Woody said she has learned a great deal and not just in the realm of science. "It opens up doors and windows everywhere else," she said, noting that the work has raised her awareness about mine safety, tribal issues and reclamation efforts.
"When we first heard of the yellow monster, it was scary and not much was understood until the research began and it was passed on to the people through booklets and talks at the chapter houses," said Sheryl Martinez, a junior in NAU's nursing program and another member of Stearns' research group. Martinez, also a native of Shiprock, hopes to return to her community and put her knowledge to work after graduation.
The funding for Stearns' work is tied to improving health among Native American communities. Stearns is the NAU principal investigator of a grant jointly awarded to NAU and the Arizona Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. Louise Canfield is the principal investigator on the grant for the Arizona Cancer Center. Collectively, these two grants comprise the Native American Cancer Research Partnership, a consortium of cancer researchers and educators at NAU and the Arizona Cancer Center. NACRP is one of only five such partnerships in the nation and the only one focused on Native American issues.
"The data on Native Americans for cancer evidence is very poor," Stearns said. "Navajo and Hopi may not get cancer to a greater extent, but the survival rate is lower than the general population." Stearns said the lower survival rate might be more the result of limited access to care or cultural boundaries that may prevent people from seeking care.
A goal of the partnership is to address these disparities by training Native students for cancer-related careers.
In this way, Stearns and her students can help slay the yellow monster, whether on the Navajo Nation or abroad.