Part II: The fight against cancer in the American Indian Community

By KBJR News 1

July 18, 2014 Updated Jul 18, 2014 at 12:00 PM CDT

FOND DU LAC RESERVATION (NNCNOW.com) --- Hundreds of American Indian communities are battling a lethal disease: Cancer.

The Fond du Lac Human Services Center has all of the typical waiting room sights; all the typical waiting room sounds. But there is one sight that is truly unique.

Bunny Jaakola is a cancer survivor. She lost her daughter to the disease as well as her mother.

Through it all, Jaakola finds clarity in the Dottie Tibbets conference room.

"Dottie Tibbets was my mother," Jaakola said.

"I kind of get goose bumps because this is the place that I can think and remember good things, constructive things," Jaakola added.

Jaakola says it is unfortunate that her cancer story is not unique in her community.

When compared with white–non Hispanic Americans, American Indians are more than twice as likely to die from lung cancer.

American Indians are also four times as likely to have cervical cancer.

"The American Indian Population has an uneven burden of cancer," DeAnna Finifrock said.

Finifrock is a nurse for the Fond du Lac Health and Human Services Center Cancer program

"It robs us of our elders, it robs us of our mothers, robs us of our grandmothers, our grandfathers, our aunties, our uncles," Finifrock said.

As a cancer survivor herself, Finifrock knows the gravity of losing a family member to cancer.

That loss, coupled with her determination, is what led her to build awareness on the Fond du Lac Reservation about the causes of certain cancers.

"Smoking and cancer go hand in hand," Finifrock said.

American Indians have the highest rates of kidney and oral cancers in Minnesota, according to a recent MPR study.

The study also found that 59% of American Indians smoke.

"We look at non–ceremonial tobacco use – it's a norm to be a smoker in our communities," Finifrock said.

In addition to kicking smoking as a habit, Finifrock encourages American Indians to talk with their health care provider about their family's history of cancer, along with taking personal responsibly for a healthier lifestyle.

"That will make a huge difference in our cancer story," Finifrock said.

In the Human Services Center waiting room, cancer is a typical problem.

But on this reservation, a cure for the lethal disease lies in awareness.

Nick Minock