Summer's Story

01 Jun 2022

Creating a culturally safe environment for sick kids like Summer

Over the Christmas holidays, 13-year-old Summer, a shy, funny and proud Ngunnawal girl, began to complain of headaches. Then, on her first day of Year 8, her mother Naomi found her in bed, gripping her head in pain. 

After having an MRI at their local hospital, a doctor took Naomi aside and told her news that turned their world upside down. 

 

“He sat me down and said they’d found a tumour in the middle of Summer’s brain.”  

 

Two days later, Summer underwent emergency brain surgery at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. But it was difficult to remove all the tumour in such a delicate spot. A second operation was successful, but there was more bad news. They had discovered the tumour was pineoblastoma, a rare, aggressive and hard to treat cancer.  

 

“Hearing that, we went numb,” Naomi says. 

During this overwhelming time, what Summer, her parents and younger sister Lacey needed was to feel safe and supported. For many Aboriginal families like them, hospitals can be scary due to historical traumas as well as the impact of intergenerational trauma. 

 

Summer and her family had Tanya, who is the Aboriginal Health Worker Palliative Care & Chronic and Complex Needs from the Aboriginal Health Unit beside them every step of the way. Tanya is a proud Gamilaraay woman from Coonabarabran and her support and advocacy made them feel culturally safe, welcomed and respected. 

 

“Tanya was part of Summer’s team from the get-go,” says Naomi. “Summer is so shy, but she connected with Tanya. The relationship they have built is beautiful to see.” 

 

Summer needed 31 radiation treatments. After six weeks of recovery, she then faced four rounds of high intensity chemotherapy. It was daunting and overwhelming. 

 

At the start, Tanya made Summer an emu feather amulet, tied with Aboriginal coloured ribbons to help her always feel protected and connected to her Spirits/Ancestors.  

 

Every hospital visit, before we would leave the house, Summer would talk to the spirits through this feather amulet,” Naomi says.  

 

“She would ask for their guidance and for the strength to get through her hospital stay. At hospital, she would hang the amulet on the curtain rod around her hospital bed and she felt protected.” 

 

Tanya continues to support Naomi and Justin throughout their daughter’s diagnosis. She attends family meetings to support them as they came to terms with Summer’s treatment plan. Tanya was also there to support Summer before and after her medical procedures, as well as when her parents could not be by her side in hospital. She always knew how best to be there for them. 

Summer’s hospital journey is not over, as her cancer has returned, and she needs further treatment. It is incredibly hard but having Tanya on their team brings profound comfort.  

 

“As a mum, I am always trying to put on a brave face for Summer and having someone else there if I need to walk out quickly to compose myself is good,” Naomi says. “We would be lost without her.” 

 

Thank you for making sure the Aboriginal Health Unit can be there for First Nations families. You are helping alleviate understandable fears so that every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child has access to the best possible healthcare and resources no matter what, no matter where.   

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