Shoshana Phillips has spent most of her 51 years engrained in Omaha Nation culture with the goal to educate and help her Native American tribe flourish. It was only when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma six years ago she realized the disparities among Native Americans with cancer, including children whose parents have cancer.
Together with her daughter Alethea, Phillips worked to form a non-profit organization intended to help children in need now and to educate young people to make healthy lifestyle choices to avoid obesity, diabetes and cancer in the future.
Adult infusion nurse Colleen Dauw, R.N., says it’s not uncommon to see patients with cancer trying to give back.
“Shoshana has been helping people in her tribe her whole life,” says Dauw. “It puts a very positive light on healing and working to become well. It doesn’t surprise me that her daughter is following in her footsteps to want to make a difference in the Native American community.”
Cancer incidences among American Indians vary by tribe, region and gender, but are often much higher than non-Hispanic whites. Many factors contribute, including a high burden of risk factors like tobacco and alcohol abuse, poor diets due to commodity items like white flour and white sugar, low awareness of cancer risks and screening options, high rates of poverty and poor access to health care due to low rates of health insurance.
“I’ve definitely beaten the odds for multiple myeloma, which has less than a 35 percent survival rate for more than five years,” says Phillips. “My diagnosis has definitely opened up a new path for me. I think all people have something they’re meant to do. The time I have now is more time to be with my kids, and to establish this legacy they can carry on in the future to help other Native Americans with cancer.”
Thrive magazine is a quarterly publication of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, offering inspirational patient stories, news and information on programs and services, tips on coping and living with cancer and more. Find Thrive in the Cancer Center or online.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.