Aboriginal cancer is different, this is something that I and others say. Let me explain what is meant by this, we are not demeaning any person’s struggle with cancer. Every person has a different experience with their battle with cancer. Every body has different reactions and responses to what is happening to them.
When it comes to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Island people, we have a completely different experience and understanding of the health system. We have historically been used to not being treated the same as other people. We are also used to the medical profession doing what it wants, without explaining to us what is happening.
Put that with the english as a second language, and lower educational standards because of this, you have a potent cocktail of fear.
To help with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people come out of the other end of the tunnel of cancer, we need to have a strong voice. We need people to stand up and be listened to. We need to have Cancer organisations include us. We need the hospitals to welcome us.
Many people like myself have asked hospitals if we can volunteer to be there when our mob come in for treatment. To be there to help explain the medications, treatments etc. in a form that we can understand.
The hospitals and the medical profession need to know and understand our cultural requirements. I have known many doctors and nurses who have done cultural awareness training, but when it comes to using that in the hospitals, they don’t. They will tell you that they don’t have time. That they system isn’t set up for it. If that’s so we need to change the system.
We need to have Aboriginal people in the oncology units, working or volunteering to open the door, ease the path. When you have spent your whole life being outnumbered and being the chocolate chip in the glass of milk. You do need to have another familiar face to make you feel at ease. Call it safety in numbers if you like, but when you are ill and everyone around you doesn’t speak the same, look the same or understand your cultural beliefs, it makes you not want to do anything. You get overwhelmed and you lose your voice. You feel disheartened, when you have a simple request that the powers that be do not understand.
We are often thought of as prudish or strange when we talk about how the sexes cannot be together with certain things. How we address people as Aunty or Uncle is queried and then you have to explain that you don’t actually have so many familial nieces and nephews, that it’s a title of respect. My personal favorite, is when you have to explain that, no you don’t know every Aboriginal Person in Perth, let alone the rest of the country.
We don’t all smoke, drink, take drugs or do whatever it is that was on the local current affairs program. Don’t assume that we do. Don’t look or treat us like statistics or as some primitive dying race. These are things that many Aboriginal people have dealt with every day and it’s insufferable when you are ill to face these pre-conceived ideas.
These are minor things, but when you are sick and when you have spent your whole life being different to the “norm” it becomes a big deal. A little understanding or our histories, a little knowledge of the legislation’s that ruled over us. Learning about this is no different to learning about any culture. We have translators and people that come in to the hospital to help those who come from distant lands. We don’t have that for the first people’s of this country. Why do we respect others before my people?