Among the five students named as a 2013 Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth in March is cancer survivor Cierra Fields. The 14-year-old Cherokee student from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma is a melanoma survivor who volunteers her time and travels across the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to promote healthy lifestyles to reduce the risk of cancer among her people.
Cierra, an eighth grader, visits tribal health clinics, schools, health fairs, tribal district meetings and hospitals to share her personal cancer survival story and tips on how to prevent cancer. To help share her message, Cierra has collaborated with the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, Mayo Clinic, Circle of Hope, St. Francis Children’s Hospital, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for life.
How did you become involved with what you are doing today?
I was 4 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage II-B Melanoma and had surgery to remove it. My parents never used the “C” word in front of me but I have lived my whole life following precautions. I have Inherited Dysplastic nevus syndrome, so every mole has like a 50/50 chance of becoming melanoma. My parents also changed eating habits to give me the best chance of staying cancer free.
How did you get started helping others?
As I entered middle school, my parents started talking about cancer and why I have to take care of myself. Two years ago, I won the title “Little Miss Cherokee Ambassador” for my age. I wanted to do more for my tribe and began by visiting hospitals.
I started volunteering to share my story of melanoma and promote “Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap” (Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a wide brimmed hat, and wear wrap around sunglasses to prevent melanoma). Miss Cherokee invited me to join her Relay for Life Team and we walked wearing full Cherokee regalia in honor of all the Cherokees who have been affected by cancer.
What may the average citizen not know about skin cancer?
Most Native Americans do not know that they can even get skin cancer. Many feel that our dark skin will protect us. They don’t realize that we have the second highest rates of melanoma.
How have your efforts helped your Native community?
More people are getting their skin checked out. I’ve seen our Native Circle of Hope [a cancer support group] grow. I have a group of 12 students helping me create the next Native Youth Summit for this fall. Each one of them is going to teach a topic that means a lot to each of them.
How does being Native affect how you view the world and what you are doing?
As a tribe, we believe in gadugi, which means “work together.” Because we are taught this at such a young age, we just know to work together for our people.
What would you like to share with the world and with the readers of ICTMN?
Slip, Slop, Slap, and Wrap! Your Native skin will not protect you from melanoma! Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a wide brimmed hat, and wear wrap around sunglasses. These simple steps will reduce your chances of getting melanoma. If you have a spot that has multiple colors, [is] odd shaped, or scaly please have it looked at by a dermatologist as soon as possible.
If you could have your life’s dream come true, what would it be?
I have so many dreams and goals. By the time I graduate high school, I want to host a Native Youth Summit for all the tribes in my state. I will attend college and study to become a wildlife biologist. My dream is to work with wolves.