It's about the whole whanau
Jack Thatcher’s mother died of breast cancer in 1985. If breast screening had been around then, they might have been able to catch the cancer early enough to treat it – and Jack’s children would have had the benefit of their grandmother’s love.
Jack’s message to mothers, wives and grandmothers is to make sure you go for your breast screening – and for men to encourage and support their women. He still remembers when he first found out that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was the start of 1985 and I was in the Territorials. I’d been out on an exercise for about a month and a half, and I was really tired. I got home and I got a call from my sister. She said ‘I need to tell you that mum has cancer and we’re all at the hospital with her’.”
Jack says his mother found her lump through self examination. By the time it was removed it was between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball.
“At the time they thought they had got it all, but we found out soon after that they hadn’t. She died about nine months after they first found the cancer. If mammograms were available for my mother, I think if they’d been able to pick it up early enough she’d still be with us today and our whole lives would be different.”
He says his mother’s death changed everything for his whanau.
“All of us took it really hard, it took a long time to come out of it. I think over 20 years later my dad is still feeling the effects of the loneliness.
“The mother in the family tends to be the person that organises everyone and she keeps everyone together. When we’d have family times together, mum would be the one we were really all going back to. As boys growing up we looked to our mother for a lot of those day-to-day things, making sure that things were happening for us. You lose that, you lose a lot.
“My two children were born after my mother passed away. They’re 16 and 13 and we have photos of mum and they’re always asking me what was Nan like. The grandmother’s love is a beautiful thing. If you don’t have that then that lessens your whole life.”
Jack says that it is really important for men to encourage the women in their lives to have mammograms.
“Those of us who do have partners and wives, you don’t want to lose someone early and live a lonely life. You lose a partner at such an early age – some people, those partners are lifetime partners and soulmates. All I can say is look after your partner and do the things that are going to make sure that she’s there for you.
“My mother left it too long. If our Māori women are going to do the same, then they’ll be visiting my mother and that’s a sad reality. If you want to be healthy all your life you have to do the things that are going to give you that knowledge that you are healthy and if it comes out that you do have problems, then at least you’re catching it, and you can do something about it.
“You really do have to make the time to go and see the doctor or go and have your checks if it’s a mammogram or any of the things that we need to do to ensure that our health is the best it can be.”