Notes from Oz

For three days in May the city of Brisbane, Australia, was filled with women and a few men on a mission. They came from 47 countries some 600 strong to listen and share about breast cancer at the first worldwide International Reach to Recovery meeting. In the past there were multiple meetings for different regions of the world, but in Australia the women came together for the first time representing the entire world for the first meeting held in the Southern Hemisphere.Focusing on support, each of the three days examined a separate aspect of what women need during the breast cancer journey. The first day offered speakers who discussed survivorship; the second day focused on capacity building for organizations, and the third day on peer support.As an American there to speak about breast cancer and the media, it was eye opening to hear about the challenges of other parts of the world when it comes to breast cancer education and treatment. For example, Mary Onyango, a breast cancer survivor from Kenya and executive director of the breast health project for her country, spoke of the barriers to education for the women of her country, explaining that to get women to come hear about breast health she offers food because in a country in the midst of drought, hunger far surpasses learning about early detection. You will hear more about Mary and her sisters from the African continent in the Fall issue of CURE.Treatment issues were, of course, the topic among the women as they networked and exchanged contact information. While most countries offered some kind of universal health care, the systems worked well in some countries and worse in others. The women from Singapore explained that in their country the immediate family is responsible for paying for health care if the person can't--and that the government will come after them to be sure it is paid. In addition, if a parent is ill and needs health care and was a good parent (meaning they didn't abandon the family), the children must pay for his or her care --other wise the parent can take the children to court. An interesting idea.While the meeting pointed out the challenges of many countries in combating breast cancer, there was much celebration at the meeting also. The gala dinner on the last night of the meeting brought all the women to the City Hall of Brisbane in their native dress and the contingent of around 30 women from Taiwan, which will host the next meeting in 2011, performed a dance to a song created for the occasion. Hope was the universal feeling as the women left for their part of the world with many encouraged by what could be done with little and by how far they had come.