Women's health forum aims to motivate lifestyle changes

San Francisco counselor for behavioral change to give presentation

Posted: Friday, November 14, 2003

For the last six years, attendees of the Juneau Women's Health Forum have learned what lifestyle changes they need to make to stay healthy and avoid getting cancer.

This year, the women will learn how to implement those changes, said Maureen Longworth, a physician with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. She helped organize the free forum, which takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Hall.

"We always get asked at the Women's Health Forum by people ... who know what they need to do to change but they don't know where to start," said Longworth.

So this year Longworth recruited Steven Malcolm Berg-Smith, a behavioral change counselor from San Francisco, to give a presentation called "Awakening Inner Motivation for Healthy Change."

SEARHC sponsored Berg-Smith's visit to Juneau, including separate seminars for SEARHC clinicians. Longworth, who attended one of Berg-Smith's seminars, said the experience was "life-changing."

"He's very dynamic, very powerful," she said. "It's very respectful of the individual - it's all about anyone making their own plan to change."

The Juneau Women's Health Forum began six years ago when former resident Mike Miller, who has survived two bouts with prostate cancer, brought a breast cancer expert to speak here. Miller recruited Longworth to help organize an event around the speaker, and the forum was started.

The Southeast Alaska Cancer and Wellness Foundation, also founded by Miller, is the primary organizer and sponsor of the event, said Longworth.

The forum usually consists of two speakers and a free, heart-healthy lunch. The recipes used in the lunch, chosen by dietitians and catered by the Silverbow, will be provided to attendees.

"That was one of my dreams when I got started with the program," said Longworth. "I wanted a healthy, vegetarian menu so that they could be exposed to things they might otherwise not get."

Usually at least one of the presenters talks about a cancer issue. This year, Jeanne Roche, director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the state Division of Public Health, will address how Juneau's cancer rates compare to those of the rest of Alaska and the Lower 48. She'll also talk about cancer prevention.

"There's a known relationship between what we eat and cancer," said Longworth. "A high vegetable diet with fruit and whole grains and whole foods is the healthiest way to go."

Carolyn Brown, a local doctor who spoke at last year's forum, called the event a celebration.

"It's a celebration of women," Brown said, "women and their health situation. A lot of the research in medicine today is done for men, so we really try to present things that are very women-oriented. That's not doom and gloom - we're talking about what can be done."

About 30 health care organizations, including naturopaths, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Team Survivor Perseverance, the Juneau Breast Cancer Support Group and Planned Parenthood of Alaska will have booths at the forum this year.

Between 300 and 400 women attend the forum each year, said Ruth Johnson, president of the Southeast Alaska Cancer and Wellness Foundation.

Men are welcome at the forum, but are also encouraged to attend the men's health forum organized by SEACWF and usually held near Labor Day, Johnson said.

Funding for the forum comes from the Southeast Alaska Cancer and Wellness Foundation, SEARHC, Bartlett Regional Hospital, and the Anchorage Women's Run and Breast Cancer Focus Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Anchorage. The event also is funded by advertisements purchased in a forum program.

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