County's Nutritionist continues to inform the public about COVID-19, while personally battling breast cancer

by Benjamin Nelson

MACON, MO -- Several times a week, officials from around the county, along with business owners and media outlets, receive updates on the state of COVID-19 within Macon County through a mass email chain. On Facebook, citizens receive direct information from the county health department on mitigation tactics to curb the increase of the virus, how many cases were recently discovered, along with different updates that could be in coordination with other surrounding counties to stem the community spread of coronavirus. All of which have been happening since the outbreak began back in March. Macon County’s Nutritionist, Erin Main, has been the force behind the informative briefs and updates since day one.

Since March, Erin has released 68 Official Press Releases on behalf of the Macon County Health Department while also creating informative graphics and illustrations for social media followers regarding the safe ways to navigate the virus; other staff released information while she was on maternity leave from the end of May until July. She has been doing this while also battling stage four breast cancer after being diagnosed a few months after her son’s birth in July of 2020. “I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer 8 weeks after my son was born - in July 2020, a few days before my 28th birthday. I started chemotherapy in August; I have completed 8 rounds of chemo so far and I have 8 rounds of weekly chemo left. I am BRCA1 positive, which means my cancer is genetic and gives me a greater risk for other types of cancer too. Going through chemo creates a lot of challenges but has been very hard with young kids. I’ve had to be careful about holding them too close for 24 hours after chemo and trying to keep up with them when I’m exhausted. My kids keep me going to keep fighting and pushing through everyday. The support of my community has made this experience bearable. I am so thankful for the constant prayers, meals, support and having so many people in my corner,” stated Erin.

When discussing the support that she has received from the health department as she is battling cancer, Main stated that having breast cancer in the middle of a pandemic has solidified her views in becoming more passionate about protecting the health of her community while also advocating for the local community to help protect the health of those, like her own, which could have a compromised immune system making them more susceptible to the virus. “Everyone at the health department has been so amazing while I try to navigate work and treatments - I am so grateful to work in a supportive environment, with a very understanding administrator and Board of Directors. I'm doing weekly chemo treatments right now so most weeks I often have to take a full day off - it requires good time management throughout the week. I’ve been much more cautious about working with clients face to face as someone who is immuno-compromised but thankfully WIC has passed a lot of policies for the pandemic to allow us to provide their nutrition education over the phone. I’ve also seen those clients appreciate that because they’re also cautious about being out in public more than they have to during pregnancy and with young kids. Having cancer during this pandemic has made me more passionate in my views because I feel like I'm working to protect the health of my community, but I’m also asking them to help protect my health.”

Originally from Wildwood, Missouri and a graduate from Lafayette High School, Ms. Main attended and graduated from the University of Missouri in December of 2014 with Bachelor’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Through her time at Mizzou, it is where she met her husband Jared Main. They have been married for five years. Shortly after graduating school, they moved to Bucklin where they now have two kids, Olivia (two years old) and Nolan (six months old). Prior to working for the Macon County Health Department, Erin worked at Macon Family Health and Dental for 25. Years as their outreach coordinator and Community Health Worker.

Ms. Main has been working at the local health department for over two years. When asked about her position that she currently holds, she stated: “At the Health Department, I’m the Nutritionist. I work with the WIC program, which provides supplemental nutrition to pregnant women, infants and children through the age of 5. Part of the program is nutrition education, so I do that individually and in group classes (when there’s not a pandemic). I also meet with individuals for nutrition education (a free service of the health department) to help them understand nutrition and teach them to make healthy decisions that will help them toward their goals. I will meet with people on a regular basis as an accountability factor. I’m also the Public Information Officer, which is taking a lot of my focus during the pandemic. I issue press releases, create education for our community for COVID-19 and the flu and help be the communication liaison between the health department and other organizations.”

Erin, like most health care workers at this time, have been on the frontlines making sure that their community has the resources and information needed, to be protected against COVID-19. When asked what the most rewarding and challenging aspects of this experience since the outbreak back in March, Ms. Main talked about how scientists are learning more and more about this virus in real time which leads to the continued adjustment of informational/educational needs of the community. “It’s been very interesting watching the pandemic play out and evolve - I think it’s fascinating how scientists are learning everything in real time and how they learn more every day. I remember issuing the first press release about the first case in Macon County and how big of a deal that was. It’s been challenging to see the education needs evolve - I will keep up with the kinds of questions we are getting phone calls over, what comments are coming in over social media - then use those to create the next education pieces. It’s been rewarding to help build a large communication outlet for the health department. We have expanded our reach of how we are connecting with the community that is used for other news, not just COVID,” stated Ms. Main.

Articles featured by The New York Times and The Washington Post have shown health care workers and local health officials around the nation resigning due to the combination of misinformation, scrutiny, and the politicization of the pandemic. When asked about this reality, Erin Main responded by, “It’s hard to be in public health during a time of misinformation and scrutiny of what we are doing every day. I remind myself, there may be loud voices who are against what we're doing, there are also soft voices that are very thankful and agree with what we are doing. I believe that every person deserves to feel healthy and safe where they live and work, so I know that we are helping provide that to our community.”

At the end of the interview, we asked Ms. Main about what Public Health means to her. She responded by stating: ”To me, public health means preventing and protecting the health of my community as a whole. It’s our job to educate and provide services for the betterment of every person and improve the quality of life of those in our county. Improving the health of each person, improves our health overall.”

Headline picture of Erin Main along with her husband and two kids. Picture taken by Chelcy Switzer.

From everyone here at The Home Press, we would like to thank Erin Main for everything she has done since March and her continued work in releasing information to the public during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. We continue to keep her in our prayers for a healthy recovery as she also continues to receive cancer treatment.