"Why me, why me. What's wrong with me."
That was the reaction from Anna Thao Phan when told she had stage three lung cancer.
"I was in shock," she told the large crowd that had gathered at Cabra-Vale Diggers last Wednesday for the official opening of the Fairfield Women's Health Service.
"I stayed alone...I just wanted to die. I thought who will look after me. But luckily I am a strong person and after six months of worrying I found out this is not the end. I told myself to wake up because I have children and grand children who need me and I am an active person in the Vietnamese community. So I got treatment. I'm still in treatment and joining the Wellness 4 Women group has made me very happy."
The group is one of the services offered by the Fairfield Women's Health Service to support women and carers who are affected by cancer. The group, sponsored by the Cancer Institute of NSW, meets every Monday during school terms and is free.
Suddenly Anna's doctors appointments are being scheduled around the group.
"I have been coming every Monday for the past two months," said Anna, who fled Vietnam via boat in 1975 and came to Australia in 1982.
"I like this group because it improves my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I enjoy yoga and I can practise my mediation.
"I can also socialise and mix who people who are in the same position as me and learn about a healthy lifestyle, living with cancer and other people's stories.
"This group makes me feel like a normal person."
The formal postal worker and small business owner spoke about the pressures about having cancer in the Asian community. Last year, after complaining of a sore shoulder, she was sent for an MRI which led to her diagnoses. It also saw Anna come face-to-face with the many myths abut cancer in the Asian community.
"A lot of people from my community say cancer is contagious and they may get it from me," she said.
"And some people believe I got cancer because in a previous life I did something wrong.
"That's what I like about the group. I can learn facts about cancer, rather than the myths about cancer."
The group is one of the services provided by the service which is a joint project between Bankstown Women's Health Centre and Liverpool Women's Health Centre and is funded by the state government. The centre, located inside Arthur West Memorial Hall adjacent to Cabra-Vale Park Memorial Park, has been in operation for nearly a year specifically for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds targeting Vietnamese and Arabic women.
Women can access bilingual case workers, counsellors, group facilitators, a nurse and dietitian.
They provide treatment and prevention programs regarding mental health issues and support issues of domestic and family violence.
They also focus on a unique, holistic, woman-centred approach to primary health care by blending medical and clinical services and a range of counselling, health promotion, education, self-help and consumer advocacy services.
It also provides groups and activities for mental health and social wellbeing and bilingual trauma-informed counselling.
This centre creates a safe and welcoming space where women can feel comfortable accessing services and have all their health needs addressed.BRONNIE TAYLOR, Minister for Women
Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor, who officially launched the service last week, said the NSW government is committed to supporting organisations that help women access the care they need. The opening also included a Diramu Aboriginal performance, Vietnamese cultural dance and Assyrian entertainment.
"This centre creates a safe and welcoming space where women can feel comfortable accessing services and have all their health needs addressed," she said.
Bankstown Women's Health Service chief executive Mariam Mourad said research has shown survival rates for women diagnosed with cancer from culturally diverse backgrounds are lower than the general population due to low participation in national screening programs.
"Some cultures believe there is no need to screen for cancers such as breast and cervical cancer until a woman starts to show symptoms," said Ms Mourad, who is calling on more Arabic-speaking women to use the service.
"We know this is too late and the chances of surviving most common women's cancers are improved by 87 per cent with early diagnosis.
"The research showed women from culturally diverse backgrounds tend to think cancer is fatal and that sufferers should put their health in God's hands.
"Our group leaders are there to dispel these myths and empower women with the facts about remission rates and the benefits of seeking early intervention.
"We are breaking some of the myths amongst culturally diverse backgrounds in relation to cancer and we are passionate about encouraging them to see cancer as a treatable condition and preventable if caught early."
Ms Phan certainly knows that now and she finished her client journey with a clear message: "Cancer is not contagious."
Fairfield Women's Health Service
Term 3, July 22 to September 27
Monday: Wellness 4 Women group, 10.30am to noon. Cancer support group for immigrant and refugee women and carers
Tuesday: Healthy Lifestyle Group and personla training, 9.45am to 11.15am. For women who are at risk of developing chronic health conditions.
Wednesday: Vietnamese Cultural Group, 10am to 11.30am. Group activities for Vietnamese women.
- The Fairfield Women's Health Service premises, supplied by Fairfield Council, is located on McBurney Road, Cabramatta and is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, 9755 0008