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Shawl to comfort Aboriginal women during screening

Campaign to boost early detection of breast cancer in Aboriginal women.

SydneyConnect Video: BreastScreen NSW: Robyn's journey

Aboriginal elder Aunty Robyn has a simple message for women in her community.

"Go and get a mammogram. Don't put it off until tomorrow, because you don't know what tomorrow's going to bring," she said.

Aunty Robyn, 71, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and is the face of a new Sydney Local Health District campaign to boost the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women having a potentially life-saving mammogram screening.

The District has introduced a modesty shawl for Aboriginal women to wear while being screened, which was launched today at the start of the BreastScreen NSW van's three week visit to Redfern.

The shawl features artist Vicky Golding's Aboriginal design which documents Aunty Robyn's cancer journey - her diagnosis and treatment while being supported by her family and community.

"We want a mammogram screening to be a more culturally inclusive and comfortable experience for Aboriginal women, and to raise awareness about the importance of early detection," Karen Richa, the District's Acting Operations Manager for BreastScreen NSW, said.

One in seven women in NSW are affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. It's the most common cancer among Aboriginal women and, for them, the mortality rate is 1.2 times higher than non-Aboriginal women.

A mammogram screening can find cancers early, before a woman or doctor can feel or notice them, and if detected early, there's a better chance of survival.

BreastScreen NSW targets women aged 50–74 who don't have any signs of breast cancer and offers them a free mammogram every two years. For Aboriginal women, the target is women over 40 years old. If a mammogram shows a possible abnormality women have further tests.

The van has digital mammography equipment and diagnostic images can be instantly transferred to the state-wide BreastScreen NSW service where they can be analysed by radiologists and breast physicians.

Last year, Ms Richa, in collaboration with two of the District's Aboriginal Health Workers, Athena Mumbulla and Toni Smith, won $10,000 in The Pitch — a staff innovation challenge — to fund the creation of the shawls.

"It's going to be very beneficial for Aboriginal women. They don't have to feel embarrassed or shamed about standing there. They'll have the shawl to cover themselves up and know that it's Aunty Robyn's story on their back and protecting them," Ms Mumbulla said.

The District will first offer the shawls to Aboriginal women during the van's three-week visit to Redfern which runs until Friday 4 June 2021. The van will be located in Chalmers Street, near Redfern Park, and will open from 8.45am–4.10pm Monday to Friday.

Please call 13 20 50 for an appointment. Walk-in appointments will also be available.