Native women to star in film on breast cancer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society talks about a new film vignette on breast cancer being produced by the ACS, using all Native women as spokespeople. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

Charlotte Hofer: Roberta, can you tell me about this new vignette being produced by the ACS and starring Native women? Why a vignette?

Roberta Cahill: The vignette is a way to explain the importance of breast cancer screening to Native women. This is a film for Native women, predominantly by Native women. The spokespersons in the film, many of the scriptwriters – even the producer – are all Native. It is important to the ACS to incorporate cultural values and beliefs into the film – by using storytelling and by having American Indians involved in every aspect of the film.

Key messages will include the importance of preventing breast cancer through leading a healthy lifestyle, and encouraging women to get screenings because they absolutely can save your life. And the film will celebrate the triumph of survivorship.

Hofer: Roberta, what do you personally like best about this film?

Cahill: That it’s so authentic, so real, and that it’s in their own words – actual stories from people in the communities who’ve been through cancer, or who work in cancer screening. The theme that I like is that there is hope and cancer is not a death sentence.

You hear about cancer from different perspectives – a nurse and a nurse practitioner who talk about risk factors and recommended screenings; a survivor who discusses how she was able to remain in balance through family support and spirituality; another survivor who encourages women to remain strong and take care of themselves.

One of the most compelling stories in the film is the woman who says, “As Native women, we need to respect and honor ourselves by having the courage to participate in early breast cancer screening. Our children and grandchildren need us.”

So the film celebrates survivorship, and empowers women to take better care of themselves through the healing process, and if they are cancer-free, to stay that way.

Hofer: Why is it important to put a Native face on cancer issues?

Cahill: It is important so that the community members will notice and listen to the messages. Community people feel they need culturally appropriate messaging and that Native people need to see other Native people giving the message.

For example, a Native nurse practitioner has a lead role in the film, and this is because she is a female provider, and the truth is that many people in their home communities receive their care from nurse practitioners – so they are the ones that people trust.

Hofer: Who are the Native women starring in this film?

Cahill: Women from across the northern Plains are involved, with many of them from tribal communities in South Dakota. Community people feel they need culturally appropriate messaging and the American Indian people need to see other Native people giving the messages. The vignette will utilize Native community women who are recognized as educators and advocates for Native people.

The film will appeal to anyone, anywhere, as the stories shared are universal. We even anticipate a non-Native audience that will be interested in this film, because inasmuch as it can be a tool to educate Native women on the importance of screenings, it can also be a tool to educate all audiences about the particular gaps and challenges to care that Native and rural populations face, and the fact that cancer does not affect all populations equally.

Hofer: Who is the intended audience for the film?

Cahill: Native women – of all ages – are the target audience because at every age you can practice healthy lifestyle choices to prevent cancer. For detailed information on changing your lifestyle and for tips on diet and nutrition, check out the ACS Web site at www.cancer.org. Our Great American Health Challenge campaigns empower people with tools to prevent cancer – from tips on quitting smoking to eating right with healthy recipes and nutritional advice, to showing you what screenings you need at what age.

Hofer: How does breast cancer affect American Indians?

Cahill: While Native women have a lower breast cancer incidence, the mortality rate is higher due to later stage at diagnosis. So the ACS wants to make sure women hear the message: Live healthy lifestyles, get screened, and surviving breast cancer is possible.

Hofer: When will the film be available to the public?

Cahill: We anticipate that we will have free DVDs available by the end of the year for anyone who wants one. Contact the ACS at (800) 227-2345 or e-mail charlottehofer@cancer.org for more information.

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. For cancer information anytime, call (800) 227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. For information about this article, or to share your experience as a survivor, e-mail Charlotte Hofer at charlotte.hofer@cancer.org.