Training Session: Understanding Breast Cancer


Kateri Delisle-Riddell - a Mohawk woman from Kahnawake, Quebec.
She is a Cancer Care Worker and a breast cancer survivor.

Cindy Diabo - a Mohawk from Kahnawake and cancer survivor.
She shared her personal experience with cancer.

Many people have difficulty facing the idea that cancer may affect them
or a loved one. It is a hard subject to talk about. However, talking about
it will help us understand how to take care of our communities and ourselves.
It is important to know the basics about cancer (“Cancer 101”) beginning
with what cancer is, how it starts and how it spreads. Cancer is
approximately 150-200 different diseases but most people categorize all
cancers into one group. While there are many similarities among cancers,
there are also many differences in the speed with which cancers grow,
where they grow and how aggressive they are in the system. Many
different types of cancer affect First Nations people.

Within First Nations, cancer rates are lower than in the general population.
However, this does not mean that First Nations people will never get cancer.
Rates have been on the rise in First Nations over the last ten years and First Nations
people must remain healthy and treat their bodies well to prevent cancer from
invading their lives.

Discussion about cancer may be avoided in some communities and because
of that, people may learn to be afraid of it. Knowledge about cancer is power
and the more is known about it, the more we can do for ourselves to
help prevent it and to know what to do if we receive such a diagnosis.

Kateri showed how breast cancer occurs by showing the anatomy of a
breast and several pictures of how breasts look with cancer. Kateri
explained the process of mammograms and how they are performed.
Mammograms for women aged 50-69 are the best tool we have for early
detection of breast cancer. When breast cancer is discovered, it might
have been growing in the body for seven to ten years already. On a
mammogram, older breasts will show tumours more readily because they have
less fatty tissue than younger breasts to obscure the results.
Mammograms can find lumps in your breast up to two years before
you can feel them.

Most breast cancers start in the breast ducts but they can
also begin in the lobes. Lobular cancer may spread to both breasts.
Men also get breast cancer, but at a much lower rate. Men account for
only 1 per cent of all breast cancers. Age is a factor in the chances of getting
breast cancer. As people get older the risk of breast cancer increases.
Environment is a significant factor although exactly how much impact
it has remains unclear. It is believed that estrogen-mimicking chemicals
may provide the change that cells need to become cancerous.
Seventy per cent of women with breast cancer did not have a family
history of the disease while five per cent of them did.

If we have a cancer diagnosis, the way family members react to
it can be culturally determined or passed down through generations.
If grandmothers don’t talk about cancer, mothers may not talk about
it and daughters may not either. Cultural beliefs can breed fear about
cancer and may stop women from seeking medical attention. It is
important to learn as much as we can about cancer. If we are
knowledgeable we can understand what cancer is and alleviate
unnecessary fears. Through knowledge we can talk to our families
because we will depend on their support.