Speaking out makes a world of difference to cancer survivors

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National Minority Cancer Awareness Week April 15 - 21

LAWTON, Okla. - The American Cancer Society will hold its seventh annual Celebration of Hope Pow Wow in Lawton on Aug. 25 this year. The celebration is for all Native people, young and old, who have survived cancer. All one has to do to be included in the pow wow is to say it out loud: ''I have survived cancer.''

''Speaking up and acknowledging that one has cancer is very difficult for American Indians,'' said Connie Amos, community manager for the ACS' ''Native People Caring for Each Other'' program. Amos works in the High Plains Division of ACS, serving seven tribes in southwest Oklahoma: the Apache, Caddo, Comanche, Delaware, Fort Sill Apache, Kiowa and Wichita.

''We started 'Native People Caring for Each Other' as a pilot program to see if we really needed it,'' Amos said. ''In the beginning it didn't seem like there would be anyone participating. There were so many needing help, but first we had to get the folks, many of whom are embarrassed and scared, to speak up and admit they had cancer. Then it just took off. That first year, we honored 250 people. We're now entering our seventh year, and boy, has it blossomed.

''When I joined the program in 2002, very few survivors were willing to talk about their cancer,'' she continued. ''I met the man who eventually became our pow wow's head man, Oliver Stevens, at a different pow wow. At that time, no one knew he was a cancer survivor.''

Amos began working for ACS two days before she married the love of her life, Dennis Amos. He had encouraged her to take the job, telling her, ''They need more people with a heart like yours.'' Two months after taking the position, her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

With a husband dying of cancer, Connie learned very quickly about all of the programs offered by the ACS. ''So many people die of cancer because we learn about it so late,'' Amos stated. ''Cancer stole my new husband. The only way I know how to fight back is to navigate the ACS system. We have so much to offer in terms of education, early detection and support for cancer patients and survivors. I'm sorry to say I learned a lot about cancer because of my husband.''

Most cancer treatment organizations consider a cancer patient a ''survivor'' when he or she has been cancer-free for five years or more. However, the ACS includes ''people who are still fighting'' as survivors, acknowledging each person's fight as a form of survival. Therefore, anyone fighting now - or who has met the challenge and is now cancer-free - is welcome to celebrate at the Aug. 25 pow wow.

Can't wait until August to celebrate your triumph over cancer? Amos said, ''We usually do a luncheon in May called 'Empowering the Native Woman,' helping American Indian women to focus on wellness. We work with the tribes to bring awareness of cancer to them - prevention, treatment and surviving!''

The pow wow, which is open to the public, will be held at the Great Plains Coliseum in Lawton.

Amos pointed out that although their primary focus is the seven tribes in southwest Oklahoma, ''if anyone contacts us, we try to help them any way we can.'' Pointing to their success in the Plains, Amos said, ''I hope it will take off on a national level. There are so many Indians, throughout the country, who could benefit from this type of program.''

Meanwhile, Amos encourages people fighting cancer to contact their nearest American Cancer Society office by calling (800) ACS-2345.