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Oral Cancer Prevention

#PapChat- A discussion

Join us for our #PapChat Instagram series as we talk with women about their Pap test experiences!


Daanis Chosa (Bois Forte Band of Chippewa), says she was nervous before her first Pap test at 18 because she didn’t know how it was going to go. In reality, “for the actual experience, they make you feel comfortable, give you time to get undressed and relax. Then it’s smooth sailing. The first time I thought it was going to hurt, but it didn’t. I remember feeling a pinch, but that was really it. There wasn’t any pain, instead, it felt like pressure.” #PapChat


Regarding the stigma surrounding cervical cancer, Melanie Plucinski (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Ojibwe) feels that not talking about HPV is dangerous. “It is critical for us to remove that stigma. It can literally save lives. The majority of HPV diagnoses don’t lead to cancer if women are screened regularly. This is important to know so that women can maintain their health. I would be willing to talk to anyone about getting a Pap. Pap testing is not something to be afraid of.” #PapChat


As AICAF’s Community Health Education Specialist, Joy Rivera (Haudenosaunee) knows the importance of talking about screening. “The more people who tell their stories, the easier it gets. Like with breast cancer screening, the more stories I hear in the community, the more it reminds me to stay on schedule. I appreciate people in a community who are willing to share their experiences, especially elders.” #PapChat


When it comes to giving advice to young women getting their first Pap tests, Amber Cardinal (Arikara, Hidatsa, and Ojibwa) thinks of what she would tell her younger sisters: “Make sure that you get them. As often as they are allowed. Be honest with your doctor. Go in with an open mind. Just do it, even if it’s awkward, uncomfortable or ‘the worst thing ever,’ you just gotta do it.” #PapChat


Leading AICAF’s cervical cancer programming, Health Programs Specialist Laura Roberts BA (Red Lake Ojibwe and Santee Dakota) has advice for women getting Pap tests: “Listen to your discomforts. If it doesn’t feel right between you and your doctor or clinic, you should look for something else. Pap tests are very private, so you should go to a clinic where you feel welcome.” #PapChat

Michelle Buffalo Knuppe

May 9, 2024

Michelle’s self-exam and consistent annual exams led to finding a lump in her breast. Now, only months after her initial diagnosis, Michelle has made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy.

When her diagnosis was confirmed, Melinda immediately thought of her children and grandchildren and began making healthy changes. She quit living a “careless lifestyle,” focused on enjoying her family and connected more with her traditions. “Any chance I had to hug everybody, I did,” she said.

Family history, age, genetics, and alcohol use are all factors that can contribute to breast cancer occurrence. Research shows that one in eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. And while women are more at risk for breast cancer, men are not immune to its occurrence. Both men and women should talk to their health care providers about when breast screening is right for them.

Because Melinda caught her breast cancer early, her care team at the Susan G. Komen Women’s Clinic in Iowa was able to surgically remove the lump. At the time of her diagnosis, a new treatment for women 50 years and older had recently become available. This “spot treatment” therapy targeted only the cancerous area and shortened her radiation time from eight weeks to just five days. Today, Melinda visits her doctor just once per year for a breast screening. National screening guidelines recommend all women over 40 should schedule an annual mammogram.

Melinda is grateful for the endless support, encouragement, and love of her family throughout her journey. She is also very appreciative of her care team during the treatment process. They “took care of everything and kept me well informed.” She kept up with her health status and cancer care with the books and resources her team provided. There was even a nurse assigned to Melinda throughout her entire treatment who she was able to contact any time she needed, “whether it was just to talk or to cry.”

Melinda understands there is a stigma surrounding cancer in Indian Country but encourages Native folks to keep the discussion going. “Don’t be afraid of your bodies . . . get screened to catch it early,” she advocates. Now cancer-free, Melinda is a proponent for prevention and screening, urging people to stay educated about their health – she often tells her family to “go and research.”

“Be preventive. Just live a good life and think of your little ones. They need you around as long as possible.”


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