Robin Payne is a Wiradjuri woman from Dubbo in the Orana Region of NSW. She initiated the first Aboriginal cancer support group in NSW, offering moral support to community members affected by cancer and giving advice on obtaining the specific help they require.
“There are people out there that have no support whatsoever, and when they’re diagnosed in the doctor’s surgery, they take it on board as a death sentence. The doctor talks on and doesn’t give them time to accept it. I’m trying to break down those barriers, answer questions and provide a support system for our Aboriginal people.”
Robin facilitates the 10-member group with the help of Trixie Watts from Dubbo Medicare Local and Ros Peachey, Aboriginal Health Worker at Dubbo Base Hospital’s Alan Coates Cancer Centre. The group offers support to patients from their initial diagnosis to life after cancer. Information is also available on early diagnosis and how to actively reduce your cancer risk.
Cancer runs in Robin’s family. She lost her father and sister to the disease. She underwent a lumpectomy and mastectomy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.
When I was diagnosed it was a very confusing time, I was in and out of hospital with complications and felt there was no support specific to my needs. We need to have more education on it and try to encourage people to believe that it’s not a death sentence, you can survive it.
Robin learnt from her experience with cancer that a strong support network was crucial to her survival. She had a large family, and her “sisters were by my side right from the word go.”
It’s the people who don’t have a good support mechanism; they’re the ones who slip through the cracks.
Understanding the fear associated with cancer, Robin accompanies anyone in her community who is nervous about getting cancer screening and treatment to provide emotional support. She does home visits to cancer patients who she knows don’t have a strong support network and uses her car to take them to appointments.
“Although we are welcome to participate in the support groups around Dubbo, having our own group that focused on cancer prevention and education was important because it would address the appalling rates of cancer we see in our culture and community. We want the Aboriginal people of Dubbo to know that cancer isn’t a death sentence and there is support available. There is hope.”
In 2014, Aboriginal artist Brooke Sullivan presented Robin’s cancer support group with a painting called ‘Spiritual Support,’ featuring the pink breast cancer ribbon. The painting tells of survival while acknowledging those lost to cancer and has become the group’s symbol.
Cancer Council NSW and the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council are working together to establish more Aboriginal cancer support groups like Robin’s across the state.