Wāhine Māori message on early detection and beating cancer.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Huia Patena (Ngāti Haua) didn’t want to believe she had breast cancer.
“The surgeon said to me that he was 80% sure that I had breast cancer. The first thing I said was ‘No you don’t know, I haven’t even had my biopsy’”.
Last year when she was 48 years old, Patena was diagnosed and, thankfully, due to having private health insurance, a few weeks later she had surgery to remove the cancer, which, sadly, also meant a mastectomy.
Now recovering, she is helping more wāhine Māori get screened.
She says “July the first, I had a pink ribbon event here at my marae and it was very successful. That event prompted nine women to go and have their own private mammograms”.
Patena has arranged for 10 wāhine Māori from her iwi, to get screened next Saturday.
Wāhine severely affected
Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand CEO, Ah-Leen Rayner says the poor statistics for wāhine Māori when it comes to breast cancer are unfortunate.
Rayner says “when we look at Māori, the statistics show that they’re 35% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and 33% more likely to die”.
Rayner says the foundation has a breast cancer policy scorecard asking political parties for screening to start with Māori and Pacific women at 40 and to have a fast-track diagnosis to be seen at a diagnostic centre within two weeks of presenting with a symptom.
“We’re quite disappointed with the response. Only the Greens, New Zealand First and TOP [The Opportunities Party] agreed to lower the screening age to 40 for all women. However- the only parties that would support a fast track system were the Greens and TOP for a symptomatic diagnosis,” Rayner says.
Patena’s breast surgeon BreastScreen Aotearoa national clinical lead Dr Adam Stewart says the key to fighting breast cancer is early detection through screening.
Early detection - better survival
Stewart says recent mammographic technology can detect cancer as small as a grain of rice and that screening has contributed to the decrease in the mortality rate of breast cancer in recent years.
“The great thing about mammographic screening is that it means that we can save the lives of women of more than 90%,” Stewart says.
He also says Māori women have a better chance of surviving breast cancer compared to non-Māori if the cancer is detected early through screening.
Patena says her ultimate goal is to get her iwi 100% screened.
She says despite the difficult journey, it’s been a blessing and she’s grateful for the support she’s had along the way.
“I’ve turned my journey into a positive thing”.
Women aged between 45 and 69 years can get a free mammogram every two years.
To enrol, contact 0800 270 200.
Hero image: Breast Cancer Foundation. Photo / Supplied