By Delia F. Begay
Student, College of Nursing and Health Care Professions
Many health issues are affecting millions of people throughout the world. One of the many health issues is known as cancer. There is not just one type of cancer but instead over 100 types of cancer (NIH, 2015). Depending on the location within the body where cancer starts, that is where its name is derived from. Healthy human cells grow as needed, die off, get removed and regenerate. However, with cancer, those cells continue to grow, divide more, become more abnormal, do not die and often spread into surrounding tissues. These masses of tissue are known as tumors and tumors can be malignant (cancerous), or benign (non-cancerous). Cancer is a genetic disease which is a change made within the gene that controls the cells normal healthy functions.
Most at Risk
Cancer does not discriminate. It could affect everyone. All ethnics of all backgrounds are at risks, which includes the Native American population. There is no preference in what age you are, your gender or your education level— cancer can affect your life no matter what your lifestyle may be.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the Native American population is part of the underserved minority group and is significantly affected by certain cancers, like breast, lung, prostate and colorectal. (NIH, 2018). Most Native American populations have a low survival rate for most cancers because they often don’t seek care or receive care until the cancer is in advance stages (NIH, 2018). One Native American tribe known as the Navajo who are located within the four corners, where four states intersect: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. The most common types of cancers that are affecting this tribe are in no order is prostate, breast and colorectal (NNEPI, 2018).
With the many studies that have been completed regarding cancer, there are very few that have been conducted for Native American tribes including the Navajo. If there was an initiative to improve addressing and treating cancer within the Navajo tribe specifically, trust and respect must be regained from the Navajo people. It is known that outsiders came onto the Navajo Nation and took precious, valuable information from the people and made promises that were only to be broken. Once trust and respect are given, opportunities will be available to get more insight into why cancer is affecting so many Navajo people. Other elements should also be visited to improve the health issue of cancer for the Navajos.
An example of this would be to make sure that all information that is shared is culturally appropriate. For instance, material should include the four scared mountains or colors and how it relates to one’s life journey. Including the culture would alleviate mistrust, disrespect or ignorance. Also, to know what other barriers are present for the people when it comes to improving their health. Methods of interventions should be placed based on the needs and wants of the community or individual. Addressing barriers like poverty, lack of support, lack of education, limited health care access and health care equity are crucial. It allows more insight into what can be done to improve their health. It will also get the attention of policymakers from the local Navajo Nation Government and State Government to support the initiative of healthy living and healthy lifestyle.
All Native Americans and non-Native Americans, Do not wait until it’s too late; take advantage of the screenings that are available to detect certain kinds of cancer.
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More About Delia:
Delila is a member of the Navajo Nation tribe and resides in Sawmill, AZ. with her four beautiful children and husband. She realized her interest in Public Health when she began working as a Community Health Representative with the Navajo Department of Health in Window Rock, AZ., which is also happens to be the capital of the Navajo Nation. Delila loves to work with people of all ages and backgrounds especially with her Native community in providing them with health education to assist them to live in balance and harmony with their health and the environment. She has taken notice that there are health issues that are affecting the Navajo people that were not a big concern for their ancestors. Her belief in sustaining a healthy lifestyle, the Navajo people should eat healthier, be more active and turn back to mother earth for food and water and it would also decrease heath issues.