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TGen helps promote cancer awareness for vast Navajo Nation

PHOENIX, Ariz. April 6, 2009 Outreach efforts by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) extend to the far corners of Arizona.

For the second year, TGen will help organize a cancer awareness conference for northeastern Arizona's vast Navajo Nation.

The 2nd annual Fort Defiance Cancer Awareness and Advocacy Conference, sponsored by the Arizona Myeloma Network, is planned 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. July 18 at the Navajo Nation Museum, Arizona 264 and Postal Loop Road, in Window Rock.

The first conference in October was an unqualified success that exceeded expectations, said Mechelle Morgan-Flowers, a nurse and supervisor who works at the nearby Fort Defiance Indian Hospital.

"The conference was more successful than I imagined it would be,'' said Morgan-Flowers, who has tended the health needs of the Navajo Nation since 1996. "I think it was a great experience in bringing awareness to healthcare providers and the public. This is especially true for those people who do not live on the Navajo Nation and who now have a better understanding of the obstacles our patients face in obtaining care. We are hoping to continue the momentum.''

Members of the Navajo Nation often must travel hundreds of miles round-trip to obtain medical treatment. With nearly 300,000 members most spread across 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah the Navajo people comprise the second largest Native American population on the largest acreage of tribal lands in the U.S. An estimated 40-50 percent of Navajos are unemployed, and most live in poverty.

Nearly 250 people registered and participated in the October conference, despite cold, wet and windy weather. Many private, tribal and state groups set up booths and distributed literature and information.

The upcoming conference, moved to summertime, will offer additional discussion panels, a workshop about breast cancer prevention and a seminar for cancer caregivers.

Barbara Kavanagh, founder and chief executive officer of the Arizona Myeloma Network, which provides outreach and education focused on this blood-plasma cancer that attacks the bone marrow, also said the first conference succeeded beyond her dreams. She described presentations in October as moving and significant.

"The enthusiasm was inspirational for all of the people who attended,'' Kavanagh said, "from the faculty, to the cancer patients and their families, the Navajo Nation community and tribal government officials, Fort Defiance hospital staff and their families, the family of Navajo dancers who's grandmother had cancer, the students from Dine College, and even the woman who catered our event, who between serving food all day, visited every cancer resource booth to pick up booklets to take home to friends and family in Tuba City.''

Kavanagh praised as top-notch the presentation by Dr. Bodour Salhia, a TGen post-doctorate fellow who is investigating breast cancer and multiple myeloma in TGen's Integrated Cancer Genomics Division. Dr. Salhia, who has helped organize both conferences, made a presentation called: Basic Facts of Cancer and the New Science.

"This conference, this entire mission, was really about empowering people with knowledge; to enable them to become aware of their bodies in a proactive way, and gain new insights about what modern medicine has to offer,'' Dr. Salhia said. "It was a giant leap of outreach from those of us who have become so passionate about helping Navajo people suffering with cancer. I am thrilled to be part of something that I believe will one day be of huge impact.''

The John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which helped sponsor the first conference in October, has pledged $10,000 to fund the upcoming conference in July. The foundation is named for the Academy Award-winning actor who is famous for such movie classics as Stagecoach and The Searchers, both filmed in the Navajo Nation's Monument Valley. Kavanagh said the amount of the donation makes the John Wayne Cancer Foundation the Arizona Myeloma Network's first "Platinum Partner.''

About the 2009 conference

What: Fort Defiance Cancer Awareness and Advocacy Conference.
Where: Navajo Nation Museum, Arizona 264 and Postal Loop Road, Window Rock, Arizona.
When: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. July 18.
Who: Open to the public.
Cost: Free.
Why: To help provide Arizona's Native Americans with a higher awareness of cancer and greater access to medical care.
Details:, or Barbara Kavanagh at 623-388-6837; or Mechelle Morgan-Flowers at 928-729-8024.


Contact: Steve Yozwiak
The Translational Genomics Research Institute

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