Hair is good but life is better
In March, Casino woman Michelle Torrens (pictured) collapsed in agony. She was rushed to hospital and an ovarian tumour the size of a watermelon was surgically removed. She was instantly 12kg lighter.
However, when she had sought medical help for the severe pain and extraordinary swelling in her abdomen, two different doctors sent her away with medicine for indigestion.
I believe they thought of me as an overweight, indigenous woman who just brought it on herself, she said. And they didnt give me the kind of thorough check-up they would have given a non-indigenous person.
The Bundjalung woman has now written a book about her brush with cancer called Hair is Good But Life is Better, which will be launched today (Thursday, August 17) at Southern Cross University.
Michelle, a PhD student, said she wanted to share her story and bring cancer out of the closet as she believes indigenous people may be dying because theyre too afraid to seek medical treatment.
Ive had family members who have chosen not to have treatment for cancer or renal failure, she said. And theyre not with us anymore, when they could have been. Thats why the book is so important.
Michelle said she herself seriously considered not having chemotherapy.
The word has very scary connotations, she said. You think you are going to get even sicker and that all of your hair will fall out and never grow back. For us indigenous women, our beauty is our hair. It is almost sacred and I didnt want to lose it.
It was then she came up with the slogan Hair is Good But Life is Better, which she has also had printed on a range of caps and scarves surrounded by Aboriginal motifs.
Theres boomerangs, spears and a guy playing a didgeridoo. Its a call to people to come out and face this issue.
Michelle, 44, said after news of her illness spread through her community she was astonished to find out the number of close friends and acquaintances who had also experienced cancer or some other serious illness.
Many were undergoing significant medical treatment with very little if any support too ashamed to tell anyone, she said.
Its so important to get this message out. My tumour was the size of a watermelon and its a miracle Im still alive. There is hope out there.