Jacqueline Farber ’03 cares about your testicles.
And as a coordinator of Yale’s Peer Health Educators, she spent thousands of University dollars to make sure you care about them too.
Monday, maintenance workers on Old Campus and in residential colleges were given thousands of laminated self-examination instructions to hang on students’ showerheads. Now keeping your hands to yourself is not just an option but a recommendation from the Yale Health Plan.
Shaped like “Do Not Disturb” signs at a Best Western, the shower hangers boast watercolor diagrams and purple-cursive headings like “Testicular Self-Exam for Him,” and “Breast Self-Exam for Her.” Because Farber also cares about your breasts.
“Men and women our age are at risk for testicular and breast cancer respectively, and putting them in showers is a convenient place,” she said. “If two or three minutes and a few thousand dollars can save lives, then it’s worth it.”
The self-examination guides, which are stamped “Courtesy of: Yale Health Plan,” hang in showers every year, Farber said, and are part of larger University efforts to increase awareness, particularly of self-diagnosable illnesses — from colds to cancer — and to help students form habits now that may save their lives in the future.
“Trying to sensitize people to self-examination is increasingly important,” said Paul Genecin, director of University Health Services. “Testicular cancer is particularly relevant to college-age men and it’s usually self-detection that brings problems with testicles to our attention.”
“The risk of breast cancer increases with age, so it’s good for people to get in the practice of checking when they’re younger,” he added.
Genecin said he was not aware of this particular campaign, funded by the Office of Health Promotion and Education at University Health Services, but called it part of a larger effort to overexpose students to preventive-health information. “Eight ways eight times,” is an unofficial motto when it comes to students’ sexual health and preventive advertising campaigns, he said.
It is widely-known and exalted that at Yale, a good part of learning takes place outside the classroom. Genecin and Farber might be seen as espousing particularly liberal education philosophies, extending the classroom to the bathroom. Both said, in fact, that the shower is the best place to teach students about the importance of monthly self-examinations.
Some students agreed, saying they will be more likely to perform the examinations with a green-highlighted vas deferens staring at them as they shower every morning before class.
“I think that most female students who go to doctors have heard the speeches, but I definitely think it’s a good idea,” said Arianna Romairone ’03, who admitted that though she should be, she is not in the monthly-examination habit because she does not see it as an immediate risk. “I think the fact that it’s there every time you step into the shower and you see this little lady giving herself a breast exam would definitely be an incentive for people to do it, as long as they can take it seriously and not just laugh about it with their suitemates.”
Many said, like Romairone, that they do not consciously and periodically check for cancer.
“I think I can honestly say that I have never attempted to examine myself for testicular cancer,” said Michael Steffen ’03. “Testicular examinations aren’t part of my daily routine. It’s not at the top of my list of health concerns, but perhaps that’s due to miseducation on my part.”
According to the self-examination guide, testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers among men aged 15 to 34, and when detected early, one of the most easily cured. A number of students said they had learned of the immediate risks in high school, or more recently from Tom Green, the MTV comedian who documented his battle with testicular cancer two years ago. But the same students frequently admitted that neither previous education nor the most recent campaign has much bearing on what they do in the shower.
“I have more important things to worry about in my life than to do [self-examinations] once a month,” said Francis Zangari ’02. “I’m doing all right for now.”
Frank Chen ’03, a peer health educator, said he, like Zangari, had heard about it before but was not prodded to action.
“I guess I’m just in denial that there is a real risk,” Chen said. “I think it’s a good idea though. If you put it in the shower, people are forced to look at it when they’re naked. That kind of exposure makes it a little more, I don’t know, striking.”