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3rd annual Ft. Defiance Cancer Awareness Conference set for June 5

PHOENIX, Ariz. June 3, 2010 A cancer conference dedicated to increased awareness about cancer among the Navajo people is helping bridge Western and Native American approaches to disease and treatments.

As a result, conference participants say more Navajos are learning about cancer, adopting measures to help prevent the disease, participating more in cancer treatment and opening up to new therapies.

The 3rd annual Fort Defiance Cancer Awareness and Advocacy Conference is planned from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. June 5 at the Navajo Nation Museum, Arizona Highway 264 and Postal Loop Road, in Window Rock, Ariz.

It is sponsored by the Arizona Myeloma Network (AzMN) and the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, with the help of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and other organizations.

"The cancer conference provides the Navajo people with the confidence to go out into the community to talk to people about cancer without being fearful of the word 'cancer' but rather with the knowledge of hope," said Mary Sena, a member of the Navajo Nation and Program Coordinator for the Din Breast Cancer Advocate, Prevention and Training Program established through AzMN.

"The conference is a great educational tool that benefits the Navajo people," said Sena, who also helped form the Din Women to Women support group for breast cancer survivors. "The conference also provides an opportunity to come together as a nation to grow, learn and support those with cancer. It has increased awareness of the importance of regular screenings, early diagnosis, treatment options and resources available."

Barbara Kavanagh, Founder and President of AzMN, said all of the services through the network are funded by foundations, provided by volunteers, and are delivered free of charge to the Navajo people.

"We are so pleased that the Fort Defiance Cancer Awareness and Advocacy Conference, which the Arizona Myeloma Network first introduced in October, 2008, has become such an important program for the Navajo Nation,'' said Kavanagh, who credited generous financial support from the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Arizona Cancer Control Program of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"Today, our network has grown and we are receiving tremendous support from the Navajo medical community, traditional healers, outside cancer experts, and the Navajo people themselves," Kavanagh said. "We look forward to a long and productive relationship with the Navajo people, and are working with them to educate and train local people to be able to continue these programs."

From fewer than 100 participants at the first conference, there now are more than 300 patients, families, volunteers and organizations joined to overcome fear and distrust, and welcome new services and information to better fight cancer on the Navajo Nation, said Kavanagh, who also credited collaborations with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Delta Dental of Arizona, the University of Arizona Cancer Center and TGen.

Dr. Bodour Salhia, a TGen breast cancer researcher and one of the original organizers of the first conference in 2008, will this year make a presentation about the importance of research and clinical trials of new cancer drugs in helping save patients' lives.

"It's extremely satisfying and reassuring to have witnessed the difference this program and other AzMN programs have made on the reservation in such a short time. The Navajo people are now talking about cancer and want to become more proactive and take charge of their health. This is transcending all ages, both men and women. We are just helping them do that by providing them with some tools and information. I am proud of all those who are getting involved in trying to save lives by increasing awareness," Dr. Salhia said.

Mechelle Morgan-Flowers, a nurse and supervisor who works at the nearby Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, said the annual conferences has played an important role in helping her patients and their families understand cancer diagnosis, treatment and care.

"In a culture where traditionally one does not speak the word 'cancer,' attitudes are changing. People are realizing that screening and early detection are an important part of their healthcare routine. The patients undergoing cancer treatment, as well as their families, feel a greater sense of support and caring from the hospital staff. They have been empowered to ask about and explore treatment options, and to make informed decisions about their care.

"Our elders teach that we should never joke or tease each other about diseases and abnormal conditions that affect the mind, body and spirit. With this information going in the hands of the community we have been striving to blend the ways of the Medicine Men and Women with the Western Medicine. It is my dream to combine both to promote well-being," said Morgan-Flowers, who has tended the health needs of the Navajo Nation since 1996.


Contact: Steve Yozwiak
The Translational Genomics Research Institute

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