It is important to communicate effectively with your provider about your experiences with cancer and its treatment. Poor communication can lead to problems like unnecessary pain and side effects. Poor communication can even lower your chances of survival.
Challenges specific to American Indians and Alaska Natives when dealing with talking about cancer or a cancer diagnosis
- Most of us do not have accurate information about cancer.
- All cancer patients have to make a lot of decisions in a short amount of time with limited information.
- American Indians and Alaska Natives often do not know how to talk with the provider, our family and friends about cancer
- Many of the American Indian and Alaska Native cultures encourage us to keep our health problems private and deal with them alone.
American Indians and Alaska Natives usually feel that we should be able to go through this experience without “bothering” or “worrying” others
The stereotype of being a stoic Indian makes it hard to let others help. You will need help from time to time. You need to let others help you. Your family or friends need to know what is going on so that they can be more helpful to you.
American Indians and Alaska Natives learn to talk and think about things differently than non-Natives. Non-Native providers frequently do not understand what we are trying to tell them. This makes it harder for them to help us.
Each person reacts to the cancer experience differently. Emotional reactions to cancer may include denial, fear, frustration, and anger. Some will experience all of these while others may experience none or only a few. Providers might not realize that we may go through the cancer experience differently than people from other cultures.
Most American Indians and Alaska Natives are taught to not talk about our own diseases, illnesses, or fears. We do not have the words or ways to say things because we never learned to talk this way.
None of the 217 Native languages had a word for cancer until the late 1990s. So you have to use the English and your translation may not say what you really mean.
It is really hard to talk to some of the people who provide resource services that are supposed to help you. They may:
- Talk with you like they do not think you are telling the truth about your needs.
- Say things like, “Well, all you Indians have those Casinos now, so why do you need our help?”
- Insist that Indian Health Service has to provide you with all of your needs and that they cannot help you.
These are not appropriate ways for them to act with you or your family. It is because they do not understand the Indian Health Service, Tribal and Urban Indian Health programs.