Every month in Victoria’s far east, women who’ve survived cancer arrive at an Orbost café with their flamingo motif mugs and lamps.
They are the Snowy Flamingos Cancer Support Group, and they help each with companionship, critical information, and above all, a well developed sense of black humour.
This group was established in July 2015, following a meeting in the East Gippsland town of Orbost.
It was arranged by the McGrath Breast Care Nurse – Dianne Gibbs, based at the nearby Bairnsdale Hospital.
There were a number of ladies affected by breast cancer who were very keen to access fellowship and support on a regular basis. The group meets monthly at a different café each time, promoting local trade in the district. Meeting places are organized by Tracey Barnett, who notifies people by e-mail, text and snail mail. Initially, there were about 5 – 6 ladies attending and was aimed at supporting people with breast cancer.
It soon became evident that there were other ladies in need of support, including those being treated for cancers such as pancreatic, renal, melanoma, and lymphoma. The group decided that they needed a name. Now that it was not just to support breast cancer ladies, they decided to call themselves the Snowy Flamingos Cancer Support Group.
There are now 42 ladies on the contact list, and there is an average of 15 – 26 ladies who attend each month. They are noisy and vibrant, and always ready to give support and advice to each other. Our McGrath Breast Care Nurse attends where able, and there is also support by staff at the local health hub called Orbost Regional Health.
Once every year, the group run a Pamper Day. It’s a lunch funded by the Cancer Fundraising Group in Bairnsdale, and includes various activities such as head and shoulder massages, facials, art therapy, Thai chi and access to lymphoedema services in the local area. This is a wonderful day for all and very well attended.
We have lost 2 members since 2015, and we have a lighted candle on the table during our meeting, so that they are still with us. The table is covered with flamingo lights, flamingo lamps, and flamingo mugs and cups. This group has developed their own logo and badges, and all are proud to wear them out to our cuppa mornings.
The ladies who attend are going through various stages of treatment, and come and go depending on how they are feeling. During the last breast screen van visit in December 2017, 6 more ladies were diagnosed with breast cancer, and have been made welcome to the group. It is wonderful for the ladies to be able to give support to newcomers, and to give fellowship and love to all.
A quick conversation with organiser Tracey Barnett reveals a deep and wonderful streak of black humour.
When talking about out of pocket medical costs, she gave the example of having to fork out $425 for an artifical breast.
"I call her Bertha", says Tracey.
"But one's usually not enough because they get damaged in sport, and when you run into things."
"So I bought another one to fit my swimming costume. She's called Bathing Bertha".
14 Snowy Flamingos have dug through their receipts to give a detailed look at the out of pocket medical costs for country women with cancer. It's a sobering look at the extra health costs faced by rural and remote Australia. Click here.