Conference will connect myeloma patients with support, resources

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 20, 2013

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A ccording to Barbara Kavanagh, founder of the Arizona Myeloma Network (AzMN), rather than having people look for cancer resources, "We bring these resources together …"

Kavanagh will host the Navajo Nation Cancer Conference. AzMN held its first cancer conference on the Navajo Nation in 2008, and Kavanagh said "we do this because I believe that it is important for people to have access to free information and good cancer resources."

It's a great opportunity for cancer patients and caregivers to learn and get help with any cancer problems, said Kavanagh.

"We'll have wonderful resources there and it's all free. Everything is there for them and all they have to do is come and we will share everything we know."

"We're a small grassroots cancer charity," said Kavanagh, noting because AzMN's mission is to promote awareness, education and advocacy for improved treatment and quality of life for multiple myeloma patients, and their families and caregivers.

Myeloma is a complex and often misdiagnosed cancer of bone marrow plasma cells that attacks and destroys the bone.

Kavanagh said she started the charity in 2004 after her husband was diagnosed with myeloma and not many resources were available for her to turn to when she needed help. As a caregiver she saw how difficult it was for people to deal with myeloma so Kavanagh started AzMN.

"You can get help, you can be cured and you can survive cancer," Kavanagh said. "We bring you together so you know that you are not alone."

The John Wayne Cancer Foundation is co-hosting the cancer conference. Kavanagh said Foundation officials wanted to be a part of the conference because John Wayne did so many movies on the Navajo Nation and fell in love with the land and the people.

The foundation was founded in 1985 in honor of John Wayne after his family promised to use his name to continue his fight against cancer. Their mission is to bring courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer.

Special guests of the conference will be cancer survivors Nan and Charlie Kelley from Nashville, Tenn. Charlie is a Grammy nominee for country music and his wife Nan is a television personality on the Great American Country TV channel.

"We are so very happy to be back on the Navajo Reservation and to be a part of this very important conference. Nan and I are looking forward to sharing our story about the emotional toll of cancer and the quick shift of patient/caregiver roles," Charlie is quoted as saying in a press release.

This will be the Kelleys' second visit to the Navajo Nation, their first having been in 2010. Kavanagh said they were both so touched meeting the Navajo people that they wanted to come back this year to help.

"We try to respect the Navajo traditions and culture but also bring the latest in good medicine and good cancer treatment to the people," Kavanagh said, noting the conference will feature presentations from traditional healers as well as medical experts.

Cancer conferences are not the only thing that AzMN has brought to the Navajo Nation. Kavanagh said she started a breast cancer program called Diné Women Helping Women five years ago.

Kavanagh said it's a wonderful program where they train Navajo women in breast cancer education so they go out in the community educating and creating awareness.

The volunteers encourage women to have mammograms, which are free on the Navajo Nation, as well as connecting women with wonderful hospitals for treatment, said Kavanagh.

The 6th annual Navajo Nation Cancer Conference will be held at the Navajo Nation Museum on Saturday, June 22 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On-site registration starts at 8 a.m. but people can also register online at

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