7-year-old Tuba City princess sponsors breast cancer awareness week

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

TUBA CITY, November 1, 2012

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(Times photo – Glenda Rae Davis)

TOP: On Oct. 26, students at Tuba City Primary School released pink balloons to commemorate lives lost to breast cancer during the school's first Breast Cancer Awareness Week, held Oct. 22-26.

SECOND FROM TOP: Mrs. Black's kindergarten class won first place in the door decoration contest during Tuba City Primary School's first Breast Cancer Awareness Week. The door, covered with inspirational words, heart-shaped coffee filters, and the children's handprints, won them a Root Beer float party.

THIRD FROM TOP: Nanaabah Yellowman, 7, spearheaded the first Breast Cancer Awareness Week at Tuba City Primary School from Oct. 22-26.

W hen Nanaabah Yellowman completed her a breast cancer awareness walk during the Western Navajo Fair, she and other walkers gathered at the Tuba City Chapter and listened to countless stories of women in her area who are either struggling with or survived breast cancer.

"When we were listening to these stories she turned to me and said, 'Mom, if we tell little kids about it, it will be better because when they get big they'll know,'" said Nanaabah's mother Stephanie Haskie-Yellowman. "That's where it all started."

The stories had such an impact on the seven-year-old Tuba City Primary School that she began organizing activities for students and staff at her school to educate them on the cancer.

From Oct. 22 to 26, Nanaabah and her family sponsored the school's first-ever breast cancer awareness week with students competing in pumpkin carving, classroom door decorating, T-shirt decorating and awareness posters contests.

The Yellowman family supplied materials for each of the projects. Winners of the door decorating and t-shirt decorating contests will receive a root beer float party and/or a pizza party. Nanaabah also gave out ribbons and trophies to students who won.

The most moving of Nanaabah's activities, according to principal Sharlene Navajo, was the balloon release held on Oct. 26.

As 330 students stood at the entrance to the school, they released 100 pink balloons to commemorate the women who lost their lives to breast cancer.

"It was a good way to make our students aware of breast cancer." said Navajo. "They informed the students in a creative way and they basically colored our school pink in the process."

Breast cancer awareness banners were found in almost every hall and seemingly every classroom door, while bulletin boards were decorated with pink ribbons and posters with words such as "hope," "courage" and "cure."

Haskie-Yellowman said that when her daughter decided to host an awareness week the family stood behind her, no questions asked.

"Her father was like 'I'll make T-shirts' and her aunts said, 'We'll help make banners,'" she said. "We've always stood behind her in whatever she decides to do."

For Vilma Morala, the physical education teacher, seeing all the decorations and hearing encouraging words for in support of the cause has given her an extra push of support being a breast cancer survivor herself.

"It gives us cancer survivors hope," said Morala, who is from the Philippines. "This week gives us the opportunity to pass on the education of breast cancer to the simple minds of the kids. This will be instilled in their minds and when they grow up they will more likely be a part of the fight against breast cancer."

A minor setback of the week, according to Navajo, was when some parents called wanting an explanation as to why their children were asking about breast cancer.

"I had a little bit of reservations because of the topic but I decided that it needed to be addressed and Nanaabah has a good idea of teaching early to create better awareness," said Navajo. "Some parents came in and asked us to talk about what breast cancer was because some students went home and asked what breasts were."

Navajo said the teachers talked to the students about breast cancer and tried their best to answer questions the students had about the topic.

"We had one parent come in who didn't know how to explain what breasts were to her son," said Navajo. "But one of the teachers, who is a mother of one of our students, said she explained that it was where milk came from for moms to feed their babies. That gave the parent the opportunity to teach her son about it."

From there, everything was smooth sailing, according to Navajo.

"I'm real proud of her," said Nanaabah's grandmother Jovita Haskie. "It's important for us to remember the women that had to go through a struggle like breast cancer.

"It's hard being a woman, let alone being a woman that struggles with cancer," she added. "We want to remember the importance of getting checked for such things like breast cancer. Nanaabah just helped us to refocus our lives on being healthy."

From the school there is nothing but good things to say about Nanaabah's breast cancer awareness week.

"I'm glad our princess did this," said Morala. "Our school is very lucky to have her…she is a good ambassador for the kids. She sets a good example."