Do I pay rent this week or do I pay for my medications? This is the reality of many Indigenous people with cancer. Even with the Government’s commitment to Close the Gap, it’s not doing enough when medications for cancer can cost hundreds of dollars a week. First Nations people with cancer are being let down by the system. Close the Gap, has done nothing for cancer patients, we are invisible, we are expected to die. Pump money into other areas of health but overlooking cancer is part of the crime that is killing us. Indigenous people have the lowest diagnosis rates, but the highest death rates, so it needs more than healthy deadly programs. We need to look at more screening, better services when going through treatment and support within the community.
A couple of years ago I had to make the decision to sell things to pay my bills. I was lucky I had good friends who helped me with food and money. Passing around the hat, fundraising, buying shopping. This was all so gratefully received after I got over the shame of it all. Why am I broke? Why can’t I pay the bills? Why do I need help? Why is it all so expensive? It’s shame to have to get help from others, when you should be helping those less fortunate. So I had to start selling things. It started off with my Prada and Channel, yeah of course I was a flash black. But I had bought things cheap and kept them and intended to share them with my daughters. But I had to start selling them and I sold some paintings I had. My income was about $900 a fortnight from centrelink, my medical bill was around $2000.00 a week. The cost of cancer medications is enormous, most of them are not on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme). I was on a drug that was on the PBS for prostate cancer, I was taking it for a brain tumor, I had to pay full price.
Apart from the cost of the medications there are the tests, some tests you can get once a year or every couple of years free they are covered by the government. If you needed it before that time you had to pay for it yourself, like bone density testing, which sometimes you need to get two times a year. Chemotherapy and many other drugs leach the calcium from your bones. Now I am no expert, I understand why a doctor wants a person to get some tests more often, it’s about taking care of the patient. The cost of medication and tests means some Indigenous people cannot afford the care they should be getting. Then on top of that, some face the extra hurdle of have to travel hundreds of miles for treatment.
There is also the travel, if you drive you have to pay for parking, if you’re too sick you have to pay for cabs. Not everyone lives in an area where there is community transport. Sometimes the times of the community transport don’t match up with times of hospital visits and you are just too ill to sit in the hospital for a couple of hours waiting to come home or for an appointment. You often don’t feel well enough to get a bus. The bus, where different perfumes and odors can make you feel nauseous, throwing up on a bus is not a good look.
While you are struggling to pay the medical bills, you still need to pay the rent/mortgage, pay the electricity and other bills, buy the food to feed the family, maybe pay for school books, excursions, sports etc.. How do you tell your kids they can’t have Christmas presents or a birthday present? As a parent you carry a big guilt when you can’t give even the simplest of things to your children, because you have to pay for your life. Yep you are paying to stay alive, yet if you had a different illness you probably wouldn’t have to pay so much.