Cultural diversity and rural women: the challenges of breast cancer

Michelle with Jody and NEMA's Cultural Peer Facilitators at the Pink ribbon Breakfast in Wangaratta.

I was diagnosed with a 'broad bean' in my left breast late January 2009. I had recently commenced work as a cultural diversity initiative worker for the Hume region, based in Yarrawonga, Victoria. I am used to driving for work; everyday travels might see me in Maroopna, Cobram, Barooga or further south, Broadford Kilmore, Alexandra, and anywhere else in between. The day I had my mammogram and ultrasound at Wangaratta North East Hospital I was at my local GP's office in Mansfield by 5pm.

This was the start of "the journey." The same route occurred with the biopsy, and ten days later I was at Peter Mac in Melbourne. Even though one enters the vortex of being swept up and carried off into a barrage of appointments, tests, results, diagnosis, etc. I was fortunate in that I could speak English, I had my own car, and I was still young. It very quickly dawned on me that the intertwined 'spaghetti bowl' of services, doctors , specialists, allied health professionals, GP's, District Nurses etc, needed 'ground control' (i.e. me) to be a central communicator between them all.

For rural women there is a lot of travel involved, and it is not just the immediate miles but the time it takes, costs involved, and organisation of places to stay. Decisions about what treatments may suit best are contingent on where the facilities are to supply them.

During Pink Ribbon Week I offered to support the organisation of a breakfast with the North East Multicultural Association, where members could attend a breast cancer information session. The idea was to link the hospital and representatives of culturally diverse communities. There were representatives from the Italian, German and Dutch communities. Jodie Finlayson, the Breastcare nurse at Wangaratta, presented and then I met a small group of Cultural Peer Facilitators to take them on a tour the new oncology ward, meet staff and to speak with patients. This demystified the chemo experience.

Seeing, hearing and talking about cancer meant the Cultural Peer Facilitators had some recent connection with and confidence to talk about cancer within their own culturally diverse communities. For all communities early intervention, and health promotion, is a form of empowerment, but local advocacy within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities for isolated regional CALD Victorians is vital.

-- Michelle, Victoria

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