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Community Impact: A Collaborative Approach to Cancer

Hands joining together in a circle

Rachelle Theodore’s work with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Community Advisory Committee unites community needs with Sylvester objectives.

Two years after Rachelle Theodore moved to South Florida from Haiti, her father was in a fatal car accident. Frustrated with the care he received in the hospital, she vowed to become a voice for the underserved.

“The challenges I faced in navigating the health care system were eye-opening, revealing the significant disparities in medical treatment available to marginalized groups,” said Theodore. “It ignited a passion within me to dismantle these barriers to health care access by fostering and enhancing communication between health care systems and those in dire need of them.”

Community cancer health advocate Rachelle Theodore
Rachelle Theodore’s passion for health advocacy began with her father’s hospital experience.

After earning Master of Public Health and Master of Business Administration degrees, Theodore founded CLT Business Solutions, a boutique management firm that addresses social and public health issues, with a focus on oncology. Through her company and volunteer efforts, she is committed to reducing South Florida’s cancer burden. 

Her leadership positions in cancer control and community advocacy include co-chair of the Southeast Florida Cancer Control Collaborative’s Risk Reduction Workgroup and evaluation chair of Go2 for the Lung Cancer Ready Lung project, among others.

Member of Sylvester’s Community Advisory Committee

In 2022, Theodore brought her expertise to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She worked on the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which brings together community-based organizations and Sylvester’s site disease groups to talk about effective collaborations across Sylvester’s catchment area.

Members of the Sylvester Community Advisory Committee in a conference room
Members of the Sylvester Community Advisory Committee.

“Cancer does not discriminate, and neither should our efforts to combat it,” said Theodore. “My goal is to ensure our cancer center is attuned to the community’s voice and equipped with the cutting-edge research necessary to address the multi-level risk factors contributing to South Florida’s cancer prevalence.”

Last year, Theodore was nominated as co-chair of the CAC. Early in her tenure she established subcommittees guided by the community’s objectives and milestones. Sylvester’s leadership supports the subcommittee with resources to fulfill its objectives. The bottom-up approach encourages strong community-academy partnerships.

“The partnership approach promotes early cancer detection,” said Theodore. “It is a win-win for both Sylvester and the community.” 

Listening to Communities Impacted by Cancer

The CAC organizes listening sessions that identify community health challenges and bridge gaps while fostering trust. Sylvester uses listening session feedback to formulate an improvement and outreach plan with measurable outcomes. The CAC then circles back with community leaders to confirm that plans address needs.

“These reciprocal dialogues are an important step in closing the gap on health care inequities in underserved populations,” said Theodore. “When communities actively participate in the process, we pave the way for enduring solutions and sustainability.”

Theodore’s fluency in English, French and Creole allows her to engage effectively with the diverse populations in Sylvester’s catchment area, which extends from Monroe County to Palm Beach County. More than 65% of the residents are racial and ethnic minorities, 50% were not born in the U.S. and more than half speak a language other than English at home. 

HPV Screening in Little Haiti

After a CAC listening session in Little Haiti, one of the largest Haitian settlements in the U.S., the CAC advised less-invasive, self-administered human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. Little Haiti has disproportionately high cervical cancer rates. HPV is a primary contributor to the disease.

Game Changer vehicle
The Game Changer vehicles bring free screenings to high-risk communities.

The CAC also works closely with Sylvester’s mobile Game Changer vehicles, which bring health education and free screening into local communities. These efforts have resulted in more HPV screenings in Little Haiti.

Theodore said she is already seeing the impact of her work with the CAC and looks forward to future community-oriented projects.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work closely with key leaders at Sylvester and in the community,” she said. “Through our collaborative efforts, we promote equitable access to research opportunities, enhance community-researcher partnerships and deliver evidence-based educational and prevention-focused outreach. Our collective efforts are crucial in ensuring the diverse perspectives within our community are significantly influencing cancer research and clinical trials.”

Tags: community health, community outreach, Game Changer, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center