Cancer in the colonial deathscape: the case of Guam's Chamorros
(University of Guam)
Paper short abstract:
The indigenous people of the island of Guam, the Chamorro, suffer from the highest rates of cancer death on the island. My research explores narratives of this group's experiences of cancer treatment and considers what Chamorro people perceive to be the causes of cancer.
Paper long abstract:
Guam, an island territory of the United States with a substantial military presence, is located in the Western Pacific north of the equator. The indigenous people of Guam, the Chamorro, suffer from the highest rates of cancer death on the island. This research explores narratives of this group's experiences of the cancer treatment on Guam and what the Chamorro perceive to be the causes of cancer. The diagnosis of cancer is prompted by self-assessments or medical encounters, creating sharp disjunctions as the imagined health and future life of the sufferer is transformed into the possibility of imminent death. Most Chamorro informants use Christian discourses concerning "God's Will" to face death, a discourse that is sometimes used when explaining their avoidance of medical care. Families serve as care givers of Chamorros with cancer, a relationship of love, anxiety, financial hardship and pain. Informant's experiences of cancer are significantly determined by the kind of health insurance the sufferer has and the wealth of their family. The major causes of cancer that the Chamorro perceive encompass attitudes about health that lead to infrequent cancer screenings, stress, pesticides, smoking, alcohol use, diet, pollution, military waste and nuclear fallout. This cancer deathscape is tied to the health-care model of the United States, where disease and suffering are mined for profit and where the means-tested benefits of the US welfare state require the Chamorro to sell or transfer ancestral lands and other treasured assets.
Disjunctions of deathscapes: ways of suffering, dying, and death