Being there for cancer survivors

June 11, 2024

Pascua Yaqui Tribe and UACC join for conference dedicated to post-cancer support

Cristina Campoy, Beyond Cancer PYT

Cristina Campoy, breast cancer survivor and Pascua Yaqui Tribe member, speaks about her cancer journey during the Beyond Cancer Conference at the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus.

“Beginning your journey through cancer is going to be scary,” said Cristina Campoy, breast cancer survivor and Pascua Yaqui Tribe member. “It's going to be a roller coaster ride. But, provided that you have your support system, you'll be able to manage and live your life, your journey.”

A cancer diagnosis can be frightening. Education, resources, and community support can make a significant difference. To promote this support, The UArizona Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement team and Pascua Yaqui Tribe partnered to host the Beyond Cancer conference, June 1, at the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus. More than 100 Pascua Yaqui community members gathered to offer support, receive education and hear cancer survivors' stories.

Beyond Cancer PYT 2024 Remembrance Walk

Attendees participate in the Remembrance Walk at the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus.

The conference began with a Remembrance Walk to honor all Pascua Yaqui Tribe cancer survivors. Approximately 18 people participated in honor or memory of someone close to them battling cancer. There were also multiple panel sessions with tribe members providing their perspectives on the cancer journey. The conference was attended by cancer survivors, Native American healers, medical caretakers and others. 

Francisco and Veronica Valencia, parent caregivers and panelists during the conference, said they participated in the conference with their son, Francisco Jr., to share the knowledge and resources they used to get through the experience of their son’s leukemia diagnosis.

“As a parent of a cancer patient, you really forget everything else in the world but your family,” said Francisco Valencia. 

He added that without the support of the rest of his family, and his Indigenous community, the journey would have been more difficult. 

“We have family that is our extended family through our cultural ceremonies,” Francisco Valencia said. “I think continuing to be involved with our ceremonies helped us stay grounded and keep our faith in our creator and help us move forward.”

The audience, filled with cancer survivors, loved ones, caregivers, medical personnel––all touched by the effects of cancer––listened intently as the panelists painted a picture of what it is like to fight cancer.

Beyond Cancer PYT 2024 crowd

Panelists share their experience with cancer during the Beyond Cancer Conference at the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus.

Cancer survivor Luis Yucupicio, a panelist for one of the conference sessions, said it was important for him to participate by discussing his experience with cancer. He said that sharing your survival story with other people, especially other people who are dealing with cancer, helps them on their journey. 

“I just had someone today come up to me after we were eating lunch,” Yucupicio said. “She thanked me for sharing my story and it helped her. I think that means a lot. Especially because I feel like I'm so small. But apparently, I can make a difference.” 

Panelists also discussed how to navigate a cancer diagnosis and gave advice on how to support a loved one with cancer. He said that it is important for people diagnosed with cancer to realize that others support them and that there is no pressure for them to change or follow specific advice. 

“When I was going through it, I didn't want to hear, ‘Oh, you're going to be fine,’ or ‘Oh, you're dealing with it because of this reason,’” said Yucupicio. “Just be there when they need you; just tell them you'll be there. That’s what we’re all seeking.”

Monica Yellowhair, PhD, interim associate director of community outreach at the cancer center, said the Beyond Cancer conference was originally a university nursing department event. The center was able to bring this conference back with the goal of providing resources, education and awareness for cancer survivors, caregivers and their families.

“Our office has had the unique opportunity to work with all communities in Arizona, sustaining and building our trust within our communities,” said Yellowhair. “Especially with tribal communities. Our Hispanic Latino communities are communities that may have felt forgotten or not addressed. With our diverse team, we're able to bring this information to the communities back home.” 

The Beyond Cancer Conference promoted a multitude of resources available to Pascua Yaqui Tribe members. Personnel from several different organizations hosted booths with information for conference participants.

Adalberto Renteria, MD, medical director of Pascua Yaqui and a Cancer Center community advisory board member, emphasized the importance of reaching out for help.

Some of the organizations attending included the Debbies Dream FoundationThe Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP), and the University of Arizona College of Nursing.

Beyond Cancer PYT 2024 Luis Yucupicio

Luis Yucupicio, cancer survivor, speaks during one of the panels at the Beyond Cancer Conference in the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus.

 “You're not alone,” Dr. Renteria said. “Reach out. If you happen to be a tribal member, call our (Health) department. 

He said participants and their families may call him or the tribe to learn more about accessing treatment, care and education on cancer. 

“Arizona Cancer Center has incredible access points,” Dr. Renteria said. “You just need to make that call.”

Improving resources 

Dr. Renteria said raising cancer awareness is critical to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe because their population has a disproportionally high morbidity and mortality rate with cancer. Specifically, breast cancer with women and colon cancer in men. 

He said there are multiple factors that lead to this high mortality rate, including late diagnosis and a lack of access to screening procedures. Through their partnership with the cancer center, Renteria believes they will amplify their effectiveness by increasing their resources focusing on cancer care and prevention and raise awareness for their department within the tribe.

“There's tons of things that we need to do, and there just aren’t enough finances and people to provide all that,” said Renteria. “One of our lead nurses in cancer, that position was actually funded by the cancer center for five years, so we can get that off the ground. That's a perfect example where you're not just saying, ‘We want to help you.’ You're actually putting a financial resource behind something that would really help this tribe.”

Cultivating Pascua Yaqui community cancer care

By hosting the well-attended conference within the Pascua Yaqui Tribe community the cancer center was able to benefit as well and gained more insight into the communities they serve, according to Dr. Yellowhair.

Beyond Cancer PYT 2024 booth 4

Antonio Phillippe, COE Health Educator, speaks to an attendee during the Beyond Cancer Conference at the Pascua Yaqui-University of Arizona Microcampus.

She said the education they receive from community members about their barriers to cancer care, resources, education and awareness are valuable as they continue to work with communities like the Pascua Yaqui tribe.

“We're learning so much from them and also making sure that we involve our community members within our planning process,” said Yellowhair. “It's these partnerships that we're building with these communities that help strengthen what we as a cancer center need to do to improve upon and ensure that these communities get these services that they have not gotten in the past.” 

She said providing opportunities for communities to share their experiences, like the Beyond Cancer conference, helps them form a sustainable partnership based on cultural humility, sensitivity and trust.

 “Beyond Cancer means to us that support, knowing that we have community that is there to help us through the journey,” said Francisco Valencia. “It's very important, and that the name of this is Beyond Cancer, it hits the nail on the head, as they say. We get to listen and look at other families that are going through the same journey as we are.” 

As the COE team continues to work towards reducing cancer health disparities in communities within Arizona, their partnership with the tribe helps them provide resources, education, awareness and support for all cancer survivors.