April 10, 2009

Testicular cancer awareness initiative takes offbeat approach

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Jacob Weiss uses juggling to promote testicular cancer awareness. (photo by Joe Howell)

Testicular cancer awareness initiative takes offbeat approach

A juggling performance company founded by a Vanderbilt University graduate student has partnered with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center on a social media project to raise awareness about testicular cancer.

Catch It Early, an outreach initiative of Playing By Air Productions, takes a humorous and somewhat irreverent approach to cancer prevention with a new You Tube video aimed at men ages 15-34, who are most at risk for developing testicular cancer.

“Putting the information out there isn't enough,” said Jacob Weiss, founder of Playing By Air Productions, which uses juggling and variety entertainment to produce messages for causes and organizations. “We know we have to first get their attention, and combining eye-catching juggling with new interactive technologies is ideal for reaching this particular audience.”

The video directs viewers to a Web site, www.CatchItEarly.org, which includes information about testicular cancer, instructions for a self-exam, links for additional information and a videotaped interview with Bruce Roth, M.D., a Vanderbilt-Ingram testicular cancer expert.
The video features Weiss juggling baseballs to the tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

The amusing on-camera images reinforce the message about catching cancer early. The project was timed for release in April, a month that includes National Testicular Cancer Awareness Week and National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week.

“While testicular cancer is rare, affecting only about 8,000 American men each year, the chances for cure are greatly increased with early detection,” Roth said. “Catching testicular cancer early also increases the chances that we'll be able to successfully treat it with less toxic treatment options.”

This year's effort is a pilot project, but Weiss is hopeful that it will grow, with other cancer centers and organizations participating, and other jugglers in the country adopting the Catch It Early message as a public service.

“This approach takes a joke that jugglers have been hearing for years and turns it into a positive opportunity for educating the public about cancer awareness and early detection,” Weiss said.

Catch It Early is not the first partnership between Weiss, the Cancer Center and others in the local cancer community. Weiss, who will receive his Ph.D. in Biomedical Informatics in May, completed his dissertation using participatory research to develop CanConnect.org, an online community for cancer survivors and health professionals in Middle Tennessee.