Etta Yazzie, oncology nurse with Arizona Oncology in Flagstaff, recently received an award from the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP), recognizing her dedication to help alleviate disparities in cancer in Native American communities.
Established in 2002 as part of a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the objective of the NACP is to alleviate the unequal burden of cancer among Native Americans of the Southwest through research, training, and outreach programs. NACP programs and projects are jointly developed and implemented by Northern Arizona University (NAU), the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC), and the Hopi, Navajo, and Tohono O’odham tribal communities.
“Etta received a well-deserved award and recognition for her outstanding work with the NACP,” said Anna L. Schwartz, PhD, FNP-BC, FAAN, associate professor, NAU School of Nursing. “She is a star, and I'm honored to work with her and have her as part of the NAU research team.”
Specifically, Yazzie was recognized for her contributions made possible through her unique expertise in cancer treatment, community outreach and education, and mastery of the Navajo language.
She also played a key role in securing the necessary signatures and support from the Navajo tribe for a new study focused on health promotion and lifestyle changes among the Navajo cancer survivors. Yazzie will lead efforts to develop focus groups, conducting interviews and data collection efforts. She contributes to the NACP study when she is not treating patients as an oncology nurse for Arizona Oncology.
The study officially kicked off in September. Research will take several months to complete in the hopes that it will set the stage for an even larger study, and help the Navajo cancer survivors and ultimately increase funding to help the community members learn more about lifestyle changes.
Increasing Early Detection through Education
Originally from the Navajo tribe, Yazzie has served as an oncology nurse for almost a decade. She returned to the Navajo Nation after living more than 20 years in Oakland, California. “When I came back to Arizona, I didn’t know how good my language skills would be,” said Yazzie, “but the first time I started to speak Navajo, it just came right out. It all came back to me.”
Her ability to speak Navajo is valuable in helping families understand cancer diagnosis and treatment options. It’s also proven to be key in helping break down cultural taboos when it comes to talking openly about cancer.
“Patients are not comfortable talking about changes to their body, they are embarrassed,” said Yazzie. As a result, the rate of late-stage cancers are higher than the national average on the Navajo reservation.
Cancer ranks among the top cause of death among the Navajo community, second only to accidents. Common cancers among Navajos include: late-stage testicular, colon, stomach, breast and lung cancers.
As a supporter of the NACP, Yazzie also participates in special conferences and workshops to help educate the Navajo community. “The Cancer 101 and Men’s Cancer Conference were really successful,” said Yazzie. Other Native American communities outside of Arizona are learning about these conferences and calling to learn more to develop similar educational efforts.
“I just fell in love with using my language to teach and help change lifestyles and to encourage people to seek treatment in the early stages and not wait until it’s too late,” declared Yazzie.
She believes that the rate of late-stage cancer diagnoses among Navajos can change through education. “It is fear and a lack of awareness that prevents people from seeking help early,” said Yazzie. “I see a lot of late-stage patients. Let’s get to work and try to see as many patients as possible in the early stages.”
Her commitment to the cause was recently fortified at a conference in Window Rock when the speaker asked the audience, “How many of you are cancer survivors?” One women raised her hand and said “There are no survivors.”
“They still don’t understand that you can survive cancer. Many people still think that once you get cancer, it is over,” said Yazzie. “So there is still a lot of education that needs to take place. And this is why it’s exciting for me, being able to teach people, and in the process change their lifestyles and help them survive.”
To learn more, visit ArizonaOncology.com, or call the Arizona Oncology team at 855-234-HEAL (4325).