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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 18, 2003 - Issue 98


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Early Detection: The Key to Overcoming Fear of Cancer

Pathways to Better Health: A Feature of the Pick Your Path to Health Campaign

Of the many challenges that we as Indian women face, there is none more fearsome than a diagnosis of cancer. Each one of us, at some time or another, has known of, or had a direct experience with, experienced or known someone who has experienced a loved one going down that painful path, and never returning. I feel that I can speak to you from the heart on this subject, as I recently took part in my own father's final story involving cancer. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, but far too late in the course of his disease for anything to be done for him short of controlling his pain and making him comfortable. In my heart, I know he would still be here if it his cancer had been found earlier and treated.

Today, most cancers can be driven into remission if they are detected early enough in the disease process. This is especially true for breast cancer and cervical cancer, the two most common cancers found in Indian women. Sadly, however, and for reasons both within our control and outside it, we tend to be diagnosed at more advanced stages of cancer and, as a result, we die unnecessarily.

What can we do to reverse this trend? Since Because early detection is the best strategy for a long life, we can resolve to establish an ongoing relationship with a health care professional we can trust. And then we can commit to seeing that clinician for a physical examination, that which includes a Pap smear and breast exam every year. We can learn the proper method for doing a breast self-examination and then work this potentially lifesaving activity into a monthly routine associated with our natural menstrual cycle. Between the ages of 45 to and 50, we can start having mammograms, and we should continue this routine once every year for the rest of our lives.

If something unusual shows up in any of these tests, we can muster up the courage to follow it through, no matter how frightening or difficult it seems. There is no avoiding this enemy. And, if we have maintained a healthy vigilance anyway, chances are that the news will be that this cancer can be beaten back. This is the lesson that my father, and all of our loved ones who are no longer in this world, would want to pass on to all their relations, Mitakuye Oyasin. Mitakuye Oyasin.

What about those things that seem beyond our control? It is a documented fact that minority women in the United States die of treatable cancer at a much higher rate than dominant culture women. We are well aware that this is because of a fundamental lack of access to basic health care for financial reasons or because of distance from the nearest health facility, or both. How do we develop an early detection strategy coupled with diligent follow-up in the face of these obstacles?

The answer to this question lies, as it often does, with coming together in community and cause. As Indian women, we have always come together to achieve our goals, whether it was to gather enough food to last through a harsh winter or to advise our warriors and Elders on the best way to deal with a problem. Once again, if we come together we can find a way to make real progress on our path to better health and longer life.

The good news is that there is support out there, from both government and private sources. A good first step might be to identify what is already available.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs a program called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This program provides a handy guide to all of the free or inexpensive screening programs in the United States. It also provides a referral guide to all of their tribal partners involved in providing CDC-based screening to Indian women on reservations and in cities. This resource can be found on the World Wide Web at: or by calling a toll-free telephone number: 1-888-842-6355. If your tribe or reservation isn't listed in their resource guide, then maybe you should approach your tribal council or local friendship center and ask, why not?

In addition, tribal councils and private organizations are getting together to run special screening weekends and screening drives in areas where distance and lack of financial resources are particularly tough problems to overcome. In spring, 2003, this is exactly what happened on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. The idea for the project came from members of a College of American Pathologists coalition who had already tried it in Los Angeles among Hispanic women who were migrant workers.

In a two-day screening drive that was called “See, Test, and Treat,”, 120 women were given full physical examinations, including pap smears and mammograms. Their results were read and returned immediately. Alarmingly, the screening indicated that the women of Rosebud were two to three times more likely to have abnormal pap smears than the general population. But the good news was that all of the abnormalities detected were treatable and treated. All the women went home healthier and looking forward to a life free of cervical cancer.

While this project was undertaken and represents a remarkable moment in time. It also demonstrated the value of and serves as a model for local community health clinics to organizing smaller events in their own communities. All that is needed, at the local level, is an the incentive to do it. And we, as Indian women, are good at providing incentives. There are organizations out there who will help with planning, fundraising, and possibly, even funding. These include:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (already mentioned above)
Telephone: or 1-888-842-6355 (toll free)
American Cancer Society (go to the “In My Community” section)
Telephone: 1-800-227-2345 (toll free)
The National Indian Women's Health Resource Network (NIWHRC)
23272 Hwy. 82
Park Hill, OK 74451
Telephone: 918-456-6094
Fax: 918-456-8128
The Intercultural Cancer Council
6655 Travis, Suite 322
Houston, TX 77030-1312
Telephone: 713-.798-.4617
Fax: 713.-798.-6222

Annual screening and checkups, persistence, and resolve are our best weapons in detecting and defeating cancer before it gains an the upper hand in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Our role has always been to safeguard and improve the conditions in our families, our communities, and ourselves in order to ensure survival for the next seven generations. Staying one step ahead of cancer and making sure our loved ones are with us on the path to better health can be as easy as that first phone call or a visit to the local library, where we can connect ourselves to the resources that will help us.

Pick Your Path to Health is a national public health education campaign sponsored by the Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information about the campaign, please call 1-800-994-WOMAN or 1-888-220-5446 (TDD), or visit the National Women's Health Information Center at To request weekly health tips by e-mail, click on the box that says, "Click Here for weekly health tips by e-mail."

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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