A variety of exhibits were featured at the conference, which formerly just focused on breast cancer but has expanded to include all aspects of women’s wellness. (Photo by Parker Thomas)

A variety of exhibits were featured at the conference, which formerly just focused on breast cancer but has expanded to include all aspects of women’s wellness. (Photo by Parker Thomas)

Last Friday marked the 19th annual Women’s Health and Cancer Conference, hosted by The University of Vermont Cancer Center. The event took place at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in South Burlington, with events kicking off at 8 a.m.

Originally held in October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the conference has since expanded to include topics about varying wellness topics, including how to detect a blood clot during and after treatment to how humor can help fight cancer.

According to the UVM Cancer Center, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women, followed by breast cancer and colorectal cancer, which caused 130, 93 and 75 deaths, respectively, in Vermont every year.

This year’s conference theme was “Your Heath: Putting Knowledge into Action.”

The Sheraton was buzzing with participants and exhibitors. Upon arriving, a table to sign up for Reiki through The Vermont Reiki Association was set up, while a host of other tables featured information and resources regarding treating and coping with cancer.

Gary Stein, director of the cancer center, said the conference impacts the medical community – comprised of cancer patients, health care providers, cancer service areas such as community advocates and legislators – and vice versa.

“It gives the cancer center an opportunity to be able to provide to the community,” Stein said.  “It gives us a chance to share with them what a cancer center does from bench to bedside.

“What are the unanswered questions?” Stein asked. “How do we know what is really on the minds of people in our community?”

Attending the conference and participating in the sessions, Stein interacted with community members one on one, listening to their thoughts and questions.

“What is the objective of a cancer center?” Stein proposed. “Twenty five years ago, your answer would be to cure cancer. The objective today is not to cure cancer; it is to make cancer preventable, early detectable and a treatable disease.”

Part of the conference was a culinary demonstration by Kimberly Evans, a registered dietician with UVM Medical Center and Whole Health Nutrition in Winooski. Evans honed in on the idea of “food as medicine” when preparing a kale breakfast bowl for the audience.

In regards to nutrition in relation to cancer, Evans explained how certain chemicals in food induce cell death.

“Another thing we know is that some properties of food can influence blood flow to tumors and decrease the vascularization of tumor growth,” she said. “And in other ways, we know that food just creates a protective environment, neutralizing free radicals and keeping healthy cells healthy.”

Throughout the demonstration, Evans explained the nutritional benefits of the ingredients she was using, while also addressing audience concerns about diabetes or thyroid issues. As a standard of practice when cooking nutritional yet enjoyable meals, Evans uses the acronym FASS: fat, acid, sweet and salt. As she created the breakfast bowl, she indicated where each component came into play.

Evans highlighted that nine servings of vegetables and fruits per day is critical for the body and underscored how “food is information that your cells read and respond to.”

How much constitutes one serving?, an audience member asked.

For vegetables, “one cup raw, a half cup cooked or a piece of fruit the size of a tennis ball,” Evans said succinctly.

To achieve nine servings a day every day, Evans follows another four-letter rule: soup, salad, stir-fry and smoothies.

The event was open to all members of the community, not just patients and survivors. While attendees did have to register for the event, there was no cost. The conference is held every October in alignment with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.