Learning of one's cancer diagnosis carries with it feelings of trauma, fear, shock, and a host of other emotions. When the news comes in the midst of another personal trial, those emotions are intensified further. Yvonne Bushyhead knows this firsthand.
"As our family members were getting dressed for the funeral of one of our best friends, my surgeon called to tell me I had breast cancer," Yvonne said. "I had eaten healthy, I don't eat red meat, don't drink soft drinks, don't eat white products like sugar, flour, pasta, or rice, and I truly thought the biopsy would be benign. I did not believe I deserved this diagnosis."
Unable to contain her emotions, Yvonne passed the phone to one of her daughters. After settling herself, Yvonne dove headfirst into research, and what she learned surprised her.
"I thought I knew about breast cancer, but after searching for material about staging, radiation, and chemotherapy, and reading cases from medical institutions, it became obvious I knew only the words," Yvonne said, "Especially when I could find no case exactly like mine."
After learning of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic tests and getting tested (both of which were negative), Yvonne continued her search for answers. She consulted books and case studies posted online, and she found breast cancer survivors willing to share their stories with her. The experience gave her the motivation to write a book from a Native American perspective for cancer patients and their families, which she hopes will provide spiritual and emotional comfort and growth - much like what she and her family experienced when her daughter survived cancer in 2003.
Through the shock, pain, confusion and doubt following her diagnosis and during her treatment, Yvonne said she is grateful for what she has learned - not only about the disease itself, but about herself and other survivors. She also expressed admiration and awe for the scientists and researchers who are dedicating their professional lives looking for a cure and/or better treatment for breast cancer.
"I was stunned to hear scientists talk and/or write about cancer cells, treatments, or recurrence, especially when the media is filled every day with economics, war, and other huge troubles," Yvonne said. "It is so good to know there are scientists concentrating on this disease, and though each project may not save millions, it will be beyond measure to those who will benefit from it in the future."
Just like her research immersion after her diagnosis, Yvonne is always adding to her advocacy efforts. She is the Southeastern Representative for the Native People's Circle of Hope and writes grants for this group, has written grant requests for the Eastern Band of Cherokees Cancer Support group, and has been trained to measure survivors for bras and prostheses. Yvonne also serves on the Spirit of Eagles Advisory Committee at the Mayo Clinic and works with CDMRP as a consumer reviewer.
Nominated by the Native People's Circle of Hope to serve as a Consumer Peer Reviewer for the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, Yvonne said she was awed by what she experienced in this work.
"Working with Peer Review was invaluable to me for what I could learn and the service I could bring," Yvonne said. "I have learned that it takes much study to understand how and why cancer is different in every individual. As I continue to learn, I hope to share needs, fears, emotions, confusions, gratitude, and hope from breast cancer survivors, especially from my tribe and other tribal people."