House Bill 1301 would fund a study that focuses on Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders and Asian communities in Hawaii.
Cancer disparities are a significant public health issue in Hawaii, and our state legislators have the chance, and kuleana, to take a vital step toward helping everyone have a fair and just opportunity to prevent, detect, treat and survive cancer.
Cancer affects everyone but it does not affect everyone equally. Breast cancer incidence and mortality are highest among Native Hawaiian women compared to any other racial or ethnic group in Hawaii. American Samoan men are eight times more likely to develop liver cancer.
The most recent Hawaii Cancer at a Glance report (2014-2018) indicates that lung and bronchus cancer incidence among males is highest among Native Hawaiian and Filipinos. And Filipinos have the highest proportions of late-stage prostate cancers.
I am a breast cancer survivor, so I know screenings can help detect cancer at an earlier stage and save lives. As part of my journey and my work as a health-care worker, I’m committed to helping women get their mammograms and will drive them to their appointment and then back home.
In 2021, I was sitting on my chemo chair when I noticed that among the people who were receiving treatment, I was the only Tongan.
“Where are my people and why am I the only one getting treatment?” I asked my husband.
So, I decided to look for them and was hired to reach out to my Tongan Community on the Koolau side, Waiahole, Kahaluu, Punaluu, Hauula, Kahuku, Laie and beyond, to share my story and the importance of mammograms with them.
I currently have an information booth that provides information to mostly Pacific Islander women about the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and how to get a mammogram. For many of them, this is the first time they have signed up to get screened for the first time in several years.
Cancer research also saves lives. It is thanks to a clinical trial that I am now in remission after being diagnosed with cancer for a second time. In addition to helping women get their mammograms, I talk to my community about how crucial cancer research and clinical trials are to help improve cancer outcomes.
As an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer, I understand that besides doctors and researchers, our elected officials also play a pivotal role in improving the lives of people with cancer and their families.
House Bill 1301 aims to provide funds that will allow the University of Hawaii Cancer Center to conduct a multiethnic cohort study that will focus on the different factors that contribute to higher incidence and higher mortality rates in certain cancers among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, and Asian communities including Filipinos in Hawaii.
These are communities that face cultural, language and structural barriers to cancer care — including lack of transportation — and are largely understudied.
The collected data will help better understand cancer disparities and identify gaps in cancer prevention and care delivery that contribute to these disparities as well as how to address them.
In Hawaii, we believe in living pono. I urge our state lawmakers to honor this concept and approve the funding for the multiethnic study that can help end cancer as we know it, for everyone.