Canisius College has teamed up with Roswell Park Cancer Institute to launch a light-hearted but effective way to promote health in young men in the Buffalo community and elsewhere. On March 31, Canisius and Roswell officially unveiled the “Check Yo Nutz” campaign, the Western New York area’s first testicular cancer awareness program based on a college campus, targeted to men ages 15-40.
The campaign aims to increase awareness of the disease and make sure that these men know how to recognize symptoms, perform monthly self-exams, and talk about the disease to reduce the stigma and silence surrounding this form of cancer. “Check Yo Nutz” has designed brochures, launched a website, Facebook page, and Twitter page, and will host three events on campus during the month of April, testicular cancer awareness month.
“Check Yo Nutz” started in spring 2009 as a project for a persuasion class taught by Dr. Melissa Wanzer of Canisius’ communication studies department. Elyse Krezmien ’09, Sara LaBelle ’10, Meagan Tremblay ’10, David Jackson ’09, and Ja’Nay Carswell ’09 designed the campaign after Krezmien suggested testicular cancer awareness as a topic.
Krezmien said that her family has had a history of breast cancer, and that this form of cancer was once a taboo subject as well. However, as society has become more comfortable with dealing with the topic of breast cancer, its support network has gotten bigger and pink ribbon campaigns are now common. She observed that this is still not the case for men who are at risk for, suffer from, and have survived testicular cancer.
“If you have breast cancer, there is an automatic and enormous support network on which you can fall back on because of these campaigns. I was curious why testicular cancer didn’t have this same support network when, in my mind, they are comparable conditions,” Krezmien said.
The fact that testicular cancer is generally taboo initially posed problems, according to Jackson. He said that the group was unsure of how to proceed since giving the students information about it could make them uncomfortable and not want to learn more. However, he came up with the idea to design a whimsical mascot, “Sammy the Squirrel,” who “checks his nutz” and encourages men in the target group to do the same.
“I would have been so bored looking up information on testicles and cancer, so I thought I could spice things up by creating this cartoon character that takes his nuts to the doctor before he decides to do whatever squirrels do with nuts,” Jackson said. “That way, instead of being stuck looking at diagrams of the male genitalia, I could spend hours doing what I love: drawing.”
According to Dr. Wanzer, this campaign is effective because it creatively uses humor to get people’s attention, something that many advertisements do. Once an advertisement or campaign grabs audiences’ attention, they become interested and want to learn more. In this case, people will see a cartoon squirrel and “wonder what he is doing.”
“I see humor as a way to bridge gaps as a way to relate to people, and I use it in my own relationships as an instructional tool,” Wanzer said. “It gets attention and can generate positive affect, or attitudes, toward whatever topic or issue.”
Wanzer said she hopes that the campaign will continue to be as successful as it appears to be so far. According to her, the website for “Check Yo Nutz” received 1100 hits in a time span of only one week. She also said that most of the activity has been on the self-exam page, which is what the campaign’s creators wanted to have happen.
T.J. Rogers ’11, a current student in Wanzer’s class, said that he is pleased with the amount of hits that the “Check Yo Nutz” site has received, especially since many of the visitors are looking at the page that tells men how to perform self-exams. He pointed out that, since testicular cancer has a 95% cure rate that increases to nearly 100% if the disease is caught early enough, sending out this information can help save lives.
Rogers recently went on the air with 97 ROCK to promote “Check Yo Nutz.” He said that “the interview went great” and commented on how much support the campaign has received from Roswell, Canisius, and 97 Rock. For Rogers, the fact that a group of men and one woman openly talked about testicular cancer, and stressed the importance of the campaign without mocking or degrading its name, is a step in the right direction.
“The taboo about TC must be broken, and is one of the main three messages/goals of the campaign,” Rogers said. “It was extremely rewarding to know that we have the support of a local media outlet, because it helps to ensure that our message is being transmitted, helps to break the taboo, and will ultimately help save lives – all of our goals!”
Overall, all of the students interviewed about their role in “Check Yo Nutz” felt that they truly were making a difference in the Buffalo community. In breaking controversial, but necessary ground, the students and the college alike hope they can satisfy the campaign’s three goals – to increase awareness, encourage men to perform self-exams, and break the stigma of the disease – and save lives in Buffalo and elsewhere.
“To have a project transform into not only something to put on your resume but potentially change the world around you definitely makes you feel you did something right while you were at college,” Jackson said.
“It has surpassed any expectation any of us had for the project,” Carswell said.