It’s five weeks since my bilateral mastectomies and in that time there have been triumphs and setbacks. First the triumphs:
Midlifestylist is now officially a business! I registered the business name on the Australian Business Register and applied for an ABN (Australian Business Number). It’s exciting to see my business name on official documents. I first thought of the name seven years ago and bought a domain name but didn’t officially start my blog until October 2019. If I ever start earning money through my website I’ll need to pay tax so I thought it would be worth registering the name officially.
My husband and I baked bread for the first time. He did all the mixing and kneading because I’m still not able to do anything strenuous and we ate 3/4 of the loaf with some homemade vegetable soup because it was so moreish. We have a bread-maker on order but it won’t come until July because it looks like everyone else had the same idea when there were shortages of everything in the shops.
Our vegetable garden is thriving and we’re already eating produce from it. Every year it improves because with trial and error we’re finding the best ways to do things. The weather has been perfect for growing too with lovely sunny days and plenty of rain. Winter really is the perfect time of the year in Queensland.
I’ve been collaborating with other bloggers on some projects which are new and exciting. One of the best things about blogging is the community of like-minded individuals that you meet online. Reading their blogs gives you another perspective as well.
Now the setbacks:
I still have a lot of swelling and the wound is taking a long time to heal because of the massive post-op bleed I had on the left side. I had to have another course of antibiotics and I’ve been very restricted in what I’m allowed to do. I’m supposed to start back at work on Monday but I’m not up to that because nursing is a very active job and I’m not allowed to lift anything or do strenuous work yet. I was referred to a haematologist to try to get to the bottom of why I bled so much and it may be genetic because I’ve had a few other instances in my life of unexplained bleeding. I’ve had days when it all gets too much and I’ll be very down in the dumps and cry, but I’m able to bounce back and am in a positive frame of mind most of the time. I’ve had a lot of support so that definitely helps.
Because my mobility has been restricted I’ve been very tired at times. The worst week was when my husband went back to work after looking after me for 3 weeks. I wasn’t allowed to drive so was catching the bus and tram which meant catching 2 buses to get to my doctors’ appointments and 2 home, plus walking. I can drive short distances now and that’s been a huge improvement. I hired dog walkers so that my dog didn’t miss out on his walk and now that I can drive I can take him to a dog park where I can park so close that he can jump out of the car and go straight onto the off-leash area so I don’t have to hold his lead. He’s a big boy and at the moment I’m not up to him pulling on his lead.
The social distancing laws are gradually easing in Australia which is a big relief. The border between Queensland and New South Wales will open in a couple of weeks so I’ll finally be able to visit my brother who lives an hour away. We have a camping trip planned for the last weekend in August which has been delayed twice before. We’re really hoping we’ll be able to go this time. My sister-in-law’s 50th birthday party can finally go ahead as well – she was waiting for restrictions to ease. It has an Alice in Wonderland theme so I’ve been making a costume – watch this space as I may be brave enough to publish photos!
I hope all my readers are staying well and coping with whatever restrictions are on in your part of the world. This year has certainly put a lot of stress on to people and we’re all having to cope with current events. There’s still a lot of unrest from the Black Lives Matter movement, which I wrote about in my last post. I hope that this year’s events bring about lasting change for the better. The world has now woken up and it would be awesome if we all learnt the lessons that are available to us.
While recovering from surgery there are triumphs and setbacks. It’s important to stay positive and look to the future as this period in my life won’t last forever. I don’t regret making the decision to do risk-reducing surgery as it means my chances of getting cancer are reduced almost to zero. No matter how hard things seem right now, it is important to focus on the bigger picture. I’ve been through much worse than this in the past and I know I have the inner strength to get through this as well.
The news coming out of the US after George Floyd’s death in custody was incredibly disturbing. What followed was shocking to witness. I heard again and again “It’s disgusting what’s happening in America”. The reality is, however, Australia is no better than America. We have our own shameful statistics of black deaths in custody. I’m writing this because I don’t want to stay silent. As Meghan Markle said “the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.” If we want change, we have to speak up.
Some Background on my own Situation
I grew up in New Zealand, where my life was stable and lacking in exposure to prejudice and racism. We grew up very close to our Maori and Pacific Islander friends and relatives. I honestly never thought about race in context of who to make friends with when I was a child. We learnt Maori language at school and learning New Zealand history included learning Maori history and folklore which was an integral aspect of our culture. We all learned Maori songs, crafts and art – it was as part of our education as maths and English were. I don’t remember ever witnessing racism during my childhood. That’s not to say it wasn’t there, but it was not something I ever thought about.
It wasn’t until I moved to Australia in the 80’s as a 19 year old that I ever had prejudism focused on me. Australia in the ’80s was very different to today. Kiwis were allowed to emigrate to Australia without any barriers and we had a bad name for coming here and going straight on the dole. We were allowed immediate access to Australia’s welfare system and it was very easy to become a permanent resident and citizen. Consequently we were not always welcome here. I had a very hard time applying for jobs and frequently had the phone slammed in my ear as soon as they heard my Kiwi accent. We were regarded as bludgers and probably deserved it due to many of my fellow Kiwis taking advantage of the system.
I eventually did get a job, but not until I applied for a Government department that advertised their policy of equal opportunity no matter what race, sex, religion or sexuality you were. I pointed out the policy in my interview, and I like to think that my cheekiness had something to do with why I got that job. These days it is much easier to be accepted by employers but equal opportunity in those days was a new concept. Now it is in legislature, and rightly so. While I did experience some discrimination because of being a New Zealander, this was in no way comparable to the level of racism and discrimination that is facing by people of colour here and throughout the world.
I had a bit of a naivity in those days. My nursing career began in 1987 in a public hospital in Brisbane. It opened my eyes to the health issues facing new migrants and Aboriginals. Seeing how their health outcomes were so much worse than the general population was disturbing. I wanted to do something to help – I thought that I could make a difference if I worked in a small community with a large Aboriginal population. Feeling driven to do something to help, I took a job in a small outback hospital in the Northern Territory.
I was in for a major culture shock. I soon realised that the problems facing Aboriginal communities were way more complex and ingrained than what I had anticipated. This naive 30 year old nurse was pretty useless, especially when trying to assess Aboriginals who were living very traditionally. My questions were met by amusement many times because of the cultural divide between myself and them. My ignorance was the problem. They are beautiful people who are proud and self sufficient – even when they are extremely sick they will still make their own way to the bathroom rather than have someone help them. Even though I’m disappointed that I really didn’t do much to change their health outcomes, I learnt more from my year in the Northern Territory than I did in 10 years in the city.
At the time of the Royal Commission, as now, non-Indigenous people died in greater numbers, and at a greater rate, in custody than Indigenous people. But then, as now, Indigenous people made up just 3% of the total population. That means more Aboriginal people are imprisoned and dying as a proportion of their total population.
“The conclusions are clear,” royal commissioner Elliott Johnston QC wrote in 1991. “Aboriginal people die in custody at a rate relative to the proportion of the whole population which is totally unacceptable and which would not be tolerated if it occurred in the non-Aboriginal community. But this occurs … because the Aboriginal population is grossly over-represented in custody. Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.”
What is the Solution to the statistics on black deaths in custody?
There’s no easy solution, and it would be easy to put blame on the Government and politicians for these appalling figures. Prosecuting law enforcers as in the US in the case of George Floyd is definitely a step in the right direction. Police brutality in America has been in the headlines lately, but unfortunately Australian police have been guilty of excessive force as well, with a record including fatal shootings, excessive taser use and overly rough treatment during arrests. Despite evidence in some cases of excessive force or neglect by police or prison officers, there has never been a criminal conviction for a death in custody in Australia. Chris Hurley, the police officer accused of killing an Aboriginal man on Palm Island in 2004, was acquitted of manslaughter. Two police officers are currently facing murder charges for the deaths of Kumanjayi Walker in the Northern Territory and Joyce Clarke in Western Australia, and both have indicated they will plead not guilty. The police have the power to use force, but only within the conditions set out in the legislation of their state. Stronger guidelines around what constitutes excessive force by law enforcement, and more awareness of citizens’ rights needs to be in place. Source: Shine Lawyers
How can we help the Black Lives Matter movement?
How can we help empower black people within our communities? Ask them what they need. Listen to their concerns. They have been dealing with inequalities and injustices for centuries. It’s clear that in 2020 they’re frustrated – they shouldn’t have to fight to be heard, or criticised for attending the Black Lives Matter protests. We need to be woken up! Wotna Moris, a Papua New Guinean lawyer and political analyst, wrote a very inspiring piece on how the collective voices of black people around the world combine in this one voice that is the Black Lives Matter protests.
Systemic racial discrimination is a worldwide problem that black people have combated since slavery and colonisation. And in that battle, every step taken by one of us, towards equality, is a step taken by all of us and has always been.
Educate yourselves with regards to their culture. This is what I noticed with the difference between my education in NZ and my Australian counterparts. We were immersed in the Maori culture. We didn’t regard it as separate from ourselves. It was part of us. My Australian friends knew very little about Aboriginal culture, whereas we knew a lot. Education brings tolerance. If I had done my nursing training in New Zealand there would have been a requirement to learn so much of the language and have cultural understanding before I was registered. That goes a long way towards tolerance and respect of their cultural differences.
Children aren’t born with cultural biases – it is learned. Education needs to start very young.
In Respect of the Traditional Aboriginal Owners of my own City
In saying this, I realised I do not know anything about the traditional owners of the city in which I live. I need to educate myself so that I can show appropriate respect for the land on which I live. Aboriginal culture is very much entwined with the land. They were the original environmentalists who knew how to respect their land, and receive nourishment from it without stripping it of resources. Australian landscapes can be harsh but they found enough food to sustain them during drought, often traveling vast distances to achieve it. They know how to regenerate the land after bushfire and other natural disasters, all too common in Australia.
I live in the Gold Coast, a very glitzy city which caters for tourists – it is well known for Surfers Paradise, the theme parks and beaches. What isn’t as well known is that it is the traditional home of the Yugambeh people. The Yugambeh language people are the traditional custodians of the land located in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, now within the Logan City, Gold Coast, Scenic Rim, and Tweed City regions whose ancestors all spoke one or more dialects of the Yugambeh Language.
We acknowledge and pay respect to the land and the traditional families of the Yugambeh region of South East Queensland, including the Kombumerri, Mununjali, Wangerriburra and others, and their Elders past present and emerging.
One of the most popular beaches in the Gold Coast is Burleigh. Burleigh was the ancestral home of the Kombumerri Tribe known as “The Salt Water People”. It is believed they lived in the area for thousands of years until around 1936 when they ceased holding their ceremonies there but many of the people remained at Burleigh Heads. The Aboriginal name for Big Burleigh is Jellurgul; Little Burleigh is Jebbribillum or the Waddy of Jebreen. Jellurgul meaning sugar bag or bee’s nest. Other reports from later say Big Burleigh was Jayling (black) and Gumbelmoy (rock), named after the volcanic black basalt rock of the headland. There is a cultural centre in Burleigh called Jellurgal where it is possible to learn more about Aboriginal culture. Source: https://www.burleigh.com.au/history.html
Moving forwards …
As a final note, I urge you to stand up to racism and prejudism when you see it. Be aware of your own biases, as we all have them. Speak up if you see someone being intolerant of anyone else. We must stand up for those who do not have a voice, those who have been pushed down their whole lives. I do not know what it is like to live in fear every time I step out my door because of the colour of my skin. I acknowledge my own white privilege. It’s only by standing together that we can overcome this problem in our society.
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