Cancer like colonisation for Aboriginal women


Aboriginal women from rural Queensland are uncertain about seeking medical help for cancer because they believe the disease is fatal and another form of colonisation, according to a new study.

They prefer to be cared for by family in their community with access to traditional medicines and not confined by 'whiteman' methods and medicines in city hospitals, according to the author Dr Deborah Prior.

Dr Prior, an academic from The University of Queensland, has finished her PhD study: Cultural Strength and social needs of Aboriginal women with cancer: Take away the cancer but leave me whole, through UQ's School of Population Health.

She spent three months living at two remote Queensland Aboriginal communities for her research.

She talked with women of all ages, many of whom had personal experience of the disease, and also interviewed Aboriginal health workers and community leaders.

"Being at home with the community was far more important than what could be offered in the health system for cancer," Dr Prior said.

"It's not to say the Aboriginal women didn't want to have treatment, but they were reluctant because it separated them from their communities.

"Aboriginal women perceived cancer as a fatal disease whereas in Western society if you get a diagnosis of cancer early enough, we're all fairly optimistic about treatment."

She said Aboriginal Women felt cancer was like colonisation because the disease would control them and the whiteman's hospital system compromised their cultural needs.

Aboriginal families and groups, not individuals, decide about cancer care.

"They've got this natural family and social network that is there to help them. I think that's really quite special."

She said hospitals should offer culturally appropriate healthcare which was more than displaying cultural artefacts or images such as having family rooms to keep families together and prevent loneliness.

"If staff in cancer areas in particular could have more understanding of those differences, perhaps they could be more supportive -- more helpful."

Dr Prior, from Chapel Hill, has worked as a nurse and academic for more than 25 years, specialising in palliative care for the last 15 years.

She said she chose this topic because she wanted to explain why Aboriginal women didn't use palliative care and cancer and palliative care were linked.

She felt an affinity with the history of indigenous Australians because of her personal story of being a "halfcast" African American child growing up in England at a time of racial intolerance.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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