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New partnership brings Roswell Park cancer support services to Seneca territory

Members of the Seneca Nation perform a traditional dance to welcome guests Monday to the announcement of a new partnership between the JC Seneca Foundation and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
Facebook/Native Pride Travel Plaza
Members of the Seneca Nation perform a traditional dance to welcome guests Monday to the announcement of a new partnership between the JC Seneca Foundation and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Native American populations suffer a disproportionate number of certain cancer diagnoses and deaths. They also have a history of not trusting the healthcare system, for numerous reasons. A newly-announced partnership aims at bringing support and building trust directly to the Seneca Nation.

Under the partnership announced by the JC Seneca Foundation and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the latter will provide patient navigation and screening services at the Native Pride Travel Plaza, on Seneca’s Tallchief Territory property.

“I believe it's something that’s much needed, very much here, within our community and surrounding communities, to be able to have a relationship with Roswell, and their Center for Indigenous Cancer Research,” Seneca said. “And it's an important thing where people can come here twice a week, to be able to talk with somebody, that is either wanting to be tested to see if they have cancer, or they already have it and to be able to talk with somebody to help them navigate their way through their process of dealing with the disease. Not only that, when we as individuals have a disease or illness, that also affects our family. And so it's important that our family also has someone where they can come to, and talk with, to help them get through this and find their way and to be healthy again.”

According to the Roswell Park Center for Indigenous Cancer Research, Native People are at higher risk than non-Natives for a number of diseases, including certain cancers. Roswell personnel say research shows Native populations have been found to be at higher risk for diagnoses and deaths from cervical, liver, and kidney cancers. In addition, studies show higher levels of smoking, obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses which can complicate cancer cases and treatments.

The Center’s director, Dr. Rodney Haring, says this partnership will meet the mission and vision of their program. He recalled the Two Row Wampum, a 409-year-old treaty by which Natives and European settlers agreed to respect the ways of the other.

“We don't cross into each other’s sovereignty, so to say, but we understand and respect each other's ways of life. And in this case, health care and patient navigation and cancer care, that in order to be an effective way, we understand respect, respect each other sovereignty in that way and our healthcare part of that system,” he said. “That being said, we also need to partner to make a difference for everyone.”

The program will provide cancer screening, prevention education and services for people who are already patients. But Community Patient Navigator Marissa Haring says what’s equally important is they’ll also work to build trust.

“In the native community, unfortunately, there is some distrust in the health care systems for various reasons,” she said. “So as Native people, we really want to be there for our people and let them know, Roswell Park is somewhere you could trust somewhere that offers great care. And we're here to bridge that gap.”

Over the past year, through a $3.3 million dollar grant from Bristol Myers Squibb, Roswell Park has installed six full-time patient navigators in high-need areas across the state, including rural and Native lands.

The JC Seneca Foundation, meanwhile, has previously formed partnerships to address other health issues of concern for the Native population, including mental health and addiction. Partners include G-Health Enterprises and Harmonia Collaborative Care.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.