and (perhaps because of the soft running surface), I haven’t experienced any aches and pains in the aftermath!

Andrew was also a great encouragement, waiting for me when I got tired, walking with me on the steep bits, taking a picture to illustrate this post, and not complaining that I was drastically slowing him down on his favourite route. Truly a husband in a million!

I can’t wait till my next trail run – see you out there!

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!


National Aboriginal Day: A celebration of family and culture

June 21 was National Aboriginal Day – a day for Northern Aboriginal groups to come together and celebrate their culture and achievements.

NH reps at Aboriginal Day

L-R: Julia Stephenson, Joan Greenlees and Laura Johnston were three of the NH representatives talking to people about health and wellness at the Aboriginal Day celebrations.

Fort George Park, the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, was the site of celebrations in Prince George this year, and I dropped by in the morning to visit the folks at the Northern Health booth and catch the opening remarks. It was 10:30a.m. but already the sun was hot and there was a crowd milling about the local organizations’ booths (I saw Canadian Red Cross, UNBC, and the Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, to name a few), and food and craft vendors.

I was welcomed at the Northern Health booth by Laura Johnston, a tobacco reduction coordinator from Population Health; Joan Greenlees, executive assistant for Northern Cancer Control Strategy and Aboriginal Health; and Julia Stephenson, an SFU practicum student working on her master’s degree in Public Health, who were all there to share information about NH public health and population health services, like healthy eating and quitting smoking.

“It’s good to have so many groups come together,” said Stephenson, who was happy to be helping Northern Health share health and wellness information with the public at the event. “The Aboriginal community is important and we want to celebrate everything they’re doing for our area.”

Bloodborne pathogens team

Trish Howard and Sandra Barnes were representing the NH bloodborne pathogens team, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Next to the NH booth were some representatives of the new HIV101 campaign. I met Trish Howard, the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team, and Sandra Barnes, an HIV designate nurse. They were both in attendance to raise awareness and educate people about HIV/AIDS with the goal of reducing the stigma around the disease.

“Our biggest thing is getting the message out – HIV is not a death sentence,” said Barnes. “Early diagnosis is key – so get tested. If you’re sexually active, get tested.”

Barnes shared a frightening statistic: 25% of people that have HIV don’t know they have it, and it’s believed that this 25% is responsible for up to 75% of new infections.

“You can’t stop the spread if you don’t know, but we have everything to control it.” Barnes said being at events like the Aboriginal Day celebrations is important for their initiative because when you bring people together for a common goal, it’s easier to talk about difficult things when it’s out in the public.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Louella Nome, a community health rep and band councillor for Lheidli T’enneh. I asked her about the importance of events like this celebration to her community.

“It’s great – it’s about bringing people together and unity,” Nome said. “It’s building bridges – our strength comes in numbers.” She was excited to have a lot of family members together in one place.

And that’s really what the day was all about – celebrating family and being together.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)