SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Cancer comes in all shapes and sizes. It does not discriminate, and effects people from all walks of life. I am only in my 40’s and have already been screened for various cancers due to illness. Each time, I breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor told me that I did not have the big C.
I have always known people that passed away from cancer. Although they were friends or co-workers, it never seemed to affect me personally. Maybe it was because I had lost touch with them, or I didn’t work that close with them, and got busy with other parts of work and life.
In the last month, all of that changed. In the span of a week, I lost two people close to me due to cancer. My uncle, who was more like a grandfather to me, walked to the other side after colon cancer got the better of him. A mentor that I met in college flew with the eagles after battling liver cancer. Both of these men served purpose in my life, and passed on knowledge, wisdom, counsel, culture, and tradition to me. They taught me to serve my community in a good way, and for those reasons, I will always be greatful.
The sorrow that I feel, is not for my loss, but for the loss that family and community will have. Cancer has robbed them of counselors and teachers. It has left young people without elders to pass on tradition, culture, and language. Their wisdom is lost. Cancer robs our communities and families of so much.
In all of this, if there is one thing that I could encourage people to do, it is to get screened. Listen to your body, if something seems abnormal, talk with your doctor. Don’t ignore symptoms. I know from personal experience, it is scary to do and go through days without knowing. We always pray that the screen comes back negative, and often it does. Sometimes, the screen comes back positive for cancer, but the good news is that if it is through routine screening, the cancer is often caught at an early stage, and chances of survival are much higher. Don’t let cancer rob your people of you. You still have much to pass on to them.
Chris Cooper is a Director of the National Native Network and the Health Education Specialist II for the California Rural Indian Health Board. For more information on cancer screening, Chris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.