September 20, 2012

Native health researcher bikes for Hopi Cancer Assistance Fund

UW Health Sciences and UW Medicine

Cancer researcher Angela Gonzales in her biking gear

Angela Gonzales, a researcher with the UW Center for Clinical and Epidemiological Research Partnerships for Native Health, will bike from Bellingham, Wash., to Ventura, Calif., this month to raise money on behalf of cancer patients at the Hopi Reservation.  She will start pedaling with a group of riders Sept. 25 and plans to complete the trip Oct.  25.

What started as a 50th birthday vacation bike tour has become a way for Gonzales, who is Hopi, to help her fellow tribal members more directly. Her fundraising ride is a personal gesture that is in addition to the cancer research she has been conducting over the past three years.

Gonzales is one of the project leads for the multi-university, National Cancer Institute-funded program called the Collaborative to Improve Native Cancer Outcomes. She is is also an assistant professor  of sociology at Cornell University.

Gonzalez and her research partner, Rachel Winer, UW assistant professor of public health, study human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, in American Indian populations. Their work could shed light on how American Indians on reservations understand HPV and how providers can help prevent and screen for the disease. Some forms of HPV are linked to cancer of the cervix and other less common but serious types of cancer

The goal of the collaborative is to approach cancer disparities as “systemic disorders of society,” and focuses on cultural attitudes toward smoking, cancer screenings, and surgical disparities in a number of different cancers.

“I’ve seen a lot of tribal members die of cancer. Almost all of my family is diabetic,” Gonzales said in a recent interview.

Her goal is to raise $10,000 for the Hopi Cancer Assistance Fund, which helps tribal members with cancer attend off-reservation treatment services. The services are most often in the Phoenix area, which can be over 500 miles roundtrip from the Hopi Reservation.

Gonzales will ride with a group from WomanTours, an all-female cycling tour group.

“I’m not necessarily an athlete, but I think cycling is an equal-opportunity exercise. It doesn’t matter about your age or weight,” she said.

A woman in ceremonial dress on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona.

Gonzales, who holds two Masters degrees and a doctorate from Harvard University, feels fortunate and thankful for her education and career, and added  that her tribal leaders were very pro-education.

“We had a lot of programs that supported education, and the idea is that you’ll come back [to the reservation]. But it’s hard—and I want people to understand that there are a lot of ways to give back without having to go back.” To follow Gonzales on her journey and support her efforts, visit her website, Angela Bikes 4 Hopi.