Fiona Millard is a Health Promotions Officer at Apunipima Cape York Health Council in Cairns, Far North Queensland. She works predominantly in the remote communities of Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama in the Cape York region.
Fiona’s role involves delivering education and creating awareness about health issues. Breast cancer screening and breast awareness is one of her focuses. She works with women in communities to ensure they are getting their breasts checked regularly.
“It’s really important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to get screened. The breast screening van visits the communities every two years. We promote the service to women over 50 years of age. In the lead up to the van coming into communities we deliver education. We might do it through a women’s group, or a family group meeting”, Fiona says.
“We promote the van by sending out invitations from the clinic so the women know what date and time their appointment is. We’ll also put up posters around the communities. One of the best ways to get the message out is through activities, and yarning sessions to promote when the van is coming up”, she continues.
“The van itself is a promotion – it’s huge, it’s pink and it’s got su-sus* all over it, and they drive through and the women all know that it’s in the community”.
Fiona and other Health Workers, are making sure women get their breasts screened so any abnormalities are caught early and can be treated if necessary. “What we are trying to promote is early intervention. So get checked early”, says Fiona.
Fiona makes sure women are comfortable when getting a breast screen and shares what it’s like to attend an appointment.
“The van will come in, and you’ll get a time for an appointment. There’ll be one other nurse with you in the van and she’ll take you in the van by yourself and she’ll show you what to do. So you’ll take your top off, and you’ll put your breast in the machine and she’ll manoeuvre you so that when they take photos they can get the best photos of your breast”, she says.
She stresses that breast screening is safe and private – it’s also free for women aged 50 to 74.
“If you’re not sure or you’re feeling a bit frightened, don’t be, just ask the nurse what’s happening. You can always talk to a health worker about the procedure. And you can always ask someone else who’s had an appointment, like an Aunt or someone who’s really close, or a close friend”.
“Everything is very private. No one can see in the van. But it’s really important to make sure you get your breasts checked”, she says.
She also encourages women who may miss the van, and women around Australia to call BreastScreen Australia to make an appointment at their closest screening centre.
“If the van comes into community and you’re not in community at the time or you miss the van, you can still have a mammogram. You just have to ring the clinic and see if they can make an appointment with BreastScreen Australia or you can ring BreastScreen Australia yourself”.
*culturally specific term for breasts
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.