Dawn Ross is an Arrernte woman from Alice Springs. Dawn is a firm believer in the importance of regular breast screening.
Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. She had taken her sick daughter to the Alukra Women’s Health Service in Alice Springs where the BreastScreen Australia Program was set up at the time. A health worker from the Program asked if she would like a free breast screen, Dawn agreed.
She was called back for further testing and it was then that Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a big shock to Dawn and her family.
“I went in and saw the doctor at Alukra and she sat me down and she told me that the results had come back and that it was cancer,” says Dawn. “I sat with her for a while and said ‘so what now, what do we do now?’. I broke down then, and I started crying and it took her a few hours to settle me down and she was really good, she calmed me right down”.
Dawn then went to Adelaide and had an operation on her left breast and six weeks of radiation therapy. It was a difficult time in her life, however Dawn is now healthy and passionate about sharing her story with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
Her experience gave her an increased understanding of how important breast screening is in catching cancer early.
“Breast screening is really important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women because it’s better to catch it early. It gives you a chance to be treated and live longer”, she says.
Catching cancer early gives a high chance of survival, which means more time to spend with loved ones. Dawn feels grateful that she’s around to see her grandchildren grow up.
“If mine wasn’t caught early, when it was, I probably wouldn’t be here speaking to you now. And I wouldn’t have my beautiful granddaughter and grandchildren to play with. So it’s really, really important to have your breasts checked”, she says.
“It affects everybody, your children, your grandchildren, your partner, all your family really. It’s not just you, it’s the whole community that is affected by breast cancer”.
She now gets regular checks to ensure that she’s healthy and encourages her family and friends to do the same. Dawn’s advice for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 50 to 74 is that getting a breast screen is nothing to be scared about.
“Don’t be afraid. Go and have it done. It doesn’t hurt, you know, to have a breast screen done. It’s really important to get it done”.
For women aged 50-74, call 13 20 50 and make an appointment at the nearest BreastScreen Australia clinic, or visit one of the mobile clinics when it comes to your community.