SARNIA, ON – Around 19 Aboriginal communities gathered in at the Maawn Doosh Guming Community Centre in Sarnia last Friday for the Aboriginal Cancer Journey, an interactive conference held to teach Indigenous communities about the cancer journey as it relates to them.
The gathering, organized by the Erie St. Clair and South West regional cancer screening programs, was opened by Chief Chris Plain of Aamjiwnaang First Nation who welcomed visitors to the area and set the stage for keynote speaker Dr. Jason Pennington, Aboriginal Cancer Lead for Central East.
Pennington is a Toronto-based surgeon of Huron-Wendat descent who advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous values into medical training.
Pennington says that a lack of cultural understanding has created barriers between health care providers and Indigenous patients. He believes care that is inclusive of Indigenous practices such as smudging, drumming, prayer and traditional (herbal) medicines is integral to the health of Indigenous peoples.
“None of these things should really be able to interfere with anybody’s surgery, or radiation, or chemotherapy” Pennington said.
Unfortunately, when Indigenous patients request such things to be incorporated into their care, they may be met with doubt and even hostility, said Pennington. This creates a negative stigma around cancer care that may be responsible for the lower rate of cancer survival in Indigenous populations.
The conference also included presentations on Nutrition and Healthy Living from the Southern Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, Linking Traditional Care to Current Care by Dr. Bernice Downey and an Overview of The Cancer Journey by a panel of experts.
Five healthcare providers including a professor, oncologist, medical director, and two family physicians facilitated a panel that included a wide range of information from prevention and screening, to palliative and hospice care. Participants were given the opportunity to participate in a question and answer period following the presentation.
The day closed with a prayer by Elder Mike Plain. Participants left the day with extensive materials to help navigate the cancer journey in a culturally meaningful way, whether as caregivers or patients.
Locally, those interested in cancer screening can visit the Screen for Life Coach for free as it returns to the Six Nations community from November 25 – 28. More information on locations are available at http://www.hnhbscreenforlife.ca/schedule. Members of the public can also participate in a cancer risk assessment at mycanceriq.ca.