Indigenous cancer awareness centre helping to bridge the gap between mainstream healthcare and First Nations health centres

Indigenous cancer awareness centre helping to bridge the gap between mainstream healthcare and First Nations health centres

Cancer survivor Erinn Monture a leading advocate for Indigenous people affected by cancer

OHSWEKEN, ONTARIO — Erinn Monture is a Mohawk of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. In December 2015, she was diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer after fighting doctors for nine months to get an accurate diagnosis. Following intense chemotherapy, doctors pronounced her in remission. But the cancer came back only 10 months later. Once again, she faced a new cycle of chemo and continues to receive treatment today. But her response to this challenge was not one of despair; rather, it fueled her desire to fight on. Monture has since become a leading advocate for Canada’s Indigenous people who are affected by cancer.

Monture founded Ewadadadrihwanokwa:k Indigenous Cancer Awareness and Resource Centre  pronounced Aydwawdawdreehwawnokwak — which means “We Give Each Other Help Every Day.” The not-for-profit is dedicated to raising cancer awareness within Canada’s First Nations communities. It provides Indigenous cancer patients and their families with guidance and resources necessary for everyone’s treatment and recovery process.

“Canada’s mainstream health care system has opportunities that our First Nations communities do not have because of a lack of funding and resources,” says Monture. “The Centre plays an important role in helping to connect patients to services and resources in the regional cancer treatment centres and within their own community.”

“Improving cancer care for members of the Six Nations Community has been a key priority for Erinn,” says Cailey Crawford, Ontario Regional Director, Ovarian Cancer Canada. “Erinn has been crucial in bringing important resources and information to those without easy access.”

In 2017, in collaboration with Six Nations Health Services, Monture wrote and published a cancer resource book, “A Haudenosaunee Guide To Your Cancer Journey.” The Guide assists recently diagnosed Indigenous cancer patients, their families and caregivers with critical information to help them in their cancer journey. Monture also created “Chemo Bags®,” a support kit that includes a range of personal care items, from hygiene and nutrition products to other essentials that help to make life a little easier for cancer patients preparing for surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Since launching her project, other First Nations have expressed an interest in what she’s doing, so she has prepared a second book, called “An Indigenous Guide To Your Cancer Journey,” that is customized for specific Indigenous communities and cultures. She’s visited a number of these communities already and will be visiting others in the weeks ahead.

“Everything we’re doing is all about raising awareness and educating Indigenous people affected by cancer,” says Monture. “I want to create more resources and provide guidance for those travelling on unfamiliar ground when they enter the mainstream system for cancer treatment.”

Monture advocates for the concept of cancer competency and awareness within Indigenous culture.

And it is making a difference in First Nations communities.

“When I began my own chemotherapy treatment process, I knew there would be challenges,” says Monture. “Feeling tired and sick, fatigued and nauseous, the emotional highs and lows, and uncertainty about the future. I was fortunate to have my own support group of family and friends, my mom in particular, and a great healthcare team. But so many people don’t know where to turn for help. So helping others through this difficult and often scary experience, and directing them to available resources within their local area is what I’m doing and what I’m going to continue to do.”

Monture’s cancer journey is far from over despite her cancer recurrence. Like thousands of others, her struggle continues but she is looking forward to visiting and speaking to Indigenous people across the country. Her advice to others who have received a cancer diagnosis: “Don’t stop living your life. Don’t let this disease define you.”

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Jeffrey Martin

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