Breast cancer experience provides a unique perspective on the importance of screening

Health worker Puapii Daniel-Ngatae
Health worker Puapii Daniel-Ngatae is working to support Pacific women to have regular breast screening.
Puapii Daniel-Ngatae’s own breast cancer experience has put her in a unique position to inspire Pacific women to think positively about breast screening.

Puapii, who is a Pacific health liaison with Waikato District Health Board’s Tokoroa Family Health team, is proud to call herself cancer-free, four years after her own diagnosis through screening.

‘Most people go through fear and hesitation,’ says the 62-year-old. ‘But there is comfort in catching it early. I just stuck to the kaupapa that early detection is the best protection and that sort of eased my mind. I knew I was with the right people at the right time.

‘I’m not saying battling breast cancer was an easy road to travel, but I believe early detection saved my life.’

But Puapii knows there are thousands of Pacific women who don’t have her positive approach to breast screening, and she’s on a mission to change that in her community.

‘A lot of our Cook Island community are very fearful of hospitals. It might sound strange but to them the word hospital means somewhere you go and die, so anything to do with a hospital means they panic.’

And Puapii won’t take modesty as an excuse either. ‘A lot of them are so shy about showing their bodies but I just say "if you want to live then this is what you have to do. You’ve got grandchildren, pull your finger out and get going". We need to break down those barriers so that having a mammogram will just be normal.’

It will help that the mobile breast screening unit, which previously visited Tokoroa every two years, is now based at the South Waikato Health Centre. ‘Now it is just a matter of getting women there,’ she says.

Under the umbrella of South Waikato Pacific Island Community Services, Puapii and others are setting up a support group for Pacific women.

She feels elated having come through her cancer experience and says it has given her a new lease on life. ‘I actually tell people I’ve won my lotto. I don’t need to win money. Just having life is a gift in itself.’

With thanks to the Waikato District Health Board for allowing this article to be adapted for Screening Matters.

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Page last updated: 09 December 2014