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Oral Cancer Prevention

#PapChat- A discussion

Join us for our #PapChat Instagram series as we talk with women about their Pap test experiences!

Daanis-Chosa

Daanis Chosa (Bois Forte Band of Chippewa), says she was nervous before her first Pap test at 18 because she didn’t know how it was going to go. In reality, “for the actual experience, they make you feel comfortable, give you time to get undressed and relax. Then it’s smooth sailing. The first time I thought it was going to hurt, but it didn’t. I remember feeling a pinch, but that was really it. There wasn’t any pain, instead, it felt like pressure.” #PapChat

Melanie-Plucinski

Regarding the stigma surrounding cervical cancer, Melanie Plucinski (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Ojibwe) feels that not talking about HPV is dangerous. “It is critical for us to remove that stigma. It can literally save lives. The majority of HPV diagnoses don’t lead to cancer if women are screened regularly. This is important to know so that women can maintain their health. I would be willing to talk to anyone about getting a Pap. Pap testing is not something to be afraid of.” #PapChat

Joy-Rivera

As AICAF’s Community Health Education Specialist, Joy Rivera (Haudenosaunee) knows the importance of talking about screening. “The more people who tell their stories, the easier it gets. Like with breast cancer screening, the more stories I hear in the community, the more it reminds me to stay on schedule. I appreciate people in a community who are willing to share their experiences, especially elders.” #PapChat

Amber-Cardinal

When it comes to giving advice to young women getting their first Pap tests, Amber Cardinal (Arikara, Hidatsa, and Ojibwa) thinks of what she would tell her younger sisters: “Make sure that you get them. As often as they are allowed. Be honest with your doctor. Go in with an open mind. Just do it, even if it’s awkward, uncomfortable or ‘the worst thing ever,’ you just gotta do it.” #PapChat

Laura-Roberts-BA

Leading AICAF’s cervical cancer programming, Health Programs Specialist Laura Roberts BA (Red Lake Ojibwe and Santee Dakota) has advice for women getting Pap tests: “Listen to your discomforts. If it doesn’t feel right between you and your doctor or clinic, you should look for something else. Pap tests are very private, so you should go to a clinic where you feel welcome.” #PapChat

Robert DesJarlait

July 29, 2019

When the emcee called for cancer survivors to come out to the floor at the 2013 Powwow for Hope, Robert DesJarlait (Red Lake Band of Chippewa) walked out to the shock of all those around him. “It was an emotional experience” Robert said, reflecting on his decision to go public for the first time about his cancer story.

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In 2016, Jean had just started a new job and was in the process of filing for medical insurance. When it was approved, she visited the hospital to treat a pain she had been feeling in her left arm. Upon examination, the doctor decided to give Jean a heart scan, but also recommended she have a breast screening; this would be Jean’s first-ever mammogram. After the test, the doctor followed up immediately and urged her to return to the clinic. Feeling scared and uneasy, Jean replied that she would not be coming back. She knew they had found cancer.

She allowed herself the weekend to reflect, built up her courage and returned to the clinic the next Monday. And this was “when the fight started.” Jean was officially diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in August 2016. Everything that followed in the coming weeks happened relatively quickly, Jean remembers. By September, all of the testings had been completed and Jean’s treatment plan was developed and in place. Doctors performed a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, she then underwent eight weeks of radiation.

Prior to treatment, Jean’s cancer team warned her about the possibility of being bedridden, experiencing fatigue, and losing her appetite. “I was all of those things, but I didn’t let it overcome me,” she said. Jean took control and cared for herself – she would drive herself to the hospital for treatment, then would return home to do chores like any other day.

“I did not become that person the doctor said I was going to become,” she continued, “I overcame it.”

With the number of doctors she encountered through testing and treatment, Jean said she almost needed a “crash course in medical terminology.” At times it was difficult to focus and understand all the information being thrown her way, especially given the high-stress circumstances. She was appreciative of the love and support from all of her children. She remembers her daughter sitting beside her, writing down every detail and helping to make sense of it all. Jean also met with a social worker who worked to alleviate some of her expenses, as the many cancer treatments were proving to be financially crippling. Since she was not working at the time, the social worker connected Jean with programs that helped covered certain expenses like parking fees and household bills.

In February 2017, Jean returned to work part-time. Now in remission, she shares her journey throughout the community to inspire others to take care of themselves. She advocates for early detection, urging Native women to understand the importance of mammograms and to pay attention to their health.

“You know your body the best. If there’s anything different, you know.”

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