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Honoring AAPI cancer advocates during heritage month

Young woman and her mother looking at the photographs on the tablet device. They are comfortably sitting on the sofa in the living room at their home, casually talking and enjoying their time together.

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, it’s crucial to recognize the remarkable individuals from these communities who have dedicated their lives to advocating for better cancer care and outcomes. These trailblazers have shattered barriers, raised awareness, and paved the way for a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system.

One of the most prominent figures in AAPI cancer advocacy is Susan Shinagawa, a third-generation Japanese American breast cancer survivor. After attending an American Cancer Society workshop in 1991 at the age of 34, Shinagawa embarked on a journey that would leave an indelible mark on the cancer community. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by AAPI individuals, Shinagawa co-founded the Asian and Pacific Islander National Cancer Survivors Network, an organization dedicated to providing culturally tailored support and resources. Her tireless efforts have helped bridge the gap between traditional beliefs and modern medical practices, empowering countless AAPI cancer patients and their families.

Kekoa Taparra, a radiation oncology resident, has been a passionate advocate for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, whose medical data is often aggregated with other Asian populations, masking disparities in health outcomes. Through his analysis of breast cancer data, Taparra has shed light on the unique challenges faced by these communities, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the diversity within the AAPI umbrella. His work has raised awareness about the need for disaggregated data and culturally sensitive healthcare approaches tailored to the specific needs of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Moon S. Chen, Jr. is a prominent figure in the field of cancer health disparities, especially among Asian American populations. He serves as the Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. With a long-standing career that began with his role at the cancer center’s inception in 2005, Chen has spearheaded various initiatives to address the unique cancer burdens faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. His contributions extend to leading major projects like the National Center for Reducing Asian American Cancer Health Disparities and the NCI-funded Minority Patient-Derived Xenograft Trial and Development Center.

AAPI Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of these communities and honor the resilience and advocacy of individuals like Susan Shinagawa, Kekoa Taparra, and Moon Chen. Their tireless efforts have shed light on the unique challenges faced by AAPI individuals in the realm of cancer care, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system.

As we commemorate this month, let us amplify the voices of these advocates and continue to support their work in addressing disparities, promoting cultural competency, and ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, receives the highest quality of care and support throughout their cancer journey.

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