Ura Shares her Story
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and one inspirational Cook Islander, Ura Tangaroa, is sharing her story with the people of the Cook Islands.
Ura Tangaroa’s story begins on December 21, 2010 and began with a dream. “In my dream this voice was telling me to feel my breast, that there was a lump there. I woke up in the morning and I thought I was dreaming – I put my hand there again and the lump was still there.” In her dream she said she was also shown a verse from the bible. “Fear not for I am with you, says the Lord –so I held ontot that verse. I believed that God was telling me to have no fear because he will take care of everything for me.” Tangaroa’s intuition immediately told her that she had breast cancer, but she was in Australia at the time and chose to wait until she returned to New Zealand in January to visit a specialist. Once in New Zealand she had two mammograms, but both returned with ‘clear’ results. She went to a GP for another opinion, who referred her to a specialist. The specialist took a biopsy of the lump and 10 days later a visit to the specialist with her sister confirmed what she had felt from the beginning. “They told me that I did have breast cancer.”
Tangaroa described the initial emotions she felt at that moment as shock and disbelief. “My sister and I spent the whole weekend in the house locked up just going over it. Crying about it - it was a shock. It was like this big mountain - you think, ‘how am I going to get over it?’ But I remembered God told me that I should not be afraid.” In the two weeks following that first weekend of trying to come to terms with the diagnosis, Tangaroa and her sister Helen Tatuava visited more specialists who armed them with the information they would need for the coming months of treatment. “They encouraged me not to be afraid, because no two cancers are the same.” The oncologist they visited used the analogy of a Dandelion flower to help her understand how the cancer was reacting within her body. “When you blow [the flower], it spreads. That’s what cancer is like – like a Dandelion flower, it spreads through your body.”
Tangaroa had a partial mastectomy and it was confirmed that she had stage 3 breast cancer, with stage 5 being the worst type of cancer one can be diagnosed with. The doctors told her that it was fortunate they had caught the cancer early, as it had not yet had a chance to spread from her breast. The removal of eight lymph nodes from her armpits showed that one of the eight had a speck of cancerous cells on it. The next step for Tangaroa meant that she had to choose what treatment option she would go for. “They suggested to me that I do chemotherapy, radiation and then take the tablets after that.” She was informed that if she chose for her treatment to have only one type of either chemotherapy or radiation that the chance of the cancer returning was higher, so the recommended course of treatment was a combination of both. “We went to the oncologist, we went to the radiologist, we went another specialist – just to get more information about it. They encouraged the same thing.” During Tangaroa’s visit to the radiologist, he expressed to her that he felt radiation treatment alone could be enough, however when she pressed him for a more personal opinion he told her, “if it was my wife - if there were 10 remedies, she’d take the whole 10.” She returned home to Rarotonga to visit family and close friends. It was during this time she decided on both chemotherapy and radiation for treatment of the cancer.
Chemotherapy began in April of this year. Tangaroa had four chemotherapy treatments followed by six weeks off. She said of the chemotherapy, “there are a lot of side-effects - you lose your hair, you get sick, you lose your sense of taste, you get moody. There’s a lot that comes with it. Yes, I lost my hair, but it doesn’t matter – it has grown back!” She then had 5 weeks of radiation treatment consisting of 5 minutes a day for 5 days a week. “[The radiation treatment] is just like going up to the hospital for an x-ray. They take a photo of where the cancer is - it’s not your whole body. It’s nothing drastic.” After the initial 5 weeks of radiation treatment, she had to have another 6 weeks of it, but was finally told she did not need any more chemotherapy or radiation. She is now in the final stage of treatment where she takes tablets every day, which she will need to continue for the next five years.
She credits strong family support, a positive attitude and her faith in God as the pillars of strength that got her through this challenging time. “I always believed: I’m going to overcome this, I’m going to rise above it. I decided from day one, a positive attitude is the main thing [that would help me]. It’s like this mountain – you just keep climbing, don’t look back. Yes there were moments where you felt down, but it wasn’t much.” Tangaroa’s sister, Helen Tatuava, supported her throughout the whole journey. Tatuava described herself as, “her greatest support – being able to be there for her at any time. I know that’s very important for people who are going through it, to have somebody always there to support them.” She described the moment the two shared together after first receiving the diagnosis. “We had a big cry - but I think it was just a hug, just somebody to hug and be there. I had to be strong for her. You need to be positive within yourself and you need to surround yourself with positive people.”
Almost a year later, Tangaroa’s new dream is to bring her experience back to the women of the Cook Islands, in order to get more information out to the women living here. “It’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be shy of. The quicker that you go and get treatment, the better.” According to Tangaroa’s specialist research shows that the three most important things in the fight against breast cancer are the power of positive thinking, staying away from alcohol and exercising 30 minutes every day. She emphasised the importance of self-checks for women. Once a week, examine your own breasts for lumps or abnormalities, or you can even get a trusted female family member to help, if that is preferable. Her message to the women of the Cook Islands, “you’re not alone in this. It can happen to anybody. We have the breast cancer foundation – ring them up. Go and speak to someone.” Tangaroa expressed her heartfelt thanks to her husband and entire family for their unending support, as well as those who sent her well-wishes from home and those who prayed for her while she was away receiving treatment.
Watch CITV this Sunday 30 October at 8pm for the special screening of a documentary on Ura’s story, screening thanks to the Cook Islands Breast Cancer Foundation. -Ngariki Ngatae
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