Sandy's a screen star

Nurse drives action on cancer prevention in regional Victoria

Source: APNA Primary Times Spring 2020 (Volume 20, Issue 2)


Breast cancer survivor Kym Krasa wearing one of the colourful gowns created by BADAC women’s health nurse Sandy Anderson. Sandy is pictured in the background with Grampians BreastScreen program manager Kim Kyatt. Picture courtesy: Lachlan Bence and The Ballarat Courier.


A strong sense of social justice and a passion for women’s health have powered the career of Victorian primary health care nurse Sandy Anderson.

For the past 30 years, Sandy has been dedicated to cancer prevention and improving health services for Indigenous women. In recognition of her work, she received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

These days Sandy is the driving force behind the cancer screening programs offered through the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC), where local women are the beneficiaries of her team’s care and commitment.

It’s a critical mission given the incidence of cervical cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is more than twice that of non-Indigenous women, and mortality is more than three times the non-Indigenous rate.1

 

The team at BADAC’s medical clinic has made good progress under Sandy’s guidance since she arrived 10 years ago. Ninety six per cent of women who attend the clinic now have a known cervical screening history on their file, and 70 per cent are up to date with their screening – approximately 10 per cent above the general population average.

One way the team achieved these outcomes was to offer screening when mailing out ATSI health check reminders. Working in partnership with the community and developing trust were key factors, too.

“Being well screened is the biggest factor in preventing cervical cancer,” says Sandy, who was a nurse consultant for 20 years at the Cancer Council of Victoria. “That just doesn’t happen overnight where I work. Because we deal with such a vulnerable population it is really important to build trusting relationships to deliver better health care. The amazing nurses I work with are very good at that because they listen and genuinely care.”

 

It’s a philosophy that Sandy has applied to breast cancer screening for Indigenous women in her region, resulting in one of the highest regional screening rates in the State.

Working in partnership with Grampians BreastScreen, BADAC has encouraged more local women to participate in breast screening by maintaining a culturally sensitive and positive clinical environment.

“To break down some of the barriers, we set up small regular ‘yarning’ groups so women could go in together, have a yak and provide gentle support for each other,” says Sandy.

“You also have to remember that this community often has very different life experiences to deal with. For example, many of our women are grandparents who can have primary responsibilities caring for children. So you have to work around that and be flexible about appointments.”

A colourful symbol of this culturally sensitive approach was unveiled during NAIDOC Week last year in the form of specially designed gowns. After working in partnership with BreastScreen, fabric made from designs by Aboriginal artists was chosen and Sandy sewed 11 gowns for women to wear at their screening appointments.
 

“The women have told me they feel so special, so wrapped in culture, when wearing these gowns,” says Sandy. “It makes them feel safe to go to their appointment.”

 

A nurse for 46 years2, Sandy says she gravitated towards women’s health after realising so many women from marginalised and disadvantaged groups had limited access to health services. She decided to do something about it. Along the way she has had an impact on policy and strategy. She is a former Chair of BreastScreen Victoria and served for 20 years on the board of the VCS Foundation, including seven years as Chair. She also won an APNA award in 2012 for her work in sexual and reproductive health.

“At first it was challenging to go onto a board,” she recalls. “But it was a fantastic opportunity to ensure the role of the nurse was visible and, in my case, inform the way cancer screening was provided for women in the community.

“In all my time in nursing, I have never not enjoyed doing what I do,” she adds. “Every day is another great day working to improve the community’s health.”

Sandy offered a final word of advice to women not to neglect their health during COVID-19.

“Make it a priority,” she says. “Book an appointment now for a health check. If your cancer screening is due, please do it – it may save your life.”

 

REFERENCE & NOTE

  1. Cervical Screening in Australia 2019, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  2. Sandy Anderson is a Registered Nurse with a Graduate Diploma in Community Health Nursing, a Masters in Health Management, and is a qualified women’s sexual reproductive health nurse for cervical screening in Victoria

The Australian Primary Health Care Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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